Baker guided the Cubs to a 66-96 record in 2006, his fourth year as the team’s manager since being hired in November, 2002. Baker replaced interim manager Bruce Kimm (who had replaced Don Baylor earlier that year) and entered this season in the final year of a four-year contract.
“I guess all things must come to an end,” Baker told the crowd of reporters gathered at Wrigley Field Monday. “All things come to a pass.”
Baker issued a formal address to the media, but did not field questions.
“There’s really no answers right now,” he said.
The Cubs won the National League Central with 88 wins in Baker’s first year with the organization and won 89 games the following year, but squandered the NL Wildcard lead with less than a week remaining in the season. They won only 79 games in 2005 and posted their fewest wins since 2000 in ’06.
Baker became the 55th manager in Cubs franchise history after guiding the San Francisco Giants to the World Series in 2002. His Giants clubs posted six consecutive winning seasons from 1997-2002 and made three playoff appearances in his 10-year reign as the team’s skipper.
With the Cubs, Baker’s teams reached the post-season only once. They defeated the Atlanta Braves in the opening round of the playoffs in 2003 and lost in seven games to the Florida Marlins in the NLCS after losing a three-to-one lead in the series.
Upon his arrival, Baker became well-endeared by many Cubs supporters. His most memorable comment during a press conference in which he was formally introduced as the team’s skipper was: “Why not us?”
The phrase, “In Dusty We Trusty” became the chant of many fans long since starved for Cubs success.
But this season, Baker’s future with the team appeared more and more in jeopardy as the Cubs began to take a nosedive in the standings following a modest 9-5 start to the season.
The Cubs lost first baseman Derrek Lee to a broken wrist at Dodgers Stadium on April 19. By the time Lee returned over two months later, the Cubs were 28-45 and 14 games back of Division Champion St. Louis.
Lee’s injury was one of only many Baker’s teams endured during his tenure as Cubs skipper. Pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood chimed in with annual stints on the DL following the playoff run of 2003, and this past season, the Cubs used a total of nine rookie pitchers due to injuries.
Chicago posted monthly records of 13-10 in April, but just 7-22 in May; 9-18 in June; 14-12 in July; 11-17 in August; and 12-17 in September.
Baker compiled an overall record of 840-715 with San Francisco in 10 seasons, and 322-326 during his four seasons with the Cubs.
“I just wish the organization and Jim Hendry well as they go forward, just like they wish me well as I go forward,” Baker said.
“It’s certainly an unfortunate day,” Hendry said. “Being the general manager, I had a very good relationship with Dusty. I think the world of him. Aside from baseball, he’s a tremendous human being and a very caring man.
“In this position of times,” Hendry added, “you have to try to focus and do ... what’s best for the Chicago Cubs. That’s why I came to the decision not to renew Dusty’s contract.”
Hendry said he did not have a timetable in mind with regards to hiring the Cubs’ next manager, only that he will begin working on the process “probably as early as tomorrow.”
Baker’s coaching staff, meanwhile, should learn their fate relatively soon.
“Everyone has been speculating of who will be the next manager since the All-Star break,” the general manager said. “I have never contacted anyone; never done anything that wasn’t the right thing to do in Dusty’s situation.
“All I can promise you is that it will be a very extensive search. I know how important this decision is for the franchise and for all of our fans and those of us involved with the Cubs,” Hendry added.