So cool! Baker joins elite 2,000-win club

Astros’ leader the first Black manager, 12th overall, to reach the milestone

May 4th, 2022

HOUSTON – If they weren’t already, the doors to the National Baseball Hall of Fame may have swung wide open for Astros manager Dusty Baker. A baseball lifer who has seen almost everything, knows almost everyone and is respected by everybody in a uniform, Baker put himself in elite company Tuesday night when he won his 2,000th game as a Major League manager. 

Baker, 72, became the 12th AL/NL manager to reach 2,000 wins – and first Black manager – as the Astros beat the Mariners, 4-0, at Minute Maid Park. Of the previous 11 managers to reach 2,000 career victories, 10 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn’t is Bruce Bochy (2,003 wins), who’s not yet eligible for induction.

“I think about the people that made it possible for me to get in this position – my dad, Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, Cito Gaston – the guys who were minority managers ahead of me,” Baker said. “You look at guys like Maury Wills and some of the guys that I know. To me, everybody is making a bigger thing out of it than me because I’ve got work to do.”

When it comes to the importance of the accomplishment and how it will affect his place in history, Baker will leave that for others to decide. For now, he’s just glad the pursuit of 2,000 is behind him and his team.

“I just think like Hank Aaron when he hit 715, you just want to get it over with so we can go on about our business,” said Baker, who was on deck in Atlanta in 1974 when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

“I couldn’t have done this by myself because you’re only as good as your players,” Baker said. “I couldn’t have done it without the cast we have in the clubhouse. I supported them big time. They supported me.

“We’re a unit, and this is probably the most together team I’ve been on, especially in a short period of time like this, to see them come together. I think of my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, and most of all I thank God for giving me the opportunity.”

Astros players gave Baker a champagne toast in the clubhouse following the game and signed a bottle of bubbly to commemorate the moment. Astros owner Jim Crane and wife Whitney gave him a bottle of wine with “2,000 wins. Congratulations” written on the bottle.

“I didn’t know if they had anything planned, and I wasn’t expecting anything,” Baker said. “Like I told them, I love them and, hopefully, they love me – or at least respect me – but we have a lot of love in that room. I love those guys.”

Baker’s wife, Melissa, and some close friends were at the game at Minute Maid Park to see history Tuesday. His son, Darren, who plays in the Nationals organization, offered congratulations from afar.

“My dad never ceases to amaze me,” Darren said in a text message to “All of his success has been earned through hard work and dedication. I congratulate him on 2,000 wins, and I’m so very proud that he is my Dad.”

Though he’s still chasing his elusive World Series championship, Baker’s legacy in the game and résumé as a manager are Cooperstown-worthy. Last year, he became the first manager to win a division title with five different teams when the Astros took the American League West, and he has led teams to pennants in both the AL (2021 Astros) and National League (2002 Giants).

Beyond his on-the-field résumé, Baker’s persona as the wristband-wearing, toothpick-chewing, coolest 72-year-old in the room is one of the reasons he still resonates with players. He makes wine, loves Westerns and is a former Marine. He can be jamming to Muddy Waters one day and Gary Clark Jr. the next.

“He’s got the wristbands, the bright shoes,” infielder Niko Goodrum said. “He brings the flair to the manager’s position.”

Astros veteran catcher Martín Maldonado said Baker’s place in history is secure.

“Here’s a guy who was a cancer survivor, [stroke] survivor and just to be able to accomplish that milestone, it should be straight to the Hall of Fame,” he said.

Baker’s thirst to win has followed him throughout his career. He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981 as a player and returned to the World Series as a coach for the 1989 Giants. He won his first game as a manager with the Giants on April 6, 1993, his 500th with the Giants on June 1, 1999, his 1,000th with the Cubs on Aug. 30, 2004, and his 1,500th with the Cubs on May 9, 2012.

“We know how hard he’s worked, how much of a baseball guy he is, how much he cares, how much he wants to win games,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I’m so happy for him.” 

In the dugout, Baker delegates duties to his coaches. On the field and in the clubhouse, he nurtures and entertains players with stories of years past, many including Aaron, who had a tremendous impact on his life and career. He can also share stories about managing Barry Bonds, but that’s only one of the numerous baseball stars he has been around.

Baker was teammates with Joe Torre, Don Sutton, Tommy John, Phil Niekro, Mike Scioscia, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Among the players he has managed are Joey Votto, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Darryl Strawberry, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr., Scott Rolen and Bryce Harper. And that doesn’t even include Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Bregman and Justin Verlander of the Astros.

“I’ve been the luckiest person in the whole world to be amongst and in the presence of many greats on and off the field,” Baker said. “I’m probably one of the luckiest men to ever walk on this earth.”

The Astros plucked Baker out of retirement in January 2020 in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost manager A.J. Hinch his job. In the face of scorn and scrutiny, the Astros needed someone respected in the game to lead them out of the scandal. They needed a proven manager to take over a veteran club that still had expectations to win.

Baker had put away his baseball gear in his attic in his home in Northern California and was content growing grapes and selling wine when the Astros called. There were things he still wanted to accomplish in the game, including reaching 2,000 wins and winning a World Series. He came close to the championship last year, losing to the Braves in six games in the Fall Classic.

Baker is on a one-year contract, so this might be his last chance to add a World Series championship to his résumé. That didn’t matter Tuesday night. His 2,000th win represented a baseball life well-spent.

"Dusty deserves that moment,” pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. “Beyond just being a manager, he’s an amazing person and he helped us through a tough time as a clubhouse there in 2020. We were navigating through a lot of choppy water with everything going on, plus COVID. He earned our respect, and it’s a big milestone for him. It’s probably one of the most exclusive clubs.”

For all he’s accomplished, Baker said reaching 2,000 wins is the pinnacle of his career so far.

“I don’t want to stop now,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to manage, but I always said if I win one, I’ll win two. I hate to be a liar.”