As one of the few African-American managers in the major leagues - and perhaps the most prominent over the last two decades - Dusty Baker knows he is a go-to voice on race at baseball's highest level. He's expressed his beliefs on plenty of occasions and recently did on Jackie Robinson Day in April, when he advocated for African-Americans in leadership positions.
Last week, race became a topic of discussion in the sport again after Adam Jones told USA Today that major league players aren't kneeling during the national anthem in Colin Kaepernick's footsteps like other professional athletes because "baseball is a white man's sport" and it is too risky for an African-American player to take such a stance. Baker supported Jones's outspokenness.
"Every man has the right to say what they feel," the 67-year-old Baker said Sunday at Turner Field. "Whether anybody else agrees or disagrees, that's his right. I think it's good because dialogue promotes thought. Because there are a lot of times when you don't realize how other people feel. They assume they know how they feel, but they don't really know how a person feels. It appears to me that he wasn't just speaking off the cuff. He's a smart dude and he probably put some though in what he said."
Baker is one of two African-American managers currently in the majors, along with Los Angeles Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts. Last season, the Seattle Mariners' Lloyd McLendon was the only one, but was fired after the campaign, his second with Seattle. Dave Stewart of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox are the only African-Americans overseeing personnel decisions in a major league front office. Eight percent of opening day rosters across the majors was African American.
Now nearing the end of his 21st season as a manager with his fourth different club, Baker made his major league debut as a player for the Atlanta Braves in 1968, months after Martin Luther King Jr., an Atlanta native, was assassinated. He recalled that Ebony and JET Magazine used to list all the African-American and Latino players on each team. He has a photo on his walls of the "eight or nine" African-Americans and Latinos on one of those Braves teams.
It was a different time, Baker, a Marine Corps reservist from 1969 to 1975, said. Professional athletes - and the population at-large - were more outspoken on racial injustice and other issues back then.
"It's definitely different than what I was used to," Baker said. "But in some ways it's better, the whole issue. And in some ways, it's worse. I respect him and admire him for standing up in what you believe. Whether anybody else believes it or not, it's not important. You're not there to satisfy other people because you can't satisfy other people. I respect him big time because how many people, especially in this modern world - I grew up in an era where dissonance and anti-conformity and anti-a-lot-of-stuff [were widespread], but now there's more conformity for fear of losing your job. Or people say things, but they'll say one thing over here and they'll say something else over there.
"You get chastised for speaking up and speaking your mind today. Back then, that would've been nothing."