HOUSTON -- The final out of the 2022 World Series was sailing toward Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, and in the dugout Dusty Baker -- ever the professional -- picked up his pen and wrote a final mark on his scorecard. By the time Nick Castellanos’ fly ball had settled into Tucker’s glove moments later, Baker was mobbed in the dugout by his coaching staff.
Finally, after 55 years in the game, 25 seasons as a manager and enough playoff heartbreak to make a lesser man find another profession, Johnnie B. Baker Jr. -- the man everyone in baseball calls Dusty -- had his World Series championship. Dusty Baker’s Astros beat the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series, 4-1, on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, sparking a massive celebration.
“He earned it for sure,” closer Ryan Pressly said. “He’s been around a long time. He’s been close, but now he can finally be a World Series champion.”
While becoming the oldest manager to win a World Series, Baker, 73, erased a generation’s worth of playoff disappointments. He was 2-7 in winner-take-all games prior to the World Series and 9-25 in potential series-clinching games, including 10 consecutive losses from 2003-17 prior to Saturday. In 2002, his Giants were one win away from a World Series championship but lost Games 6 and 7 on the road to the Angels.
None of that matters anymore. Baker is no longer the manager with the most wins to not win a World Series championship. It’s been an incredible 2022 for Baker, who earlier this year picked up his 2,000th career win. Adding a World Series championship should swing the doors of baseball’s Hall of Fame wide open to greet him after he’s done managing.
"Well, I thought about it a lot," Baker said. "I tried not to dwell on it, but tried to have faith and perseverance and knowing that with the right team and the right personnel and right everything that this is going to happen. Had this happened years ago, I might not even be here. So maybe it wasn't supposed to happen so that I could hopefully influence a few young men's lives and their families and a number of people in the country through showing what perseverance and character can do for you in the long run."
Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and there are questions whether he will return for his fourth season with the Astros. Houston owner Jim Crane, who hired Baker early in 2020 in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, said he will address Baker’s future next week.
“He just got us out of the Dust Bowl,” Crane said. “He got us to where we need to be. I’m happy for Dusty. He did a great job all year long. The players love him and it’s a great story. What a great career he’s had.”
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said Baker “means everything.”
“I said many, many times, he came at the right time, with the right team, and won his first World Series,” he said.
As Baker celebrated the Astros’ second championship since 2017, he was asked to describe his emotions. Is it relief? Is it joy?
“It's just sheer joy and thankfulness,” he said. “It's not relief at all. I mean, because everybody was talking about it more than I was even thinking about it. So I always said before that if I win one, I'll win two, but you got to win one first.”
Last year, Baker became the first manager to win a division title with five different teams when the Astros took the AL West, and he has led teams to pennants in both the American League (2021-22 Astros) and National League (2002 Giants).
“I'm just grateful, really, for the trials and tribulations that you go through in order to get to this and just grateful for my mom and dad for being tough on me,” he said. “Also grateful for some of the enemies that helped motivate me to get to this point, you know what I mean? You know, with no malice or anything because that doesn't do any good.”
After losing the World Series in six games to the Braves last season, the Astros signed Baker to a one-year deal a year ago Saturday and he delivered a 106-win regular season and second consecutive AL pennant. The closer the Astros got to a title this year, the more it became about Dusty. “Win for Dusty” signs became common around Minute Maid Park.
“Dusty’s a baseball lifer,” Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. “He’s an absolute legend. When he came here in 2020 and we had the whole cheating scandal and we had COVID, he was such a stabilizing force for us. We wish we could have done it a little bit sooner for him. He truly deserves this tonight.”
When the final out was in the air, Baker’s mind raced. He thought about his late parents and brother and close friend Don Baylor. As well as his mentor, the legendary Hank Aaron, and a million other people who helped shape the man who became a champion.
“Last year being the year of Hank Aaron, the Braves are supposed to win,” he said. “I didn't like it, but maybe they were supposed to win. And I'm like, ‘Okay, Hank, they won,’ so now you really gotta root for me.”