Ex-Giants manager Dusty Baker reveals his challenge when MLB returns

Ex-Giants manager Dusty Baker reveals his challenge when MLB returns

Dusty Baker has been a part of professional baseball since 1967, and if and when the sport returns in 2020, he will have to kick a few habits he's probably been doing since he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves.

All players, managers and coaches will have to stop spitting, among other things.

In the name of health and safety during the age of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, MLB sent a 67-page document to teams outlining what the players can no longer do.

For Baker, the former Giants manager and current Houston Astros skipper, he isn't sure how he's going to stop spitting.

“Now the biggest challenge is gonna be what my mom has been chastising me about my whole life — spitting,” Baker told The Athletic's Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville. “I am not kidding you. That’s the first thing my wife asked me. She goes, ‘How you gonna stop spitting?’ I don’t know.

“And my mom, I swear — she has been getting on me since I was 10 years old about spitting. Know what I mean? And I used to practice spitting. I’m the most accurate spitter in the world.”

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If you've seen Baker anywhere near a baseball diamond, he always has a toothpick sticking out of his mouth. Those little pieces of wood have become synonymous with the 70-year-old.

Baker told Stark and Glanville that there was a time in his career where he called a toothpick company trying to get an endorsement. Yes, a toothpick endorsement.

“So they wrote me back,” Baker said. “Nice letter. And they said, ‘Thank you, Dusty. It’s a great idea. But we don’t need you to sell toothpicks.' ”

Only Dusty could try to get a toothpick endorsement.

[RELATED: Zac Efron's epic Dusty autograph story]

Whenever baseball returns, Baker will manage an Astros team coming off a turbulent offseason in which they were severely punished for a sign-stealing scandal. Former manager AJ Hinch was fired for his role, opening the door for Baker to get the chance to lead his fifth MLB team to the playoffs.

If Baker gets back to the playoffs, he'll have to do so without his trusty toothpicks.

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How Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper will broadcast Giants games this season

How Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper will broadcast Giants games this season

For 13 weeks, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper inadvertently prepared for what now will be their reality. They watched on monitors as Brandon Belt put up MVP numbers and Kevin Gausman emerged as a stabilizer in the rotation. They called Joey Bart's first career homer and chuckled as the rookie got the silent treatment in the dugout. 

Kruk and Kuip spent about 90 minutes every week in recent months looking at screens and calling PlayStation simulations that aired on Fridays on NBC Sports Bay Area. Both say they believe that experience has set them up well for a season unlike any other. 

"We had an hour and a half where we did a game off the monitor, which is what we're going to end up doing for the road games," Kuiper said. "I think it was a great way to prepare us to do these road games."

Krukow already was preparing to do 22 games off a monitor since he wasn't going to travel this season. Now, both will do every game from Oracle Park, beginning with two exhibitions against the A's that will air on NBC Sports Bay Area next Monday and Tuesday. Just as with players and coaches, the broadcasters are preparing for a 2020 season that will include plenty of adjustments, starting with the fact that the broadcasters will do road games by viewing the Giants on monitors set up in their booths at Oracle Park. 

The Giants' broadcasters will not be allowed to be in the same booths during the 60-game season because if one person showed symptoms of the coronavirus, the entire broadcast team would have to be quarantined. Krukow will now be set up in Willie McCovey's booth, which neighbors the home TV booth. Jon Miller and Dave Flemming will also be separated, doing the radio call from two adjacent booths. Neither Krukow nor Kuiper thought this would be an issue. 

"Even though we'll be in different booths he'll only be three or four feet away with a window in between us," Kuiper said. "We'll use hand signals or whatever. That's not going to be a problem."

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There are, however, challenges that already have been identified. The MLB operations manual for this unique season does not allow TV broadcasters to travel but does permit it for radio broadcasters, so it's possible that an opposing team could show up at Oracle Park with a radio team and a Spanish-language radio team. At some point they would run out of booths on the broadcast level, which could lead to a visiting broadcaster being set up in the seats nearby.

Kuiper also anticipates running into a sound issue because of the lack of fans. The Giants are expected to have some sort of artificial noise in the park during games, but it won't be thousands of fans. If Hunter Pence hits a huge home run in the eighth inning, Kuiper likely will hear the calls of Miller, Flemming or Erwin Higueros, and vice versa. 

You would think players might also hear the calls in an empty park, which would be strange and potentially awkward if the broadcasters are having an honest conversation about a player who is struggling. But Kuiper isn't concerned. 

"I don't think the players are going to be able to hear us," he said. "I'm not 100 percent sure, but I've tried to yell from our booth to get someone's attention on the field when it's fairly quiet and you've got to yell pretty loud for somebody to hear you."

Kuiper and Miller will be separated by an extra booth most nights to try and avoid competing calls. Another key member of the broadcast team will also be away from her usual spots. Amy Gutierrez generally roams the ballpark or positions herself in the dugout during games, but that's not possible this season. She'll be in the NBC Sports Bay Area studio on Third Street for every home game and said one of her primary goals will be to give a voice to fans who cannot attend games.

"I'm going to try and bring that to the broadcast," she said. "They deserve to have a place on this new platform because they've had something taken away from them as well."

Gutierrez might also mix in Zoom interviews with new players, particularly prospects at the secondary site in Sacramento, and said she's looking forward to seeing what aspects of this unfamiliar broadcast stick long term.

There is some thought within the industry that certain franchises could opt to make the broadcast-from-home method permanent. Krukow and Kuiper already were set to try a new way to be together more often, but they now will get to broadcast nearly the entire season from their familiar level at Oracle Park (the schedule does include four national broadcasts).

