It's the last week of Cito Gaston's managerial career and Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker says he will spare a thought for his mentor.
To say Gaston has been there for Baker throughout his career would be no understatement. In fact, the Toronto Blue Jays manager was there when it started. Baker signed with the Atlanta Braves out of Del Campo High School in Carmichael, Calif., in 1967 and made his professional debut with the Double-A Austin affiliate as an 18-year-old. Gaston was in the outfield alongside him during his first Texas League game against the Arkansas Travelers in Little Rock, Ark.
"The [Arkansas]State Hospital was just beyond the outfield," Baker said. "They would let some of the patients out of the hospital for games and I heard some of the most vile, racist stuff I'd end up hearing as a player.
"Shoot," Baker added quietly, "you'd feel sorry for the people in the place. You had to. But Cito saw the tears in my eyes and came over and put his arm around me and said 'Kid' - that's what he and everybody else called me - 'I'm going to take care of you.' That's what he did. Cito taught me how to be a professional - right down to taking me out to buy clothes for me."
Gaston was eventually claimed by the San Diego Padres in the expansion draft, but the two men have stayed in touch, and Baker - who can count Felipe Alou, Hank Aaron and Joe Torre among his teammates with the Braves - says candidly that in a crisis, Gaston is one of the first people he seeks out. But when the Reds acquired Scott Rolen at the trade deadline last season, it was Gaston who telephoned Baker. "He told me how to handle Scott as a player - that I'd have to rest him, and that family was important to him and that you'd have to allow him some room with that," Baker said. "He told me Scott would play his butt off. Cito's usually right about stuff. He was right about that, too.
"I've always felt Cito was kind of underappreciated by some people. But not by me."
If Baker's Reds make the playoffs, he will become just the third manager in baseball history to take three different teams to the postseason in a nine-year span, joining Billy Martin (1969 Minnesota Twins, 1972 Detroit Tigers and 1976 New York Yankees) and Davey Johnson (1988 New York Mets, 1995 Reds and 1996 Baltimore Orioles.)
Will TFC Pay for Play?
Definitely [my salary should be]up there. Every year I've been showing my worth and it's about time they come to me with something. I know of other clubs who have gone to their star players and ripped up their contracts and I think it's only fair.
Toronto FC's Dwayne DeRosario explains his faux cheque-writing goal celebration in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. DeRosario, who has scored 12 of the team's 26 goals this season but makes $443,750 in the second year of a four-year contract compared to the Invisible Man, Julian de Guzman ($1,717,546) and substitute Don't Play (Mista) For Me, who makes a pro-rated portion of $987,337.50. Another fine MLSE mess for another MLSE team likely to miss the playoffs.
Line CHANGES: The NBA salary cap is rocket science, but I'd be worried if the guy who was Bryan Colangelo's assistant with the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujirri, has been working on three- and four-team deals for Carmelo Anthony, and his old boss, whose team has craters all over the lineup, hasn't had a sniff of the action. … It's hard not to be impressed by Jose Bautista's homers and it's nice that he hit that foul ball out of the Rogers Centre on Saturday, but let's keep it in perspective: The MVP award should go to a player or pitcher on a contending team, and Bautista has to get in line behind the likes of Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer (forget the power; check the average) and Vladimir Guerrero. Josh Hamilton will get top-five votes even if he's missed 30 games and, hell, I'd throw pitcher David Price into the equation - but only after another guy from a non-contending team, Miguel Cabrera, because of a batting average that was 64 points higher than Bautista's through Saturday. … Really, CBC: preseason hockey?
THE FINAL WORD: Predictable. As in the booing of Carey Price by Montreal Canadiens' fans, which will be such a regular occurrence this season that some enterprising marketing type ought to sell a sponsorship. Letting Jaroslav Halak go was a mistake of karmic proportions.