Yahoo! Sports national baseball writer Jeff Passan checks in from Wrigley Field to weigh in on the return of a ghost from the Cubs' past ...
Dusty Baker's grand return to the city that ran him out two years ago pretty much went according to script. Baker emerged from his Cincinnati Reds dugout to hand the umpires his lineup card. The thousand or so people who actually cared enough to boo did. The rest spent their time admiring more important things, like their seat or their beer or that cool-shaped cloud out toward the lake.
Yes, until the Cubs win a World Series, Dusty is going to be a fat BP pitch for self-loathing fans, just like the the guy wearing headphones and the animal that puts the goat in scapegoat. Self-respecting ones, on the other hand, see Baker for what he is: a distinct part of the past, one who helped the renaissance in Chicago before losing his way.
Baker, no question, is a manager with flaws. The Cubs would be a markedly different franchise with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in the starting rotation, and, hey, maybe they were just papier-mache, even without Dusty's abuse of their arms. Still, if there's reason for any bitterness here in Wrigleyville, it's their side-by-side implosions.
The Cubs are in a good place today, though. They have decent starting pitching, a lineup with Derrek Lee flashing his pre-injury MVP form and a serviceable bullpen with Wood serving as closer. In other words, plenty to win the National League Central and earn another postseason shot. (Preferably one better than last season, when Lou Piniella's tactics made Baker look like Connie Mack, Walter Alston and Bobby Cox rolled into one.)
"You can play what-ifs all your life," Baker said in his pregame press conference. "You can say, 'What if I'd married this girl and not that one?' I try not to play what-ifs. I've got a job to do where I am in Cincinnati, and I'm happy with the organization.
"I'm just trying to go forward. That's what I'm trying to do as much as anything with my life."
But Dusty can't forget one thing from Chicago. It's what he was told in 2003, when he was on the cusp of the World Series, all the way through 2006, when he was in last place and miserable. He takes it with him to Cincinnati and wherever else he may end up.
"Better not lose," he said.