[RELATED: Posey's leadership will be missed but won't be forgotten]

There is, of course, one other issue that's front and center for anyone involved with baseball this season. Krukow has been strictly quarantining in Reno and Kuiper in the East Bay, and both will now be at the ballpark every night. Krukow said he has been even more careful since getting word that baseball is returning.

"Once this thing went down we self-quarantined again and really got tight," he said. "We don't want to bring anything into the booth to jeopardize our partners and crew. I'll be really careful. We're coming in with a mask, it'll be sterile and as benign as possible."

It'll be an adjustment, to be sure, but one the entire broadcast team is ready for. The game might look different this year, but Krukow and Kuiper plan to be there narrating every step of the way. 

"We're in an age now where we don't take any game for granted," Krukow said. "We're looking forward to doing it."

Kuiper said he has often considered that the broadcasters are having dinner with Giants fans every night. That won't change in 2020, even as so much else has. 

"For as long as we've done it our fan base has always been very kind to us, and this is where we want to be, too," he said. "When the game starts, we want to have dinner with the fans."

Veteran Darin Ruf continuing spring push to make Giants' roster

Veteran Darin Ruf continuing spring push to make Giants' roster

Darin Ruf doubled to the track in right his first time up in last Thursday's simulated game at Oracle Park, and a few innings later he pulled a double to left. It turns out that's a familiar feeling for the former Phillie. 

"My claim to fame here is hitting a double to Triples Alley off Bumgarner back in the day," he said afterward. "I didn't realize that triples were cool and I need to stretch it out next time."

Triples Alley is still here, just a little less daunting. Ruf is still here, too, despite some serious negotiations to help him find a job elsewhere when MLB suspended spring training. 

The 33-year-old spent the last three seasons mashing in South Korea, and when MLB went on a long hiatus, Ruf got an offer to again head overseas to play in Japan. But MLB had frozen rosters, and that meant Ruf could not be released or sold. It was an unfortunate consequence of the shutdown, keeping a non-roster invitee from going overseas and potentially making significantly more money in the summer of 2020 as his career winds down. 

"It was definitely a weird situation for everybody," Ruf said. "I think everyone handled it the best way they could. I respect the Giants' position to want to hold onto me knowing that I could possibly help them if the season got off, and I know they could respect my point of view where I wanted to play baseball in an uncertain time. I had an opportunity to do that. I wanted to have a little bit of certainty in my life with my family and things like that, but I think everyone handled it very professionally with as much respect as we could through the tough times."

Ruf instead stayed in the U.S. and found reps where he could, including with some friends at his old high school. And a funny thing happened as MLB worked toward a return that will come far later than it did in South Korea or Japan.

Negotiations for a restart included an expanded roster and, crucially, a permanent DH spot. Ruf watched nervously as MLB and the MLBPA failed to come to an agreement, but he breathed a sigh of relief when the final plan still included a DH. That puts him in a significantly better spot to make the Opening Day roster.

Even before all of that, though, Ruf was making a strong case. He was 12-for-28 in spring training with three homers, five doubles and a triple, validating his decision to stay in the U.S. this season. Those strong at-bats have carried over to Spring Training 2.0.

"He continues to find the barrel," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He continues to drive the baseball, he continues to have professional at-bats and use the entire field. I'm really excited about the progress that Darin is making."

Ruf played five seasons in Philadelphia, but that was before Kapler's two-year run there. He said he always wanted to stay in the United States and he tried to wait as long as possible every offseason before signing to play in the KBO, but free agency can move slowly for veterans who are limited defensively. Ruf said his agent spoke to the Giants the last couple of offseasons and this past winter was able to reach a deal with Farhan Zaidi. 

"It was great to know I had the opportunity to come back here," he said. "I know the division, I know there's a lot of lefties. I knew I could possibly carve out a role on this team and I was really excited for that."

Ruf's five seasons in Philadelphia don't particularly stand out. He was never a full-time player, but he hit 35 homers in 737 at-bats. His career OPS, though, is just .747, and he's worth negative WAR, per baseball-reference. 

The Giants don't really care about the overall picture. They see a very defined skill, one that's a need on this roster and in this division. Ruf has a .299 career average against lefties with a .379 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage. That'll play. Ruf said that's where his opportunities came in Philadelphia so he focused on honing his craft against lefties, and that makes him perfect for this division. The Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias and Alex Wood in their rotation, and the Diamondbacks feature Bumgarner and Robbie Ray at the top of theirs. 

Zaidi and Gabe Kapler have talked Ruf up in recent weeks, and he at the very least seems a strong option to DH. Kapler wants more than that, though. 

"We don't want Darin Ruf to be just one thing -- we don't want him to be just a DH or even just a first baseman or a left fielder," he said. "We want him to be a candidate to play all of those positions."

Kapler said the Giants simply want Ruf to make the plays at first and in left that should be made. There don't need to be any highlights. Hopefully those come at the plate, and they could come early on in the season. 

The Giants will go heavy on platoons and their starting first baseman, Brandon Belt, is currently nursing a sore heel. It wouldn't be a shock to see Ruf in the lineup for the first game of the season, and with the Giants potentially facing three lefties in that first series, he could be a valuable piece for a team that hopes to get off to a hot start and surprise the rest of the NL West. 

[RELATED: Brandon Belt sidelined as opener approaches]

With a little leeway from MLB, Ruf likely would have been in Japan right now. Instead he's at Oracle Park, continuing his strong push for a roster spot. 

"I'm probably closer towards the end of my career and I definitely wanted to play at some point this year," he said. "Luckily we were able to try to get a season going here. I think if things keep moving this way, we will."

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