Photo: Getty/Andy Lyons
As a two-time all-star and successful Major League manager, Dusty Baker brings a unique perspective to the game of baseball. In this interview the ESPN commentator gives his candid views on the Little League World Series and whether young arms can handle the stress of throwing a breaking ball.
It's your first time at the Little League World Series: what do you think?
Well, I think it's great. This is one of the most fun events I've been to. It was my wife's idea to come. She's really been into it all these years--crying when the parents and the kids are crying.
It's also great motivation for my son who is here with me. I just wish every kid in America could come here. I mean you watch it on TV, but you don't get the real depth of things until you come here.
What's the biggest thing that has surprised you about the skill level of the kids here?
Very fundamentally-sound players. Throwing to the right base, being in position for the cutoff man. Their ability to perform under pressure at such a young age is remarkable. You can tell they love the game. It's given me a great outlook on baseball. And the sportsmanship. . .
I've never seen a kid hit a home run and then have a first baseman from the opposing team give him a high-five as he's rounding the bases. That's a first for me. That's sportsmanship at its finest right there. If the world could see how much peace and harmony is here because of baseball, we wouldn't have any troubles in the world.
As a successful manager and player, what do you believe separates those special teams that make it to the World Series?
It takes teamwork. It takes picking each other up. It takes a lot of hard work and determination. You have to practice to the point where you have muscle memory to perform on command, without necessarily thinking about it. You have to want it and you have to believe it.
Can you talk about the difference between the atmosphere here in Williamsport and the atmosphere in the Major Leagues, which has had its fair share of scandals lately? Is it more of a pure baseball atmosphere at the Little League World Series?
Well, there was a scandal here too in Williamsport a couple years ago. There's always going to be something. You're talking about scandals--don't forget all those guys were pure as snow when they were kids. Sometimes things happen along the way in life. You don't like it. But it happens.
It's not as pure as it used to be here at the Little League World Series either. More business-like, as you can see with the presence of TV and radio. These kids are media stars now.
What did you think of Lubbock Western ace Garrett Williams who finished the tournament with 42 strikeouts in 16 innings and a 0.00 ERA?
He's amazing. He's an awesome pitcher. This kid has outstanding control and great mechanics. The difference from when I played Little League is we didn't have the instruction that the kids have now. Your instructor was basically your dad--whether or not they knew what they were instructing. Today it's so specialized. Now you've got a pitching coach. A batting coach. Hopefully this will help kids not sustain injuries.
With these 12-year-olds throwing 80 mph do you think it's a a little early to push them into performing at that level of physical exertion?
If the kid's throwing 80 mph I don't know how you can say that's too early. Every pitcher in the Major Leagues started out right here. I think sometimes overuse is an issue, much more than how hard you're throwing. I think curves are better than sliders. I've been hearing this from the time I was a kid. So I don't really know what's too young an age to start throwing breaking balls.
Is it true you got cut from your first Little League team?
Three times. Got cut by my dad. He said I had a bad attitude. Struck out in the first tryout and threw my bat. And then I missed a ground ball in my second tryout and he cut me again because I threw my glove down on the ground. The third time, my friend said he was going to hit me and hit me. So I quit.
My dad told me no son of his was going to quit. He had too much money invested in me; the $9.99 Sears and Roebuck Ted Williams glove he bought for me. (Laughs) It was a valuable lesson. That's why I'm so big on attitude. My dad said I could change my attitude and put it in a positive direction. I could really do something. But it was a cold cold lesson. (Laughs)