MLB’s oldest managers renew rivalry
It is the dugout version of Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.
It is cool and hip vs. stoic and curmudgeonly.
It’s one hopeful Hall of Famer vs. a Hall of Famer coming out of retirement. It’s old vs. older.
It’s 72-year-old Dusty Baker and 77year-old Tony La Russa, baseball’s oldest managers. They’ve known one another for 50 years, managed against each other for 24 years, screamed at one another for 20 years and hated each other until the recent death of a close friend.
When the Houston Astros take on the Chicago White Sox on Thursday in Game 1 of the AL Division Series at Minute Maid Park, the action may be on the field, but considering the heated history of Baker and La Russa, there will be plenty of eyes on the dugouts.
Decades of history
They are older now, move slower and talk calmer, but the fierce competitiveness still drives each of them, refusing to completely let go of their scars, but realizing their deep respect for one another.
“Really, when you think back, all we ever did was take care of our own teams,” La Russa told USA TODAY Sports from his Chicago apartment. “We had our clashes here and there, but all we were doing was taking care of our own players.
We compete. We both respect the game. And we respect each other. That’s what it’s all about.”
Said Baker: “We were in the same division for damn near 10 years, so we’re going to have our differences. I really try not to think about it. Nobody is right all of the time. Nobody is wrong all of the time. Let’s just play ball. At the end of the day, we’ll shake hands, tell each other good luck, and hope you’re the last one standing.”
It was Dave Stewart, Baker’s former teammate with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the former four-time, 20-game winner for La Russa when he managed the Oakland A’s, who brokered the peace.
They gathered on June 14, 2014, in Phoenix for Bob Welch’s funeral services. Baker played with Welch in Los Angeles, and La Russa managed him in Oakland. When the tears dried, and stories stopped, Stewart pulled aside Baker and La Russa, and told them it was time to talk, setting up a dinner in downtown Phoenix.
“They hadn’t talked to each other in years, no conversations at all,” Stewart said in a phone interview this week. “That kind of stuff just sticks with you. I told Dusty, ‘It takes a lot more energy in holding onto that kind of stuff that letting it go.’ Dusty said, ‘I’m not holding onto anything. I’ll sit down with Tony any time.’
“So the three of us met, talked, and after that, the two of them shared a lot of text messages with one other. Two of my closest relationships in the world are with Dusty and Tony. And as friends with both, knowing their similarities, you want to see good people around good people.”
Three months after the dinner, Stewart was hired by La Russa to become the Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager.
He made his first move the following day, firing Kirk Gibson as manager.