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Life After Sports: A Conversation with Dusty Baker

May 2, 2020

Dusty Baker is one of the greatest baseball managers in the Major Leagues. A California native, Baker was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1967, and over the course of his All-Star career played for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and Oakland Athletics. In 1993 he began his managerial career with the San Francisco Giants before moving on to manage the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, and now the Houston Astros.

The Cal Alumni Association (CAA) had the opportunity to connect with Baker about his connection to Cal, interests outside of baseball, and Sacramento-based businesses: a renewable energy business, Baker Energy Team; and a winery, Baker Family Wines.

CAA: What are your connections to Cal?

Dusty Baker: My direct and current connection would be via my son Darren, currently a junior at Cal, but I have been following Cal baseball since the late 1990s when my godson and current assistant head coach Noah Jackson was playing. But, my respect and admiration for Cal goes further back.

My father Johnnie B. Baker, Sr. was a World War II veteran who worked as a civilian for the military for 36 years and my mom was an educator, so when we arrived in northern California, higher education was on the Baker family radar. I don’t think this story has been told, but before I was drafted in 1967 and signed with the Atlanta Braves, I was eyeing both the University of Santa Clara and the University of California, Berkeley. Sometimes I wonder, but I’m lucky enough now, I can enjoy the great Cal experience through my son.

CAA: After your success as a baseball player and manager, what led to your interest in the wine and solar industries?

DB: I have been blessed as both an MLB player and manager, but my wine and renewable energy businesses are also very near and dear to my heart. My father’s second job as a gardener was, I believe, the source of our green thumbs, which I have carried over to the wine vineyard.

When I was building the family home 13 years ago, I was sitting on the Mondavi advisory board, and Michael Mondavi introduced me to Chik Brenneman to plant some rootstock in my backyard. Not only did the rootstock grow, but Chik and I then went on to start our wine business together, the Baker Family Wines.

During this construction phase of my home, I was discussing my neighbor’s high energy bill with him, so I spoke with my project manager Dennis Kludt. We researched, designed, and built a microgrid to include solar with ground and roof mounts, carports, solar wells, and thermal energy, which is all backed up by my propane generator.

So, when I was between jobs at the Cubs and the Reds, I was invited to attend the Roth Conference by Ted and Byron Roth. My renewable energy interest grew stronger at the conference. The who’s who of the energy world was there, and after a couple days, I knew I needed to create the Baker Energy Team to not only leave a better carbon footprint for my children’s children, but also to pave the way as a minority, veteran-owned business for more minority participation in the renewable energy sector.

(left to right) Cal Baseball Head Coach Mike New, Dusty Baker, Assistant Coach Noah Jackson. Image: Robert Edwards

CAA: What sets the Baker Energy Team apart from other solar and energy companies?

DB: In a nutshell, it’s my lifelong relationships, which I have forged over the last 50 years. My baseball career has allowed me to meet and stay associated with leaders in many different lines of work. When I started the Baker Energy Team, I reached out to those experts in the renewable energy field not only for advice, but also to have them join us as strategic partners and help us, one project at a time, to address the climate issues we are facing today. When you are a customer of the Baker Energy Team, you will know you not only have my name and reputation, and the most skillful team you could imagine behind you.

CAA: One of your partners achieved success in another industry: music. Can you talk about your partnership with Kool & The Gang?

DB: Robert “Kool” Bell is a founding member of the iconic R&B music group Kool & The Gang and has performed continuously for the past 45 years, longer than any R&B group in history. Together, we formed Kool Baker Global by combining more than 100 years of industry knowledge, strong investment relationships, and creative financial structuring.

Kool’s cousin is Ken Griffey, Sr. and as Kool was playing throughout Africa, he saw the huge need for alternative energy. He expressed these energy needs to his cousin, Ken, who knew I was in the renewable energy space. Ken connected me with Ezrah Aharone, who I met during our trip to Ghana 12 years ago, and Kool-Baker Global was formed.

Kool-Baker offers comprehensive solutions and a variety of energy technologies for projects of all sizes and geographical areas, with a very specific focus on Africa and the energy challenges that exist continent-wide.

CAA: How do you think being in sports as a player and manager has influenced who you are as an individual and as a businessman?

DB: Interesting question. I recently turned 70 years old, and as I mentioned before, I just became a grandfather for the first time, so I have been taking an inventory of my life. Looking back, I did not know it at the time, but I truly enjoy being around people and being able to communicate with them. We all struggle at some point in life, and if I can help others with my ability to understand and comfort, I am more than willing.

Remember, my life’s wisdom as a communicator and leader all began with my mentors—my parents, followed by Hank Aaron, Tommy Davis, and Ralph Garr at 18 years old—so, my foundation was set pretty early in my life. And, as far as business, I believe I am able to use that foundation along with my leadership and communication skills to become successful in the boardroom.

Baker talks with Cal baseball players at Evans Diamond in March 2018. Image: Robert Edwards Image: Robert Edwards

CAA: What’s the best advice you’ve received about business, baseball, or life in general?

DB: Well, you don’t need to look any further than my current job, manager of the Houston Astros. Truly not the most comfortable situation I have been in, but like with life, we need to fall back on our core values and push forward for a better tomorrow. Yes, mistakes were made, but we have corrected them and will make sure the same ones will not happen again. We learn from mistakes and become better people for it.

My advice, which I received from my dad, would be to always stay positive in your spirit and mind, never forget your core values, and always continue to work hard and try to do the right thing.

CAA: You were half of the first “high five” ever! How did that happen?

DB: Yea, as the years go on, it’s pretty cool to be part of the high-five celebration with Glenn [Burke]. Some may think it was just a couple teammates messing around because it was the final game of the 1977 season.

The truth is that we made history with that home run. We, the Dodgers, became the first team in MLB history to have four players with 30 home runs, so, here I am crossing home plate when this enthusiastic rookie, Glenn, is running at me with his hand in the air, so I naturally reached up and made contact. I guess that means Glenn initiated it and I became the benefactor of the first “high five!”

Find more information about Baker Energy Team and Baker Family Wines online. Go Bears!