HOUSTON — (AP) — For now and forever, Dusty Baker, the epic storyteller, top-notch namedropper, toothpick chewer, and baseball lifer, will hold a highly respected title.
World Champion Manager.
The man who can weave stories like few others, who fondly recalls his time under Hank Aaron’s tutelage or chance encounters with Jimi Hendrix, John F. Kennedy Jr. and countless others, completed the one missing chapter in his own story on Saturday night .
After 25 seasons of skippering the big league riddled with a few painful near misses, Baker, 73, finally made it home as his Houston Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 to win the title.
When Yordan Alvarez connected with a three-run go-ahead homer In the sixth inning, cameras panned to a beaming Baker who raised both arms high above his head.
He became the oldest manager to win a World Series on his third trip as manager to the Fall Classic. As a player, he played three times with the Dodgers and won it all in 1981.
He went into Saturday’s game as the top manager without a World Series title, improving to 2,094-1,790 with that memorable win.
“I’ve got 2,000 wins and all they’re talking about is I haven’t won the World Series yet,” he said Thursday.
They can’t say that anymore.
He is the only black manager to win a World Series, along with Dave Roberts (Dodgers, 2020) and Cito Gaston (Blue Jays, 1992, 1993).
“I don’t think about being an African American coach because every day I look in the mirror and I know what I am,” he said before the game. “You know what I mean? (But) I know there’s a certain pressure from a lot of people pulling for me, especially people of color. And I feel that part. I hear it every day … and that’s why I feel chosen for it.”
He helped the Astros win their second World Series title and first since the 2017 scandal that made Houston the most hated team in baseball. Baker helped polish the team’s image thereafter, and some reluctantly began to cheer for the Astros because they admired him.
Despite being popular throughout the game, he quickly became a Houston fan favorite. On Saturday night, several fans proudly displayed signs that read “Do it 4 Dusty.”
Baker is the 12th manager in major league history to have 2,000 wins and the first black man to do so. Ten of the 11 other managers who have accumulated at least 2,000 wins are in the Hall of Fame. The only exception is Bruce Bochy (2,003), who is not yet eligible to play.
Baker managed San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati and Washington before coming to Houston. He is the only manager in major league history to lead five different teams into the postseason.
Baker had gotten close to him before. In 2002, his San Francisco Giants with Barry Bonds faced the Anaheim Angels in Game 6, one win away from a title. As the road team for the final two games of that series, the Giants squandered a five-run lead in a 6-5 loss in game six before the Angels clinched the title with a 4-1 win in Game 7.
After the crushing loss in Game 7, Baker reunited with his father, Johnnie B. Baker Sr., who shared a tough message.
“He’s like, ‘Man, after the way (you) lost that one, I don’t know if you’re ever going to win one again,’ Baker recalled last year.
Although his father has been gone for more than a decade, he still thinks of him every day and often remembers this moment. He is driven to prove his father wrong.
After being fired from the Nationals after a 97-win season in 2017, Baker wondered if he’d ever get another chance, let alone win that elusive title.
Working at his wine business back home in Northern California and growing cabbages in his garden, he was often perplexed that he had been passed over for interviews so many times as job offers came and went after making requests he said he did they have remained unanswered over the years.
Then came 2019 and the startling revelation that the Astros had illegally stolen signs in 2017 and 2018. Manager AJ Hinch was suspended for a year and then fired to make way for Baker to return to the game.
Baker took over for the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. The Astros entered the postseason as a wildcard team before heating up in the playoffs to land a win before reaching the World Series.
Baker returned to the series last season but came up short again when Houston fell to Atlanta in six games.
Baker was lifelong friends with Aaron, who died in January 2021 at the age of 86. He joked that he probably didn’t have Aaron on his side against his Braves last year, but that things should be different this time.
“He probably fired for the Braves last year,” Baker said last month. “I guess now he’s cheering me on.”
Hammerin’ Hank would certainly have been proud if his pal had finally reached that milestone as Baker was by his side on his biggest.
Baker was on deck and among the Braves who gathered at the plate to celebrate with Aaron on April 8, 1974 when he hit his 715th home run to overtake Babe Ruth for the most all-time run.
Baker thought of his father, mother, Aaron and so many others he lost earlier this week.
“A few days ago it was All Souls Day and I’m thinking of all the guys I played with and grew up with and who influenced my life,” he said. “And you think of the souls, that All Souls’ Day is about the angels protecting you. And I believe in that.”
Baker went through his normal routine before arriving at the stadium on Saturday. He would get coffee from a favorite spot in Rice Village and get his clothes dry cleaned.
Baker also went to the cobbler to get some “expensive shoes” that he had repaired because the sole was coming off.
That’s a good thing, too, because after Saturday night’s win, he’ll need a nice pair of shoes towards the end of his career, likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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