HOUSTON -- Dusty Baker has been coming to Houston for years, not only as a longtime player when his Dodgers and the Astros were National League West rivals and later as a Major League manager, but also because he has several friends and family members who live in the Bayou City and his love for the nation’s fourth-largest city runs deep.
The 70-year-old Baker was all smiles when he arrived at Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Sunday, ahead of his interview with Astros owner Jim Crane on Monday. Baker will be the fourth known candidate to interview for the position vacated when Crane fired manager AJ Hinch and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal.
“I’m full of emotion,” Baker said. “I’ve got a lot of roots here. My best friend, Ralph Garr, lives here, a couple of players live here, my family used to live here, my former wife and all her relatives live here. I’ve been coming to Houston for a long, long time. I’ve always liked it.”
Among the candidates known to have interviewed with Crane are Buck Showalter, John Gibbons and Cubs third-base coach Will Venable. Crane said Friday he would like to have a manager in place by Feb. 3.
Baker, a three-time NL Manager of the Year, said he was excited about the chance to perhaps manage the Astros, who came within eight outs of winning the World Series last year and will remain one of the teams to beat in the American League in 2020 despite the punishment handed down by MLB a week ago.
“I’m just hoping to bring some love back to baseball, some integrity to the game, and I think I got relative respect in the game,” Baker said. “There’s something missing. I need a championship, and I’d like to bring a championship to the city of Houston.”
Baker managed for 22 years with four teams, leading the Giants to the 2002 World Series and taking the Cubs, Reds and Nationals to the playoffs. Baker is highly respected in the game, with 1,863 career wins, but his failures in the postseason have been notable. A World Series championship continues to elude him. As he was flying to Houston on Sunday, he took joy in watching the Andy Reid-led Kansas City Chiefs clinch a spot in the Super Bowl, giving the longtime NFL coach another shot at his first title.
“I was so happy for him,” Baker said.
As far as his interview with Crane, Baker said he will enter Minute Maid Park on Monday morning speaking from the heart. He thinks the Astros are built to contend, and he is ready to return to managing after sitting out the last two seasons. He last managed in 2017 with the Nationals.
“They’ve always had a good team, and I’ve enjoyed watching them to play,” Baker said of the Astros. “And it would be a privilege and an honor to be the manager of the team.”
Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Mets and Red Sox about their managerial openings, both of which also came open after MLB issued a nine-page report last Monday detailing how Astros players used electronics to steal signs in 2017 with the help of bench coach Alex Cora and veteran player Carlos Beltrán. Cora managed the Red Sox in ’18 and ’19, and Beltran was hired in November to guide the Mets. Both mutually agreed to part ways with their teams last week.
“Everybody likes to feel like they’re wanted, and I talked to Mr. Crane and he made me feel that I was wanted here,” Baker said.
Before Baker was set to meet with the Astros, he was going to enjoy a Sunday dinner with Garr – the 1974 NL batting champion who is Baker’s former roommate. Baker hopes that interviewing with the Astros on the Martin Luther King holiday will be a good omen.
“I’m going to have a good night tonight and prepare for tomorrow,” he said.