Baker feeling 'very fortunate' to return to WS

Astros manager seeking first championship after falling short with Giants in '02

October 26th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Dusty Baker was doubtful of his chances of getting another shot. Four years ago, after a deflating and disappointing early postseason exit with the Nationals, the longtime skipper was let go in a move that was criticized by many at the time, yet it still sent him into managerial oblivion.

More than two years went by before two calls came. The Phillies reached out first, but they hired Joe Girardi. The second was from Astros owner Jim Crane. He needed a proven leader to navigate the turbulent waters left in the wake of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal.

He needed Baker. And Baker needed the Astros.

After a 5-0 win over Boston in Friday night's American League Championship Series Game 6, Houston is heading back to the World Series for the third time in five years, continuing a run that began before Baker arrived on Jan. 29, 2020, a mere 16 days after Major League Baseball sanctioned the Astros.

At the time, Baker -- who was drafted in 1967, played 19 big league seasons, managed another 22 and had been in the game for more than a half-century -- called this job “my last hurrah.”

And it appears that hurrah could continue beyond the Fall Classic. Baker is working on an expiring contract after signing a one-year deal for 2020 that included a club option for ’21. His future has been a lingering topic for some time, and Crane addressed Baker’s status beyond this season following Friday's win.

“Listen, Dusty deserves another shot for next year,” Crane said. "We’ll see where it goes. … Dusty has done a great job here, and I don’t think there is any reason we wouldn’t visit about it after the World Series. We don’t want to get distracted by any contracts or any extension. We’ll sit down with everybody at the end of the World Series. I love Dusty. We’ll put it like that. You take it from there.”

Celebrations are ripe for nostalgia, and Crane couldn’t hold back when recounting the hiring process.

“I sat and talked to him for two hours and I thought he was my best friend,” Crane said. “I made my decision right there on the spot. We were happy to have him. He came in and steadied the ship, and you’ve seen the results. Hopefully, we get a little more.”

Baker also showed emotional vulnerability when looking back at his hiring, the past criticisms of him as a manager -- he was dismissed by Washington after two seasons and two National League East titles -- and the parallels of his individual journey to prove himself aligning with his new team in moving past the sign-stealing saga.

“I had some things over my head, too, and so we had a lot in common,” Baker said. “When you can identify with the people that you're with, no matter what age they are, it's easier to get along and identify the struggles that they're going through. And like I said, I feel very fortunate to have this group of guys and to be in this position.

“At the beginning of this journey, I didn't even have a job. I interviewed with the Phillies. They went with Joe Girardi. And then my son told me in his infinite wisdom, he goes, ‘Dad, maybe that job wasn't yours, and this is a better job.’ I hate that A.J. Hinch lost his job in the manner that he did, but I inherited a good team, much like Sparky Anderson inherited the Big Red Machine.”

Baker is making the most of this opportunity at the ripe age of 72, which will make him the second-oldest manager in World Series history, behind only the Marlins’ Jack McKeon, who was also 72 in 2003 but 196 days older than Baker. Speaking to his longevity, Baker is only the ninth manager in MLB history to win a pennant in each league, having taken the 2002 Giants to the Fall Classic.

Baker’s Giants had Barry Bonds in his prime. The next year, Baker managed Sammy Sosa, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for the Cubs in October. He later took Joey Votto to the postseason with the Reds in 2010 and ’12. And he oversaw Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the 2016 and ’17 postseasons with the Nationals.

Baker has managed some of the game’s all-time greats spanning multiple generations.

“In the time I've been with him, he understands how it is to be a ballplayer,” ALCS MVP Award winner Yordan Alvarez said through team interpreter Andrew Dunn-Bauman. “He understands what guys go through every day. I got a chance to spend time with him in Spring Training as well. He has been really helpful to me, and I'm thankful for everything that he has given to me in this time together.”

Asked what gave him conviction when signing with Houston, which was perhaps the most proven of any club he’s overseen but was in turmoil when he took over, Baker -- always with a story -- drew on insights from his former Hall of Fame manager.

“Like Tommy Lasorda used to tell us all the time -- and it's true -- you’ve got to believe it before it happens,” Baker said.

Baker always believed. This is his 24th season as a big league manager, and the goal that has eluded him is now right there in front of him.