Cubs' Baker takes nothing for granted

Cubs' Baker takes nothing for granted

CHICAGO -- Dusty Baker looks at the stars. He delights in hearing his son laugh. He will always hate losing, but his perspective has changed. He knows he's lucky to be alive.

Baker, the Chicago Cubs' manager, is a prostate cancer survivor. He found out he had it during a routine checkup. He was managing the San Francisco Giants at the time. Doctors had noticed a slight increase in his PSA count, or prostate-specific antigen, each year for six years. After the 2001 season, the number doubled from 2.2 to 4, considered a drastic increase.

"Four was no problem, but the only problem was I went from two to four," Baker said. "I went in for a biopsy, and they took eight different biopsies and cancer was in four of them."

Baker was well aware of prostate cancer. His father, Johnnie B. Baker Sr., had it. When Dusty was diagnosed, his aunts gave him copies of death certificates for two of his uncles and both of his grandfathers, verifying that they had it, too.

"At that time, I didn't have a clue," Baker said. "I just thought all the men in my family died at 45, 46 years old."

His wife, Melissa, had lost her mother to breast cancer, so she pushed Baker to get treatment.

"She was really concerned about me," Baker said of Melissa. "That's how it usually is -- most of the time, it's the women who push the men. Most men figure nothing can happen to them. Most guys don't worry about it."

Baker opted for a radical prostatectomy on Dec. 17, 2001. Typically, men with early-stage disease or cancer that is confined to the prostate will undergo this treatment in which the entire prostate gland is removed. Dr. Joseph Presti of Palo Alto, Calif., a urology specialist, did the operation. Baker could've chosen radiation or chemotherapy, but doctors recommended the surgery. He did his homework, calling New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and MLB official Bob Watson for support and guidance.

"It wasn't easy, and that next year we went to the [2002] World Series," Baker said. "There were only six weeks between my operation and the time we went to Spring Training. There were times when I didn't have much energy. There were times when I was falling asleep in Spring Training. I wasn't sleeping at night because I had to get up four, five times a night to go to the bathroom. Before, I never had to get up at all."

"You appreciate your kids, you appreciate your team, you appreciate your job, you appreciate life, your parents, your family, just different things that are really important to you that sometimes you take for granted."
-- Dusty Baker, on being a cancer survivor

Baker's coaching staff, which included current Cubs hitting coach Gene Clines, took over a lot of the workload to take some of the pressure off Baker.

"The only time I was really sleepy was when we had a split doubleheader," he said. "When you're not sleeping, you're in bed at 8 o'clock at night. I did a lot of reading, took different vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, drank green tea."

He maintains that routine today. In the fourth and eighth innings, Cubs clubhouse manager Tom Hellman brings Baker a cup of tea.

"I've done some research and I prefer white tea, but it's harder to find," Baker said. "White is supposed to be better for you. I take white or green tea in the fourth and the eighth inning. During the course of the game, you're really not able to go make yourself a cup of tea."

Major League Baseball won't be passing out green or white tea on this Father's Day, but will have players and managers wearing blue ribbons and wristbands to raise awareness of prostate cancer and the need to be tested.

Baker's life changed after the surgery.

"You end up appreciating a full moon, or some flowers, or some birds or the stars," he said. "I was talking to one guy in San Luis Obispo [Calif.], and we were on a balcony talking, and I said, 'Isn't it beautiful tonight?' He said, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'Don't you ever just look at the stars? Man, you're missing out.'

"You appreciate your kids, you appreciate your team, you appreciate your job, you appreciate life, your parents, your family, just different things that are really important to you that sometimes you take for granted," Baker said.

A friend gave him a black and white painting from the Jimmy Stewart movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

"Really, that's it -- it's a wonderful life," Baker said. "You want to have a positive effect on people."

Baker was one of the first to call Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer this spring.

"I called Rudy because I got calls," Baker said. "Sometimes, you need support. It does mess with your head some. It messes with your head quite a bit. It increases your faith in God. Things don't bother you as much as they used to. You're still the same person.

"People say, 'You don't care' [about the Cubs]. I care big time," Baker said. "I love my job, I love to win, I'm still as competitive as ever. It just changes your perspective on life, that's all."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.