07/14/2003 4:57 PM ET
Baker, Schmidt go a long way
Rosters: AL | NL
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Dusty Baker and Jason Schmidt bonded because both were on the San Francisco Giants as manager and player. But they discovered they had much more in common.
The two shared cancer. Baker had to personally deal with prostate cancer. Schmidt's mother was overcome by it, and she died in April this year.
On Tuesday, Baker will do his part to reward the right-hander, giving him the ball to start the All-Star Game for the National League team.
Schmidt, who will be appearing in his first All-Star Game, helped Baker and the Giants reach the World Series last season. This year, the right-hander ranks among the National League leaders in ERA, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, innings pitched and opponents batting average.
"This is one of the highlights of my career and I'm happy to be back here sitting next to Dusty," Schmidt said. "He's a big reason I'm here. He gave me some confidence in my career and so I'd like to thank him for the opportunity to start. It's an honor to be here."
Baker, now the Chicago Cubs manager, said he had a tough time deciding between Schmidt and Russ Ortiz, now with the Atlanta Braves. But in the end, it was Schmidt, who is 9-4 with a 2.37 ERA this season.
The two talked last year in Spring Training about their cancer link.
"Jason came into my office and told me his mother was sick at that time and he needed to go home and I was coming off my illness at the same time," Baker said. "So we talked about it; we talked about a lot of things at that time.
"I was very impressed with how he handled it," Baker said. "I've never been through it before and I would have -- I might be calling him some day for some tips on how to handle a death in the family."
Which is not something people want to talk about. Schmidt had to leave the Giants in April this year to be with his mother. His first start back after her death, coincidently, was against Baker and the Cubs on April 30 at Pac Bell Park.
Schmidt pitched as if possessed, throwing a three-hit shutout in the Giants' 5-0 win. He struck out 12.
"He pitched a heck of a ballgame and I could tell at that time that we would not have beaten Jason Schmidt under any circumstances because he was pitching with a higher intensity and a higher power than I have ever seen before," Baker said.
"As a manager, this is one of the few ways where you can reward your players for helping you to get to where you are," Baker said.
Baker checked with Dave Righetti, the Giants pitching coach, about Schmidt's availability.
"I said it's in memory for not only what he's done for me but in memory of his mother at the same time," Baker said.
And now, Schmidt is an All-Star.
Schmidt threw three consecutive complete games, capped by a 5-1 win June 30 over St. Louis. He entered the season with two shutouts and eight complete games in 182 starts. Last year, he tied a career high with 13 wins.
In another coincidence, Schmidt's opponent, American League starter Esteban Loaiza, was his teammate at Pittsburgh. The two had discussed the possibility of seeing each other again at the All-Star Game during the Giants-White Sox Interleague series.
"We've come a long way in our careers and here we are," Loaiza said. "We've just got to do our jobs [Tuesday]."
Ortiz will have to wait. Schmidt will likely pitch at least two innings. Baker didn't want to reveal his pitching lineup.
"Russ wanted to start, too," Baker said Monday. "I strongly considered that, too, but I gave the nod to Jason for the reasons I named. Russ will get in the game, too. I told Russ. He was one of the two choices I had."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.