How activist Harry Edwards helped put Dusty Baker on World Series path 35 years ago

Dusty Baker is the king of the baseball world, a big story for Houston and for all of Major League Baseball and all of sports. And as the late great Herb Caen often said, “there is always a local angle”.

Of course, you know that Baker got his first managerial job with the San Francisco Giants, in 1992. But you might not know that his immediate hire as the Giants’ first base coach five years earlier was facilitated by what I will call the Great Bay Area Social Justice Sports Machine.

Yes, it’s another pat on the back from the Bay Area for its long tradition of cultivating and encouraging many who fight the sports establishment, fight for progress, demand inclusion.

It’s a long list that includes Frank Robinson, Bill Russell, Curt Flood, Al Davis, Bill Walsh, Colin Kaepernick, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Phil Woolpert and others. Bay Area people, all of them. It must be something in the water.

“His
not
something in the water,” sports sociologist Harry Edwards once told me. “I think it’s something in the cultural heritage of this region, of this state. It is the end of the earth; this is where people looking for a new beginning, a better world, a better life end up.

That fresh-start vibe runs through Baker’s big break story. The key players in this scene are the unlikely quartet of Baker, Edwards, Peter Ueberroth and Al Campanis. Let’s throw in Jackie Robinson and make it a quintuple.

I know Baker since he played for the Dodgers, but I didn’t know the story of his connection to the Giants, until he read an account in Andscape.

The year 1987 marked the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues. That’s why TV interviewer Ted Koppel invited Al Campanis on “Nightline.” Koppel asked Campanis, then Dodgers general manager and former minor league teammate of Robinson, why there were no black managers in baseball. Robinson had chastised baseball for years for its lack of off-field diversity.

Campanis told Koppel, “I really believe that maybe they don’t have some of the necessities to be, say, a field manager, or maybe a general manager.”

The Dodgers quickly fired Campanis. Commissioner Ueberroth, a graduate of Fremont-Sunnyvale and San Jose State, sprang into action. He hired Edwards, then a professor of sociology at Cal. Its mission: to create a pipeline for minorities and women to enter the ranks of baseball coaches/managers/executives.

“What about black and Hispanic players with short careers?” said Ueberroth at the time. “Where are they? Who are they? Were they given a chance? Can we hold them back? Harry Edwards is very good at that sort of thing.

Edwards’ first decision was to hire a consultant, (trumpet fanfare) Al Campanis! Hey, if you want someone to design your home security system, why not hire a former burglar?

Edwards asked Campanis for the names of former players who could be candidates for major league positions. Campanis suggested Baker, whose glory years were with the Dodgers. But Edwards figured if they helped Baker and the Dodgers connect it would look too cozy, like a token favor to a former star on the team.

So Edwards and Campanis decided,
And the Giants?
If the Dodgers’ hated foe hired Baker, they wouldn’t be accused of throwing a bone at a team legend. Edwards and Campanis persuaded the Giants to interview Baker.

To the surprise of no one who had ever spent five minutes with Baker, the Giants loved him and hired him as their first baseman coach. Five years later, he was their captain. A career as a manager was born.

Bay Area to Houston: You are welcome.

Deep thoughts and cheap shots as a bonus…

• The World Cup is still a week away, but already the host country is making its guests feel welcome.

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