Is 2021 the year? Is it finally his year? Dusty Baker is now in his 24th season as a major-league manager. After stops with the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals, he's now running the Houston Astros. This all happened after a 19-year playing career that started at age 19 with his 2021 World Series opponent, the Atlanta Braves.
Should the Astros win the World Series, the well-respected and venerable 72-year-old boss might just choose to ride off into the proverbial sunset and retire. His contract is up with the Astros anyway, and if he accomplishes this feat, surely this baseball lifer will note to himself that he's accomplished everything he can in the game.
As a player, Baker was a two-time All-Star who finished as high as fourth in MVP voting. He was an NLCS MVP, was a member of three pennant-winning teams and was a regular on the 1981 World Series champion Dodgers. Shortly after playing, he started coaching and rose the ranks to manager by 1993 at age 44.
He has now taken all five of the teams he managed to the playoffs. In fact, he's won his division with all five. He's 12th all-time in manager wins. He has a regular-season winning percentage of .534 (a 162-game pace of 87 wins and that's his average season). He won the 2002 NL pennant with the Giants and now 2021 AL pennant with the Astros. The one thing that has eluded him is winning a World Series as a manager.
It's no secret but I'll continue to sing it so long as any lingering Baker haters remain: This is a man worth rooting for. Speak to anyone around the game and you will get nothing but praise for Baker as a human being. He's one of the kindest and most genuine people in baseball. He's funny. He's generally always smiling. He loves his players and gets their backs almost to a fault. Pretty much every player who has ever played for him loves him right back (read this Doug Glanville piece on Baker from 2012 for insider details on this).
For a quick glimpse into his personality, check out this exchange:
It's really long, obviously, clocking in at seven minutes and 45 seconds, but you can go to just about any spot in there and see what a lovable dude Baker is. I've spoken to dozens of people in and around the game on Baker as a person and not one person has ever had a single negative word to say about him.
His given name is Johnnie B. Baker. There's gotta be pressure on someone with such a cool-sounding name to actually be that cool, but Baker delivers and then some.
Is he perfect? Absolutely not. None of us are. He's said things in the past worthy of mockery, such as not liking walks because they "clog up the bases," but that was years ago. He's grown as the years have progressed. The narrative that he ruined a bunch of young arms is overblown, too, because back in 2003 every single team threw starters 120 pitches regularly. He doesn't run his arms into the ground now. He hasn't in a long time.
There's a reason the Astros hired Baker in the aftermath of the sign-stealing scandal. They needed a veteran manager who oozed charisma and would garner attention, keeping it away from the players. They needed a players' manager who would take enemy fire for his players and keep any negative media attention off of them as best he could. They needed someone who immediately walked into a room and commanded respect.
They needed Dusty Baker.
"I interviewed a bunch of guys, and the first time I talked to him, we talked for two hours and I felt like he was my best friend," Astros owner Jim Crane told the New York Times. "So I was very comfortable with him immediately and, boom, I made the decision. I knew he had a lot of experience, he kind of calmed a lot of the nonsense we were dealing with and kept these guys on track."
If anyone objectively studied Baker's body of work to this point, there is but one actual, factual weakness and it's that he has never won the World Series as a manager.
Should that change here in the next 10 days, Baker's Hall of Fame resume and career are complete. He will have accomplished everything that he possibly could in Major League Baseball, a league he's been part of for the better part of 53 years.
A lot of baseball fans view the Astros as the villain in the postseason due to the past, but in the present they have a manager worth rooting for.