HOUSTON – The 2022 Houston Astros are World Series champions. This is familiar territory for a few players — Justin Verlander. Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman and Lance McCullers, Jr. For the manager in the dugout, though, it is not. This is Dusty Baker’s first World Series championship in 25 seasons as a manager. 

It is the pinnacle of his Hall of Fame life in the game. And what a baseball life it has been and continues to be. 

Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker was born in 1949. In 1967, he was selected in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball draft and he’s been involved with the league ever since. Now 73 years old, Baker has been in baseball for an overwhelming majority of his life. 

As a player

He debuted in the majors on Sept. 7, 1968 at age 19, joining a Braves team that featured the legendary Hank Aaron in addition to big baseball names like Felipe Alou, Joe Torre and Phil Niekro. Baker wouldn’t stick in the majors on a regular basis until 1973, when he hit .321 with a 142 OPS+. That was the start of a very admirable playing career that would see him make two All-Star teams, win two Silver Sluggers, finish in the top-seven of MVP voting twice (topping out a fourth) and win a Gold Glove. 

A career .278/.347/.432 hitter, he amassed 1,981 hits, 320 doubles, 242 homers, 1,013 RBI, 964 runs and 137 stolen bases. He was the Dodgers three-hole hitter and left fielder when they won the 1981 World Series. 

Those are shy of Hall of Fame credentials as a player on their own, but it’s enough of a foundation to add it to his managerial career and say he should be an absolute slam dunk for Cooperstown. Once he’s retired for five years, he’ll be on an Era Committee ballot and it should be a unanimous vote during a Winter Meetings. 

Let’s keep walking through his Hall of Fame journey while noting the naysayers he picked up along the way. 

Managing the Giants

After retiring, Baker wasn’t even planning on getting into coaching or managing. Instead, he spent his first few post-playing years as a stockbroker before eventually being named the Giants’ first-base coach for the 1988 season. He was the boss in 1993, managing a 102-win Giants team, would win the NL West twice (1997 and 2000) and guide the Giants from a wild-card spot to the World Series in 2002. 

Of course, he left a sour taste after the Giants blew a five-run lead in Game 6 of the World Series and then lost Game 7, too. At the time they had never won a World Series in San Francisco and Baker was blamed for poor pitching management in the late innings of Game 6. 

It would be a theme, creating a schism between how much so many people in the game loved him and eventually four fanbases remembering him less than fondly. 

Managing the Cubs

The Cubs hired Baker away from the Giants in time for 2003, as he was a hot commodity, rightfully. They won the NL Central that year and advanced to the NLCS, their first playoff series win since 1908. We know all about the collapse from a 3-1 lead in that series and it doesn’t need to be relived. 

The remainder of Baker’s time in Chicago often saw him the target of ire from fans and local media. He was blamed for pitching injuries, specifically Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and falling apart in the final weeks of the 2004 season made things worse. 

Still, he won the division in his first year and got the Cubs within one game of the World Series while winning a playoff series. Given that the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 — and every disappointment leading up to that just made the eventual break through that much sweeter, at least for me — I just can’t wrap my head around the remaining venom from some Cubs fans. Life’s too short, man. If Prior and Wood don’t hate him, why do you? Get over it. 

Managing the Reds

Baker took over in Cincinnati for the 2008 season and oversaw them become contenders again for the first time in a while. Before Baker, the Reds hadn’t had a winning record since 2000 and hadn’t made the playoffs since 1995. Under Baker, they won 90-plus games three of his last four years and won the NL Central twice. Since they fired him, they’ve had a winning record twice: 31-29 in the shortened 2020 season and 83-79 in 2021. They only made the playoffs post-Dusty in 2020 and that was due to the expanded field. 

And I’m telling you, the entire time he was there, whether it was on social media or local radio shows where they took calls from fans, I rarely saw a positive word about him from the fan base. Though obviously there were outliers, the fans really didn’t like him, collectively. And the team got good on his watch while immediately crumbling once he was gone. 

He’s not perfect, but he routinely gets the most out of his rosters. The Reds’ successes and failures over the past 30 or so years are a nice illustration of this. 

Baker helmed the Nationals in 2016 and 2017, when they won 95 and 97 games, respectively. He lost both of his playoff series there and it was enough to get him fired. They won 83 games the year before he arrived and 82 the year after he was fired. They did breakthrough with a surprise World Series championship in 2019, so the naysayers have an easy narrative that has followed him: He’s a great regular season manager and can’t win in the playoffs. I long believed it to be unfair, but the simple reality is that it would follow him until he broke through and won it all. 

Managing the Astros

In the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, the Astros fired their general manager and manager. The new front office was tasked with attempting to clean up the organization’s reputation and Baker was a home run hire on that front. 

He is so personable. He is beloved by nearly everyone in baseball who has ever had the pleasure of crossing paths with him. He’s brilliant at taking bullets for his players in press conferences. He was the absolute perfect man for this job. 

He hasn’t had trouble winning playoff series like with the Reds and Nationals. He’s won back-to-back AL pennants after making the ALCS in 2020 and now has the World Series title. He actually has a 28-14 record in playoff games with the Astros. 

The narrative persisted, though, as the Astros lost to the Braves in six games last year in the World Series. The Astros’ pitching staff was on fumes in that series while Alex Bregman was playing injured and could barely hit. Still, Dusty was the manager, so he just can’t win the big one, right? 

He didn’t help himself in the early going of the 2022 World Series. He left Justin Verlander in for the third time through the Phillies batting order when Verlander had already shown signs of tiring. They ended up losing that game, the first time a World Series team blew a five-run lead since … yep, Baker’s 2002 Giants, as noted above. 

In Game 3, he left Lance McCullers, Jr. in far too long. It was especially troubling when it was only 4-0 and he let Kyle Schwarber see McCullers for a third time. If that score stayed 4-0, the Phillies would’ve used all their best relievers. Instead, they saved them all. It was a tactical error that could have cost his team the series. He was managing like it was the regular season while Phillies manager Rob Thomson was going day by day when needed. 

It didn’t come back to bite Baker, though, as the Astros threw a no-hitter in Game 4 and Verlander was good at getting out of jams in Game 5. 

Look, I said he wasn’t perfect as a manager. That doesn’t mean he deserves scorn from multiple fan bases. 

Baker is now one of nine managers to win a pennant from both leagues. No other manager has ever won a division with five different teams. His 2,093 regular-season wins ranks ninth in history (the most ever for a Black manager). Of the top 11, he’s the only one not yet in the Hall of Fame. His 12 playoff appearances ranks fourth all time. Only Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre have more than Dusty’s nine division titles. 

More than anything, Baker’s enduring legacy should be that he’s one of the greatest human beings baseball has had. I spoke with multiple people about this and the sentiment essentially boils down to this: Every single person who has ever met Baker likes him or even loves him dearly. The only people who don’t like him are fans who have never met him and believe he cost their team playoff games. 

“Dusty Baker is a legend in this game,” Jeremy Peña said after Game 5. “He’s been great to me since the first day we met. He took me in spring training, gave me great advice. He brings the best out of his players. He gives you all the confidence in the world and you can’t expect more from a manager.” 

Yes, he is a legend. A true titan of the sport. And now he has his ring as a manager. His resume is complete. 

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