Sports

Houston Astros World Series title clears way to Hall of Fame for manager Dusty Baker

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros’ win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2022 World Series ended a nearly three-decade wait for Dusty Baker, who finally achieved the only accomplishment missing from a Hall of Fame career.

Baker, who was part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster that won the 1981 World Series, won his first managerial title in his 25th season and 29 years after he debuted in the role, with the San Francisco Giants in 1993.

The Riverside, Calif., native lost the Major League Finals in 2002 with the Giants and last year with the Astros.

“It’s very important,” Baker said hours before the first pitch of Game 6 of the Fall Classic.

“I mean, I’m over 2,000 wins and all they say is I haven’t won the World Series yet, you know? So yes, it matters. People care. It matters to us,” she added.

At 73, Baker is the oldest manager to win the Commissioner’s Trophy. Jack McKeon was 72 years and 11 months old when he led the Miami Marlins to the title in 2003. His more than 2,000 regular series wins is the most by a manager before winning the World Series.

Also, he is only the third black manager to guide a team to win it all, joining his friend and mentor Cito Gaston (Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-93) and current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who did so in 2020.

“I don’t think about being an African-American manager because I look in the mirror every day and I know what I am. Do you know what I’m talking about?” Baker said Saturday.

“And I know there is some pressure from a lot of people who support me, especially people of color. And I do feel that part. I listen to it every day. I see it when I’m walking down the street when I see a policeman, a bellhop, or anyone of color, but especially people of color who are African American. And so I feel like I’ve been chosen for this,” she said.

Baker, who played 19 seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Dodgers, Giants and Oakland Athletics between 1968 and 1986, began his coaching career with the Giants in 1988 but didn’t get his first coaching opportunity until he was 44 years old.

In its first season, San Francisco finished with a great record of 103-59, but lost the Western Division pennant to Atlanta (104-58) by just one game.

That was two years before a third division, the Central, was formed and the wild card figure was created, so Baker failed to reach the postseason, although he did receive the National League Manager of the Year award, an accolade that would repeat in 1997 and 2000.

The legendary manager led his clubs to the postseason in 1997, 2000, 2002 (Giants); 2003 (Chicago Cubs); 2010, 2012 and 2013 (Cincinnati Reds); Washington Nationals (2016 and 2017), and 2020, 2021 and 2022 (Astros). Five different teams in playoffs is a major league record.

Baker, who is ninth in regular series wins (2,093), is now fourth in the postseason, with 51.

When the Nationals fired him after leading the team to two consecutive postseasons (2016-17), there were doubts that Baker would manage in the major leagues again, at a time when the trend was to place young men, and manageable according to some, in charge.

Even his Hall of Fame candidacy was at an impasse, mainly due to the absence of a World Series crown on his record. Because he was over 62 when he left Washington, Baker was immediately eligible for consideration in the niche of sports immortals, but he was not chosen.

A call from the Astros, in January 2020, changed everything, for the better.

In the three years since he was hired by Houston (with the dual purpose of running the team and helping minimize the public damage the sign-stealing scandal brought to the organization), Baker amassed a 230-154 record, had two appearances in the MLB Finals and, most importantly, nabbed the elusive World Series title he sought for nearly three decades.

Now, there will be no excuse when his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot. Of the 12 managers who have won more than 2,000 games, only Baker and Bruce Bochy, who returned to manage the Texas Rangers from next season, do not have a plaque in Cooperstown.

“If I get to the Hall of Fame, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too,” Baker said as the World Series kicked off.

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