CINCINNATI -- Dusty Baker sat in his office Saturday, a puzzled look on his face, as he tried to remember what had happened exactly 39 years and 364 days ago. He drew a blank. Once he was reminded that Sunday will mark the 40th anniversary of his Major League debut, the 59-year-old Reds manager still wasn't convinced.
"It is?" Baker said. "I don't think so. Wait, it might have been." Yes, it was. At the ripe age of 19, Baker was a September callup for the 1968 Atlanta Braves, whose roster included future managers Joe Torre and Felipe Alou along with future Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Hank Aaron. With the Braves trailing, 3-0, in the eighth inning of a Saturday day game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Baker got the call to pinch-hit for Niekro. He didn't get a hit, as his box score line reads "0-for-1," but he didn't strike out. Baker, still foggy, only remembered his emotions at the time. "I was happy," Baker said. "I was pretty confident, I remember that much." Baker said he did remember one thing about that first season, in which he picked up just six at-bats. "I know I got my first hit in my first start against Juan Marichal," Baker said. "[It was] a little swinging bunt. I ran halfway out to right field. I couldn't stop." The archived box scores do verify that Baker picked up a single off the future Hall of Fame pitcher on Sept. 20, 1968. Only problem was, it wasn't his first hit and, actually, he didn't start the game, either. Three days earlier, Baker pinch-hit for Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis and picked up his first career hit, a single, against Astros pitcher Mike Cuellar. Whatever the case, it doesn't mar what Baker has accomplished since 1968. Baker went on to play 19 more years in the big leagues, finishing up his career with the A's in 1986. He picked up his 1,981st and final hit off the Royals' Charlie Leibrandt that Oct. 3 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Baker then went on to become a manager, of course. The Reds' 10-2 win over the Cubs on Friday marked the 1,225th of Baker's career, which ties him for 35th on the all-time list. "It was a quick 40 years, I'll say that," Baker said. "A lot of things have happened in 40 years."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.