Baseball world celebrates Dusty's historic WS title

November 6th, 2022

After winning his first World Series title as a manager in a 4-1 victory over the Phillies at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night, Astros skipper Dusty Baker was overjoyed. When right fielder Kyle Tucker caught the last out, Baker's coaching and support staff jumped all over him in the dugout as he held on to the railing to avoid toppling over.

Innings before the celebration, Baker knew it was over when Yordan Alvarez sealed the game with a three-run homer over the center-field wall off Phillies left-hander José Alvarado.

“[Winning the World Series] hit me when Yordan hit it over the moon. That’s when it hit me,” Baker said during the trophy presentation.

For Baker, it was not only his first championship as a manager, but it was the exclamation point to a likely Hall of Fame career. By winning the title, Baker put himself in the record books. At 73, he became the oldest manager to win a World Series, breaking Jack McKeon’s mark (72) which was set in 2003. Baker also joined Cito Gaston and Dave Roberts as the only African American managers to win the top prize.

“I don't think about being an African American manager, because I look in the mirror every day and I know what I am,” Baker said before Game 6. “And so I do know that there's certain pressure from a lot of people that are pulling for me, especially people of color. And that part I do feel. I hear it every day. I see it when I'm walking down the street when I see a policeman, a bellman or anybody of color, but especially of African American color. And so I feel that I've been chosen for this.

“Now, there was a time that I didn't necessarily want it, but that's been the story of my life. A lot of things I didn't want that you're forced to be in this position. I think about my dad and all the souls that have passed before me.”

“Dusty always felt he needed to win a World Series to probably cement his legacy,” said Enos Cabell, the Astros’ community outreach executive. “I never thought that because he has always known analytics. They always thought he didn’t know it. He probably studies more than anybody else, if you know Dusty. He uses both -- [the eye test and analytics]. That’s why he is so good and that’s why he keeps putting teams in the World Series and the playoffs.”

Baker was not thinking about how he rewrote the record books.

Even before he won a World Series title, Baker was one of the best managers in baseball history. Every team he managed during his 25 seasons -- the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Astros -- went to the postseason under his watch. He took the heat off the Astros players after they were involved in the sign-stealing scandal in 2017. The controversy, revealed two years later, resulted in several members of the organization being let go, including manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Baker changed the culture immediately, guiding Houston to three consecutive appearances to the American League Championship Series and two straight World Series, prevailing this year in six games.

“They could never have picked a better person than Dusty Baker, never,” said Jeff Kent, who played for Baker when both were with the Giants from 1997 to 2002. “There is no one out there that is willing to take the heat, tell stories, defuse the situation … and get the media off the focus of what they are trying to talk about.”

Former Major Leaguer Ryan Zimmerman believes Baker’s reputation as a player's manager is well earned -- no player has anything negative to say about Dusty.

“He is a great manager for players because he loves his players. He takes the time to know his players. They don’t make them like that anymore. That’s the best way to put it,” said Zimmerman, who played for Baker when both were with the Nationals in 2016 and ‘17. “A lot of people, honestly, are rooting for him [to win the World Series]. You can say whatever you want about the Astros, Phillies, teams and all that stuff, but I can’t really remember the last time we watched the World Series and a lot of people were rooting for one person.”

Gaston calls Baker one of his best friends. Besides having both played and managed, they both also love to fish. Their friendship dates back to 1967, when they were playing together with Double-A Austin, then a Braves affiliate.

“I’m very proud of Dusty. He hung in there,” Gaston said. “I think he has a better bullpen than he had last year. The starting pitching has been great. You win with pitching and defense and that’s what they have done. You saw Game 5 and they won that game because of pitching and defense. He’s a player’s manager. He gets the best out of guys, no matter where he goes.”

Prior to Saturday’s victory, Baker’s 2,093 regular-season wins were the most for a manager without a World Series title. He had his share of frustration in the postseason over the years. The worst was in 2002, when he guided the Giants to the World Series against the Angels. In Game 6, San Francisco was eight outs from a championship, but Baker left starter Russ Ortiz in too long, the Giants coughed up a 5-0 lead and lost, 6-5. San Francisco lost Game 7 the following night. But that frustration is now forgotten after what Baker accomplished Saturday.

“What he has done has been incredible with multiple teams, multiple personalities and multiple situations,” said Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who served as the World Series analyst for FOX. “This game can be cruel in the postseason -- individually, collectively and managerial-wise. It’s been more than unfair to Dusty. It’s time he gets his due.”

For winning his first World Series, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is planning to honor Baker in some form, according to NLBM president Bob Kendrick. Baker has ties to the Negro Leagues. In the late 1960s, when both were with the Braves, Baker and Satchel Paige were briefly teammates. And Hank Aaron, who started his career in 1952 with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, was Baker’s long-time idol and mentor.

“We will certainly celebrate … because Dusty is part of our family,” Kendrick said. “His victory is a victory for all of us at the Negro League Baseball Museum. That’s how close he is to us. He makes it a point to make sure he not only comes to the museum, he brings members of his team with him. He wants to pass that history down to them.”

Baker’s contract with the Astros is up, but he said earlier this postseason that “if you’re going to win one, you might as well win two.” Gaston would like Baker to consider enjoying life off the field.

“He can manage as long as he wants to. It’s going to be up to him,” Gaston said. “But, at some time, I would like to see him enjoy himself and travel a little bit. I know he likes to go to Hawaii every year and he is always talking about building a place over there. I know it’s up to him what he wants to do. Hopefully he doesn’t stay [in the game] too long so he can enjoy himself.”