Saturday, September 29, 2012

#220 Dusty Baker - Los Angeles Dodgers

Dusty Baker's 13th Topps card shows him following through with his line drive swing on very bright day.  Baker has looked pretty much the same throughout his playing and managerial career. 
Although green isn't a Dodger color, it goes well with this card.  Baker shares a 1971 rookie card with Don Baylor and Tom Paciorek.  The three players would play a combined 56 years in the majors.
Player:  Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker played 19 years in the major leagues, mostly with Atlanta and Los Angeles.  Baker's first taste of MLB action came in four brief stays with the Braves over the 1968-1971 seasons.  After batting less than 100 times and shuttling back and forth from Richmond over the previous four years, the former 26th round pick had to be happy to make the '72 opening day roster.  Baker was a part time player at first but was starting everyday in CF by mid-May.  Baker posted a .321/.383/.504 line, hit 17 HR, and recorded 5.0 WAR. 

Baker displayed similar power numbers over the next three years as he hit 60 homers for the Braves.  His batting average however dipped to .288, .256, and .261 over the '73-'75 seasons.  While in Atlanta some had hyped Baker as the next Henry Aaron but his time as a Brave came to an end in November of 1975 when he was traded to the Dodgers. 

In Los Angeles, Baker had a terrible time adjusting to his new location and hit just four homers with a .242/.298/.307 line.  He rebounded and hit a career best 30 dingers in '77, with a .291 batting average and a 134 OPS+.  He became a mainstay for the Dodgers in leftfield and was there through the 1983 season.  Baker's power production varied from year to year.  For instance, after his 30 HR year he hit 11, 23, 29, 9, 23, and 15 long balls.  His average fluctuated from .260 to .320 but he was noted as a clutch RBI hitter.

Baker won a Silver Slugger in 1980 and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 1981.  With the Dodgers Baker had some memorable playoff and World Series moments and won a ring in '81. 

Baker signed with the Dodgers rival San Francisco Giants after the '83 season. The two-time All-Star was used as a part time corner outfielder by the Giants and although he hit only three homers he hit .292 with a .387 OBP.  During the following spring, Baker was traded across the Bay to the A's. 

Baker finished his career in Oakland playing the '85 and '86 seasons.  He played first base, DH'd some and appeared occasionally in the outfield.  He clubbed 14 HR in '85 but just four in '86.  Baker retired with 242 HR, 1,981 hits, and 1,013 RBI.

Flipside:  Baker gets the small font treatment as Baker had 15 seasons under his belt.  That was quite a game for Baker on May 8.  Here is the box score.

Oddball:  Much has been written and debated about a player's perceived ability to perform in the clutch.  Baker was one of those guys who always seemed to be feared in RBI situations.  He never had a 100 RBI season, so what gives?  Maybe it was his exposure on national television during the Dodgers playoff runs or some memorable big hits with men on base.  Perhaps it was the Game Winning RBI stat that was hyped for a while in the 80's.
Below are three BA/OBP/SLG lines:

A.   .278/.347/.432
B.   .282/.341/.423
C.   .280/.361/.429

Not much difference is there?  Line A is Baker's career mark.  B is his postseason averages, and C is Baker's career numbers with runners in scoring position. 

Even this web page falsely touts Baker as having 25 career walk-off home runs.  Way off! An accurate list shows slugger Jim Thome with 13 being the most all-time. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Baker.  I'm sure Dodger fans liked seeing him in the box in crucial situations.  But if players can elevate their game in tight situtations it isn't by much.

History:  Baker had a long 19 year career and is certainly remembered by most as a Dodger.  Baker was a good player for a long time, who earned 32.4 career WAR and won a World Series in '81.  In addition to his other accolades, Baker received MVP votes in three different seasons and has gone on to a long managerial career.


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