Cubs never reached their potential under Dusty Baker’s watchful eye

(Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
(Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images) /

We should be watching this year’s Chicago Cubs get ready for Opening Day. Instead, the lockout rages on, CBA talks hit another wall on Wednesday and the season remains in limbo. In other words, it’s a really, really tough time to be a baseball fan.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding when games will pick up, how many games will be played and more, a lot of fans have been reminiscing upon seasons past. After all, outside of college games, it’s not like we have much to watch until the Minor League Baseball season kicks off in early April.

Outside of the team’s recent run from 2015 to 2018, one of the more memorable stretches since the turn of the century came under the watchful eye of Dusty Baker, who managed the club from 2003 to 2006.

When Baker was hired by the Cubs as manager on a four-year deal back in 2003, fans were ecstatic to snag the successful veteran and with good reason – he was coming off an NL pennant with the Giants the year prior. Baker made a splash during his first season on the North Side, thanks to a veteran-heavy lineup and a young rotation that seemed destined for the record books.

Of course, nobody thinks about anything other than the team’s NLCS meltdown when looking back at that ’03 campaign – but at the end of the day, Baker had Chicago just five outs from a pennant and a World Series berth for the first time since the end of World War II. On the heels of that near-miss, we had lofty expectations heading into 2004. To say things didn’t go the way we envisioned is putting things very mildly.

Chicago dealt with key injuries and collapsed in September. Though the team won 89 games, fans and the media alike started turning the heat up on Baker.

By 2005, spirits were low. The Cubs went 79-83 that season and their crosstown rivals won it all for the first time since 1917. To add injury to insult, the North Siders came back in 2006 and were just miserable, losing 96 games – their second-most in a single season since 1974. Fans were livid at this point and when his contract expired, the team let Baker walk – replacing him with another seasoned presence in Lou Piniella.

After leaving Chicago, Baker led both the Reds, Nationals and Astros to the postseason – but that ring has remained elusive for the 72-year-old. Thanks to his still-ongoing tenure in Houston, Baker is the only skipper in MLB history to guide five different organizations to a division title.

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All that means little to most Cubs fans, who – to this day – blame him for the injuries that derailed both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood’s careers. Between that, the team’s 2003 NLCS meltdown and subsequent lackluster showings in years to come, there’s not a whole lot of love left for Baker in Chicago.