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Baker-Giants tandem seems set

The manager is a free agent, but he and owner Peter Magowan sound intent on keeping him in San Francisco.

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 9, 2000

NEW YORK -- The Giants season came to an end on Sunday afternoon.

The intrigue, however, has only just begun.

Manager Dusty Baker said he wants to return to the Giants, and hopes to have a new contract negotiated "before the end of the World Series, to tell the truth."

Owner Peter Magowan said, "for the 11,000th time, I want it written 11,000, I want Dusty Baker back here with the team next year."

As much as both sides say they want to continue the relationship that began when Baker was hired to replaced Roger Craig in November 1992, there are some financial ramifications to be considered.

Baker turned down a two-year, $2.7-million extension to the contract that paid him $750,000 in 2000, 14th among major-league managers, even though he is fourth among manager in continuous service behind Tom Kelly of Minnesota, Bobby Cox of Atlanta and Lou Piniella of Seattle.

With elimination by the Mets on Sunday in the first-round of baseball's post-season, Baker's asking price figures to come down some -- there was speculation he had his sights set on the $3-million a year that Joe Torre is being paid by the Yankees.

He, however, is going to command more than the four-year, $5.2-million Don Baylor received a year ago from the Cubs.

"I certainly hope he will be our manager next year," Magowan said in the somber visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium following Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Mets in the finale to the NL Division Series. "I think he truly wants to be here, and it's been our goal all along."

While Baker admitted frustrations from a Division Series in which the Giants won the opener, but then lost back-to-back games in extra innings before being one-hit by Bobby J. Jones on Sunday, the experience only reinforced his feelings for the team.

Baker could be among the most coveted free agents in an off-season that will feature the likes of outfielder Manny Ramirez, shortstop Alex Rodriguez, and pitchers Mike Hampton and Mike Mussina.

There already are managerial openings in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Arizona.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine, whose team opens the NLCS at St. Louis on Wednesday, and Piniella, whose Mariners open the ALCS on Tuesday, also are in the last year of their contracts.

And as a high-placed major-league official said, "if Dusty put himself out there I'm sure there would be opportunities that nobody anticipates right now."

Baker isn't interested.

"I like where I am," said Baker, a native of Sacramento, where his parents still live. "I like working with Brian (Sabean, general manager). I like the attitude of the people. We have a good core of guys.

"I can't unequivocally say I'm going to manage the Giants next year. I can't unequivocally say I'm going to be alive. I'd like to be here, yes. We have work undone. We have some unfinished business. Now that (the season) is over it's easy for us to concentrate on what we have to do to get it done."

The Giants have taken a couple steps in addressing their needs for next year by signing left-handed starter Kirk Reuter and closer Robb Nen to contract extensions.

While the Giants moved into Pac Bell Park this season, and played in front of sellout crowds all 81 home dates, there has been concern about whether the team will be able to afford to keep its nucleus together, much less add veterans from outside.

The ballpark is privately financed, and the Giants have a $20-million annual debt payment for 20 years.

As it is the Giants had a lower payroll than everybody else in the NL West except San Diego, which added to the satisfaction of compiling the best regular-season record in the National League.

"I think this year was something positive to build on," Baker said. "Hopefully it will be the start of a run for us. I left New York before (as a player with the Dodgers) with a feeling like this in 1978, but we came back in '81 and became world champions."

One of his final decisions of this season will be debated for the entire off-season. When the Giants had their one and only chance to make things interesting Sunday, Baker chose to not take the bat out of pitcher Mark Gardner's hands.

Rather than send in a pinch-hitter, Baker allowed Gardner to bat for himself in the fifth inning Sunday when the Giants had the bases loaded with two outs trailing 2-0.

After flailing weakly at the first pitch and taking the second pitch for a ball, Gardner popped out to second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo to end the inning.

Just one-third of an inning later, Gardner was knocked out of the game -- making Baker's decision look even worse.

"I don't regret it," Baker said, explaining that he thought it was too early to turn to a bullpen that had been depleted the day before in a 13-inning game. "If you don't have a full bullpen, you don't have a full bullpen."

Gardner was a .116 hitter during the regular season, getting only five singles in 43 at-bats and striking out 22 times. He is a career .128 hitter in 101/2 seasons.

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