This debate was more about money than ideas

Friday, November 8, 2002

At least they avoided the "philosophical differences" excuse.

Credit Dusty Baker and San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan with having that much sense -- but not much more.

Too often, when a manager and his boss part company, the only reason given is a disagreement over philosophy, as though they split up after repeated arguments over Plato's "Republic." Not these two.

They were arguing over nothing more philosophical than money and who got the credit for taking the Giants within six outs of a World Series championship, and by the end they didn't care who knew it.

It was an old-fashioned clash of egos by then. Both cared less about winning than making sure the other guy lost. Despite 10 mostly successful years of building together, Baker and Magowan were never too busy, too lazy or too embarrassed to tear down each other and quite possibly a franchise in the bargain.

Up until an hour before Game 7, Baker was still hinting he was underpaid and under-appreciated, and Magowan was hinting right back that Baker was overexposed and overly impressed with his own worth.

Days later, Magowan was still reading stories in which Baker talked about Seattle and Chicago -- towns that just happened to have managerial openings -- as if he'd just signed with the local chapter of Welcome Wagon. That's when the owner had seen enough.

Upset by what he labeled Baker's continuing "public disparagement" of the Giants, Magowan announced Wednesday that he was no longer interested in signing Baker to a new contract. Magowan said in a statement that he and general manager Brian Sabean "didn't believe we could reconcile the differences with Dusty and it wasn't practical to go forward."

You think?

The last guy to win a pennant and walk away was Dick Williams, who won the Series with the A's in 1973 and retired. Baker and his pals say they know that managers are hired to be fired, and rarely is that more true than these days.

But now there's a twist. Baker is the 13th manager since opening day to look for employment elsewhere, but like colleagues Lou Piniella and Art Howe, it's clearly a move of his own choosing. And much like those two, he's walking out on a team whose continuing success his hard work had practically guaranteed.

That's what makes the changes so maddening; in these instances, everybody loses something.

Baker will probably get the money he's looking for, which agent Jeff Moorad put in the $4 million-to-$6 million range. But whether he winds up in Seattle, Chicago or even Boston, site of the latest whispering campaign, he'll have to earn every penny.

The media and the fans in those towns, not to mention the weather, will evoke warm memories of San Francisco and just how good he had it there.

Conversely, all the time and winning he invested in San Francisco won't buy him more than a few months of goodwill at his next stop. And, if the general managers in those places were as good as Sabean at providing veteran talent, they probably wouldn't be willing to pay so dearly for his services in the first place.

Unfortunately, Magowan looked at the same set of facts and came to the opposite conclusion. He locked up Sabean and deemed Baker expendable. Fact is, the task ahead of Baker -- meeting a new set of expectations with a new organization -- might prove easy compared to what awaits Magowan.

The only way the Giants can improve on last season is to win it all. Baker was rightly praised for negotiating the cease-fire between Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds that helped make the climb to Game 7 possible, but his successor will need luck just to get the same chance.

Salary and age considerations likely mean Kent and his productive bat moves on. But replacing him won't be the Giants' biggest challenge. That, almost certainly will be keeping Bonds happy.

Reached Thursday in Tokyo, where he was preparing for an All-Star series, Bonds called Baker "a good friend of mine, a good friend of the family ... a great man ... a great manager.

"But I'm a Giant," Bonds added "and will stand by my team."

It's worth remembering that Bonds, who was always a great player, didn't become the game's dominant player until he moved to San Francisco. Maybe it was just coincidence, but maybe the way Baker and Magowan routinely shelved their own egos to keep Bonds happy had something to do with that, too.

What a shame it will turn out to be that they couldn't do the same for each other.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press.

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