July 6, 2022

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Remarkable facts about Baker's road to 2,000

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Johnnie B. Baker, the man we know as Dusty, has enjoyed as full a baseball life as just about anyone. And he continues to add accomplishments to his ever-growing list.

His professional journey began when the Braves drafted him in 1967 and continued with his MLB debut on Sept. 7, 1968, for Atlanta — coincidentally, against the Astros. Baker pinch-hit for a Hall of Famer (Phil Niekro) and shared a lineup with two others (Hank Aaron, Joe Torre). Aaron was a mentor to Baker, but it’s Torre who would foreshadow Baker’s path — from stellar big league player to 2,000-win manager.

Baker got that 2,000th win on Tuesday night, as the Astros defeated the Mariners, 4-0, at Minute Maid Park. He joins Torre and a select group of 10 other managers who have reached that plateau and is the first Black skipper to do so. Of those already in the club, only Bruce Bochy, who is still recently retired, is not enshrined in the Hall.

Because Baker has always worn No. 12 — and because he’s now the 12th to ascend to this milestone — here are a dozen facts and figures you should know about his remarkable career.

• Every road to 2,000 wins starts somewhere, and for Baker, it was in St. Louis. On April 6, 1993, the newly hired Giants manager led his squad to a 2-1 victory over Torre’s Cardinals in his managerial debut. Two of the top four hitters in Baker’s lineup that night were Dave Martinez and Matt Williams. In another odd twist, more than two decades later, Baker would succeed Williams as manager of the Nationals, and Martinez would then succeed Baker.

• It’s been a long road. When Baker got that first win, the Giants still shared the National League West with the Braves and Reds, as it wasn’t until the next year that MLB realigned into three divisions per league. There were only 28 Major League teams at the time, with the Rockies and Marlins debuting that year. The Brewers were in the AL East, the Astros in the NL West, and the Rays and D-backs still five years away from joining.

• On the day Baker managed and won his first game, 17 of the 32 players who had appeared for his 2022 Astros club entering Tuesday had yet to be born. The oldest, 39-year-old Justin Verlander, was still only 10.

• It was nice for Baker that he could lock down this milestone in his home ballpark, especially because things have not always worked out that way in the past. Not only was his first career win on the road, but so was his 500th (June 1, 1999, at Philadelphia), 1,000th (Aug. 30, 2004, at Montreal), and 1,500th (May 9, 2012, at Milwaukee).

• Of the 12 managers with 2,000 wins, Baker is only the second to lead five different franchises before reaching that mark, after stops with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and now Astros. Bucky Harris had skippered the Senators (three stints), Tigers, Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees before notching No. 2,000 on April 17, 1955, in his second stint with Detroit.

Here’s how Baker’s victories break down by team:

840 with Giants (1993-2002)
322 with Cubs (2003-06)
509 with Reds (2008-13)
192 with Nationals (2016-17)
137 with Astros (2020-22)

• The Mariners may have been on the wrong side of Baker’s 2,000th victory, but who have been his most frequent victims over the years? That would be the Pirates, whom Baker has defeated 152 times, beginning April 10, 1993, at Three Rivers Stadium, in the first year of the post-Barry Bonds era in Pittsburgh. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bucs remain well ahead of the Cardinals (135), Astros (134), Brewers (120) and Rockies (119), even though Baker has not faced Pittsburgh since joining Houston.

• When it comes to opposing managers, Tony La Russa tends to be the first thought of as a foil for Baker, based on their years of intense competition in the NL Central — a rivalry that was rekindled last October in the ALDS. But it’s actually a different member of the 2,000-win club whom Baker has defeated the most times in the regular season, per Elias. That would be Bochy (110 wins), a longtime NL foe with the Padres and Giants. However, La Russa is close behind (104 wins) — albeit with seven Astros-White Sox matchups still on the schedule this year. If you included the postseason, Baker still would have defeated Bochy (112) one more time than La Russa (111).

Those two managers are way ahead of every other Baker opponent. Next on the list? Felipe Alou (64), who also happened to play for the Braves in Baker’s MLB debut. After that, it’s Clint Hurdle (57) and Terry Collins (53).

• Baker has won everywhere he’s been. Last season, when the Astros locked up the AL West title, he became the first person to manage a division winner with five different franchises, while his 11 total postseason appearances rank fourth. He is also one of nine skippers to win a pennant in both leagues, a list that includes 2,000-game winners Sparky Anderson, La Russa and Joe McCarthy.

• McCarthy is the only 2,000-win manager not to have played in the Majors, but Baker has a good argument for the second-best playing career in that group. Only his former teammate Torre beats out Baker in games (2,209 to 2,039), hits (2,342 to 1,981), homers (252 to 242) or RBIs (1,185 to 1,013).

• When Baker’s Astros reached the World Series in 2021, it was 19 years since he’d last been in the Fall Classic, in 2002 with the Angels. The only manager to go longer between consecutive World Series appearances was Harris — in 1925 with the Senators, then in 1947 with the Yankees, according to Elias.

• Baker was also the second-oldest manager to reach the World Series, at 72 years and 133 days old for World Series Game 1. Only Jack McKeon was older, at 72 years and 329 days old in 2003 for Game 1. With the Astros’ postseason appearances in 2020 and ‘21, Baker became the first manager to lead teams to the postseason multiple times at age 70-plus.

• Unfortunately, as much as all of the victories are a big part of Baker’s legacy, so too are all of the frustrating postseason exits. At present, Baker is the only member of the 2,000-win club not to have managed a World Series winner and is one of only three in the 1,500-win club with that hole in his résumé, along with Gene Mauch and Buck Showalter. Of course, that still could change this October for either Baker or the Mets’ Showalter.

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