Chicago bids farewell to Dusty Baker

CHICAGO – Dusty Baker is out as the Chicago Cubs’ manager following a last-place finish and a failure to take the team to the World Series in his 4 years.

The Cubs made the announcement Monday, a day after team president Andy MacPhail resigned and the club finished with a 66-96 record.

“I wish we could have gotten it done but we didn’t,” Baker said. “You see four years come to pass very quickly.”

Baker was in the last season of his $14 million-to-$15 million deal and had hoped to resurrect the franchise that hadn’t been in the World Series since 1945 and hadn’t won one since 1908. The Cubs got within five outs of the Series in 2003, but never came close after that.

He compiled a 322-326 record during his time in Chicago.

Baker said he talked to the players on Sunday.

“I just urged them yesterday just to learn from some of the things that they might have understood, and some of the things that they didn’t understand,” he said. “Just retain it and perhaps some day they can use it on being better ballplayers, and being, you know, better family men and just being better people, period.”

General manager Jim Hendry said it was a tough day for the team, but that it was time for a change.

“History was almost changed for good in 2003 … although we’ve been down this slippery slope the last two years,” Hendry said.

He also said finding a new manager will be his first priority, but he offered no timetable.

Known for his toothpicks and wristbands while managing from the dugout, Baker was popular with his players and in his 14th season as manager.

Baker left the San Francisco Giants after leading them to the 2002 World Series, and almost guided the Cubs to the World Series in 2003.

With Mark Prior on the mound in Game 6 of the NL championship series, the Cubs blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning against Florida.

The Marlins scored eight times, helped when Cubs fan Steve Bartman touched a foul fly ball before Chicago left fielder Moises Alou had a chance to catch it.

It will easily be the most-remembered inning in Baker’s tenure in Chicago.

The next night, the Cubs lost Game 7 with Kerry Wood pitching.

They came back the next season, led the NL wild card by 11/2 games, only to stumble again on a final home stand and not make the postseason.

The 2004 season also marked the end of Sammy Sosa in Chicago.

Sosa left the clubhouse before the end of the season finale, and the fading slugger later accused Baker of blaming him for the club’s failures.

Sosa was subsequently traded to Baltimore.

Injuries to Prior and Wood dogged the Cubs the last three seasons.

Nomar Garciaparra tore a groin muscle and missed much of the 2005 season as the Cubs fell to 79-83, Baker’s first losing season since 1996.

The swoon continued this year as Prior and Wood started the season on the disabled list again.

NL batting champion Derrek Lee later broke his wrist and from there, the collapse was staggering.

Baker was the latest victim in the Cub’s history of losing.

MacPhail offered no excuses on Sunday, but acknowledged the Cubs hadn’t developed position players as well as pitchers and pointed to the team’s uncanny stretch of injuries and poor health.

Baker has said he does not regret coming to the Cubs but wished he’d been the one to turn the longtime losers around.

That’s what he expected upon his arrival following 10 seasons as skipper of the Giants, where he was a three-time manager of the year.