Astros manager Dusty Baker, in his 25th year as a big league manager, reached 2,000 wins on Tuesday, becoming just the 12th manager to do so, and the first Black manager to accomplish the feat.
Baker joins Connie Mack, Tony La Russa, John McGraw, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, Bucky Harris, Joe McCarthy, Walter Alston, Leo Durocher and Bruce Bochy — the most recent to accomplish the feat on Sept. 18, 2019 — on the illustrious list.
All but Bochy are in the Hall of Fame.
And yet Baker has received his share of criticism because many believe he is too “old school” and not well-versed in modern-day analytics. This is why, some say, he has yet to win a World Series title.
But it’s more than just the victories that makes Baker one of the best managers in baseball history. Every team he managed during his 25 seasons — Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Astros — went to the postseason under his watch. It’s safe to say that with 2,000 wins on his ledger, Baker is a step closer to being enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He has been a Hall of Fame manager for a long time,” said Harold Reynolds, an analyst for the MLB Network. “Anybody who wears wristbands, [has a toothpick] in his mouth needs to be in the Hall. What gets lost is his intelligence, his understanding of the game, how to manage the game and how he handles people.”
Baker is teacher, award winner
Baker was Manager of the Year three times, guided teams to division titles eight times and led the Giants and the Astros to the World Series in 2002 and last year, respectively. Every team he managed went to the postseason at least once.
The reason he has been successful, according to former manager Cito Gaston, is because Baker knows how to handle every type of player, from a rookie to the biggest superstars, such as Barry Bonds and Bryce Harper. After all, Baker was a player himself for 19 years from 1968-86, mostly with the Braves and Dodgers.
“A lot of managers manage, but they don’t teach. And Dusty is a teacher. You can tell. I know that about him,” said Gaston, who won back-to-back World Series as manager with the Blue Jays. “The way he treats his players, Dusty certainly respects them. He certainly has their back. You have to get the best out of your players, and that’s what I see in Dusty.”
Guardians manager Terry Francona said Baker is great for the game of baseball. According to Francona, when you can call somebody by just one name and you know who it is, that’s a sign of greatness.
“He just has a great way with people, or he wouldn’t be doing it as long as he is,” Francona said. “I think sometimes he has such a good way with people that he doesn’t get enough credit for his baseball acumen. Because I also think that’s pretty special, or he wouldn’t be doing it as long as he is.”
No one is happier to see Baker reach the milestone than former Major Leaguer CC Sabathia. Sabathia first met Baker in the early 1990s. Sabathia was 12 years old when he attended one of Baker’s baseball camps in California and Baker left a lasting impression on the young left-hander.
“[Baker] has won with class, likeability and swagger throughout his career as both a player and manager,” Sabathia said. “He was a threat in the Braves’ lineup with Hank Aaron, a world champion with the Dodgers and is adding to his Hall of Fame managerial career every day, all with a toothpick in his mouth.
“As one of the most successful managers in baseball history, Dusty is a trailblazer, a winner, and an example of how Black managers can succeed in leading teams for decades.”
Baker’s best work may have been with the Astros. When he took over the team in 2020, the team found itself in the sign-stealing scandal that led to the dismissal of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
The first thing Baker did was command the respect of the players. Second, he has a veteran presence that helped the Astros get through a tough stretch during the 2020 season. That tough stretch started in Spring Training, when Astros players had to explain their role in the sign-stealing scandal. Baker was there to guide his players through this process. Building trust is big for Baker, and he expects it from both sides. It worked for Baker, who guided Houston to the postseason the past two years.
“I played for him — and there’s a lot of guys that have played for him — you want to win for Dusty. He puts so much effort into it, it’s hard not to root for a guy like that,” said Blue Jays outfielder George Springer, who played for Baker in 2020.
Baker makes players betters
Baker is such a positive influence that he makes players better. Before joining Baker in San Francisco in 1997, it looked like Jeff Kent was going to be an average player. He flourished under Baker.
Kent had a slash line of .297/.368/.535 in six years with the Giants, during which Kent and Bonds formed a powerful 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup and led them to the postseason three times. Kent was an All-Star in 1999, 2000 and ’01 and won the NL MVP Award in ’00, a season in which he hit 33 home runs and drove in 125 with a .334/.424/.596 slash line.
“Dusty is the best manager I ever played for,” Kent said. “I think the quality of person has allowed him to communicate with different players from different spectrums and get the best out of them. That’s what he did for me. … Coming to the Giants, that’s where my career started blossoming.
“Dusty had a big hand in getting the best out of me as a player. He gave me confidence, probably more confidence than I had in the past. He was kind of like a hitting coach, too. As a player, you understood that the manager was the manager and the hitting coach was the hitting coach, but Dusty seemed to be a good hitting coach, gave me some quality advice, confidence and motivation. He was also somewhat of a reliable friend. It made me comfortable as a player. That’s a short answer of the reasons I like the guy so much.”
Reds first baseman Joey Votto is another player who flourished under Baker. Votto’s best season was in 2010, winning NL MVP honors and leading the Reds in wins above replacement [7.0]. While in Cincinnati, Baker showed the team who was the boss.
“He stayed on me for all six years I was with him as far as making sure I got the most out of myself,” Votto said. “He controlled the clubhouse. He controlled the culture. He was stubborn. He was charming. He was funny. He is smart. Everything ran through him for better or worse. I’ve seen some meetings that I never thought I would see in my life, for both good and original. Dusty is an original. He’s a 1-of-1, there’s only one Dusty.”
Baker loves name dropping
During his 25 years as a skipper, Baker has been known for name dropping and not just people in baseball. He considers NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh a mentor. Baker often talks about a meeting he had in San Francisco with rock-n-roll legend Jimi Hendrix in the late 1960s. In fact, Baker wrote a book a few years back on the Monterey Pop Festival, a rock concert Baker attended in 1967. It starred Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who.
During his time with the Nationals, Baker would often mention former Major Leaguer and Dodgers coach Jim Gilliam during his pregame press conferences. Gilliam taught Baker a lot about the game when they were together with the Dodgers in the late 1970s.
And, of course, Baker talked about his relationship with Willie Mays. In his first year as skipper of the Nationals in 2016, the team was in San Francisco and in walked Mays to talk with the players.
“[Mays] stayed with us for 45 minutes,” said former Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “He signed a bunch of autographs, talked baseball with all of us. That’s one of the most incredible things I had a chance to be a part of in my career. I felt he was out there for even longer. Those are the things that would happen. Dusty would have a knack of making the game fun.”
Once his managerial career is over, Baker could find himself in Cooperstown as well.
“I would like to start out by saying that he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” said former Major League manager Bo Porter, who now works for Major League Baseball as a consultant for coaching development. “He is able to sustain a high level of improvement [for each team he has managed]. If you look at Dusty Baker teams, each and every year, they continuously get better.
“He has transcended the test of time from his early years of managing to now — the analytical way of managing that we are living in. He has been able to be successful in every era.”