Yes, Dusty Baker was there, in the on-deck circle on an April night in 1974 in Atlanta when Hank Aaron hit the home run that vaulted him past Babe Ruth and into American sports history.
But on the list of historically significant moments that Baker witnessed live and in person of an iconic African-American vaulting from mere fame to legend, the Aaron moment –unfathomably –might have to rank second.
As he chronicles in his engaging new memoir “Kiss the Sky: My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever” (Wellstone Books), Baker was also there on a June day in Monterey in 1967 when a guitarist named Jimi Hendrix took the stage and delivered a set that many rock fans consider one of the greatest live rock ‘n’ roll performances ever. When Hendrix dropped to his knees and set his guitar on fire, he moved into rock music immortality.
The famous Monterey Pop Festival serves as the fulcrum for the story of the early years of Baker, who achieved his own fame on the baseball diamond, first as an All-Star outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams, and later as the manager of the San Francisco Giants, as well as with other teams.
“Kiss the Sky” is Baker’s account of his life before all that, growing up in the Southern California city of Riverside, almost home to his friend and fellow rising star Bobby Bonds –Baker relates in the book that held Bobby’s son Barry in his arms as an infant. At the age of 15, he moved with his family to the Sacramento area, right about the time that Northern California was becoming the epicenter for the hippie subculture.
Reached by phone between stints working as an analyst for TBS during the Major League Baseball playoffs, Baker, who comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz Oct. 28, said he had no clue that Monterey Pop would go down in history as the one of the high marks in rock history.
“At the time, it was really no big deal,” he said. “It was just another happening. We got to concerts almost weekly some place, in Davis, at Sac State, at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, at