'We want to win for him': Baker relishes another chance for WS title

Astros advance to Fall Classic after ALCS sweep of Yankees

October 28th, 2022

NEW YORK -- As the Astros cruised to a dominant Game 3 win in the American League Championship Series on Saturday, Dusty Baker peered to the end of the visiting dugout and saw Framber Valdez mouthing lyrics to the song playing on the Yankee Stadium loudspeakers.

It was a tune from 50 Cent, the Grammy Award-winning rapper from nearby Queens who Valdez loves. The Astros’ manager locked eyes with the pitcher, shared a smile then watched Valdez continue the chorus, a microcosmic moment of the relatability that Baker has fostered with players in his 25 years as a manager.

“That's what kind of makes the world go around for us,” Baker said. “To accept each other's cultures and take a person for who he is and not where he's from.”

So here the 73-year-old Baker sits, coalescing a jigsaw of personalities and sitting on top of the baseball world -- with one more benchmark on his way to the promised land.

Baker led the Astros to the World Series for the second straight year following their 6-5 win in ALCS Game 4 on Sunday that completed a sweep, ensuring he’ll get another shot to win the elusive title he’s chased since his playing days. The lone World Series title he’s been a part of was in 1981, when he was a left fielder for the champion Dodgers.

“I stay hungry,” Baker said. “Some people, most people, are rooting for us; some people are rooting against us. It doesn't matter. That motivates you either way. There are a lot of positive thoughts coming our way. There are a ton of positive thoughts and spiritual togetherness in the city of Houston.”

Despite his well-traveled journey from the manager’s seat -- with the Giants (1993-2002), Cubs (2003-06), Reds (2008-13), Nationals (2016-17) and now Astros (since 2020) -- he hasn’t won the final game of the year. That in itself is remarkable given that he’s been baseball’s Forrest Gump in October over the past 45 years.

Sunday was Baker’s 140th career postseason game between his playing (40 games), managing (91 games) and coaching (nine games as hitting coach for the Giants in 1989) career. He’s been part of more playoff games than 22 of the 30 current MLB franchises -- more than the Cubs (123), Tigers (120), Reds (97) and Mets (92) to name a few.

He’s probably on a Hall of Fame trajectory, having become the 12th manager in AL/NL history to win 2,000 games earlier this year, but a World Series title would probably ensure it. And that prospect is at the forefront of his players’ minds.

“One hundred percent,” said third baseman Alex Bregman, one of just five holdovers from Houston’s last title in 2017. “We love going out there every single day and competing for him. He loves this team. He loves winning. He loves the game of baseball. And 100 percent we want to win for him.”

Baker has managed some of the game’s all-time greatest players spanning generations, including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Joey Votto, Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper, whom he’ll face in the Fall Classic. Now, he has potential Hall of Famers in Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander on his roster. And he’s universally liked.

“He relates to his players,” Verlander said. “I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he really tries to get to know everybody individually and understand what makes them tick and try to connect with them on more than just a manager-player-type level, and that goes a long way.”

“I think it's key because he keeps believing in players even throughout if they're not doing good,” said Altuve, who began this postseason with a historic hitless streak. “And see where we are right now. We are in the playoffs.”

Adding intrigue to the Fall Classic matchup with the Phillies is that they interviewed Baker ahead of the 2020 season, when he was unsure if he’d get another managerial gig. Shortly after that interview, Astros owner Jim Crane reached out to Baker and began the process that led to this moment. The Phils instead went with Joe Girardi, who was fired on June 3 after Philly’s 22-29 start.

“Hey, man, they’ve got some quality guys,” Baker said of the Phillies. “You get this far, they’ve got the same belief over there that we have over here, so I'm sure it's going to be a great series.”

As was the case last year, when the Astros lost the World Series to the Braves in six games, Baker enters the Fall Classic unsure of his future beyond these next few weeks as he finishes a one-year contract. General manager James Click is also on an expiring deal, meaning that management’s future is highly uncertain. That’s a legitimate conversation, but one for another day.

Because the ultimate goal is still in front of Baker and the Astros.