Los Angeles Times - August 27, 1980

Baker’s Homer, Three RBIs Keep Dodgers in Race


By Mike Littwin, Times Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – It's time, almost, to call the contest for the National League West a race.


Houston is streaking. The Dodgers, though injured, can't be said to be limping. Both won Tuesday, the Dodgers by an 8-4 margin over Philadelphia behind homers by Dusty Baker and Ron Cey.


For those who keep track of such things, it was their seventh win in eight games, all on the road, and kept them two steps behind the front-running Astros, who have won 11 of 12.


Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda credited the emerging bullpen for his team's recent success, citing four strong innings from Bobby Castillo. He also mentioned something about courage, whatever that has to do with baseball.


Baker Hits 25th Homer


He might have mentioned, too, Dusty Baker, who, Steve Garvey's statistics notwithstanding, has been called the MVD (Most Valuable Dodger).


But for how much longer?


"I want to stay with the Dodgers," said Baker, who is in the last of a four-year contract. "I expect to be with the Dodgers. If I leave I'll sort of feel I was forced to."


Baker had two hits Tuesday one his 25th homer drove in three runs and raised his batting average to an even .300. With Reggie Smith sidelined, Baker has taken over the No. 3 position in the lineup, what he calls the action spot.


He has done everything to earn the Dodgers' affection. But what price love?


By all accounts, Baker figures it's plenty. By Baker's account, his feelings are more than a little hurt that the Dodgers have been slow to negotiate.


The Dodgers and Baker's agent, Jerry Kapstein, are talking now. Baker would just as soon not talk, himself.


"Things I don't want to see," he said, "I make invisible. I'm used to being disappointed. I have my defense mechanisms ready."


Advice From Pete Rose


From Pete Rose, who makes $800,000 a year and helped make not only baseball, but free agentry, fun, Baker sought advice.


"Pete told me to go out and play," Baker said. "He told me to forget about the money, that I'd get paid."


His agent, Kapstein, is known to be especially astute. He counsels the Phillies' brilliant center fielder Garry Maddox, who is Baker's close friend but probably not Baker's equal as a player. For Maddox, Kapstein got $775,000 a year.


Baker, who makes $225,000 for this season, naturally believes he belongs in a higher rent district, an area that comes with free agency.


"I've been insulted quite a few times in my career," Baker said. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand why everyone waited so long. But I'm not going to let anything affect me. It wouldn't be fair to me or to my teammates or to the fans."


It's said the Dodgers feel they may have made a mistake by tying themselves to so many long-term contracts to players in their 30s. Other factors emerge. Dave Winfield may become available in the free agent market. There is the possibility of Boston trading Fred Lynn to the Dodgers.


Singles in a Run


Baker won't worry about what might not happen.


"I have an agent to negotiate," Baker said. "All I have to do is play and then OK."


Well, he's playing more than OK. He singled in a run in the Dodgers' four-run third and homered in two in their two-run fourth. The score was 7-1 by then, loser Bob Walk (9-3) already chased.


Rick Sutcliffe, starting in place of the injured Don Sutton, couldn't last four innings, however. Relief work from Joe Beckwith, who became yet another Dodger casualty, and especially by Castillo proved to be a winning complement to the Dodgers' sudden show of offense.


Close to Being the Best


Baker, with Garvey, is the star of that show. He is, in Reggie Smith's words, the best left fielder in baseball. By any reckoning, he has to be close. Yet, he's never made an All-Star team. And the Dodgers are in no hurry to put him on the All-Dollar team.


"When my feelings are hurt," Baker said, "I just bear down a little harder."


He said it's always been that way for him in baseball. "In football and basketball, I was always the MVP. In baseball, I've been All-Nothing. When you're a 25th-round draft choice, 5-10 and 160 pounds, you know it won't be easy."


It hasn't been easy for the Dodgers, either. They've been winning, but the division has finally become a race. And the Dodgers, finally, have begun to run.


The guy out in front is Baker.