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.
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 MLB.com. “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 grows wine and loves Westerns. 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 charisma is what sets him apart.
“The way he’s always laughing, always showing emotions,” he said. “Nowadays, managers are so serious and with an angry face. I feel he’s always the same guy, win or lose. He wants to win, like we all do.”
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 guess it’s made him relatable to the guys he manages is when he gets on these stories and you know he’s been around the game as long as he has, there’s always something to be learned,” catcher Jason Castro said.
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. And though he may try to downplay 2,000 wins, becoming the first minority manager to reach the milestone resonates deeply.
“You can’t gloat about what you’ve done until after your career is over,” Baker said. “And when your career is over with, then you assess the entire situation. But while you’re in it, you don’t have time to do it. It’s not about me. I just happen to be meeting a milestone.”