HOUSTON — Dusty Baker hears it all, tilts his head back and sighs in disbelief.
Come on, do people believe actually believe that he needs to win a World Series to get into the Hall of Fame?
The man has led a record five teams to 12 postseason berths, three World Series appearances, and has won more games than all but eight managers in history.
The Houston Astros do not need to win the World Series title over the Philadelphia Phillies beginning Friday night at Minute Maid Park for Baker to be inducted into Cooperstown.
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Baker, 73, who plans to manage the Astros at least one more season, has bigger and better things on his mind, but certainly understands what a title will represent.
Win the World Series, and he becomes only the third Black manager to win a World Series in baseball history.
He would be recognized as one of the greatest managers in the history of the game. He would become the oldest manager in history to achieve the feat.
Win the World Series, and it will be engraved on his plaque in Cooperstown.
“The Hall of Fame, that’s not my motivation for any of this,’’ Baker tells USA TODAY Sports. “That’s not my motivation. Most of my life, I haven’t gotten what I deserve, so I don’t expect the Hall of Fame. I don’t expect nothing.
“If make the Hall of Fame, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too.
“I know I’ve done my best. And I know more than anybody how America is. I really do. I’m not bitter about it. I just know how it is, man.’’
This is the first World Series since 1950 there will not be a single U.S.-born Black player on the field.
“Nah, don’t tell me that,’’ Baker says. “That’s terrible for the state of the game. Wow! Terrible. I’m ashamed of the game.
“Quote me. I am ashamed of the game.’’
Baker was publicly asked about it a day later in a press conference Thursday, and was diplomatic, but still perturbed.
“Well, I don’t think that’s something that baseball should really be proud of,’’ Baker says. “It looks bad. It lets people know that it didn’t take a year, or even a decade to get to this point.
“But there is help on the way. You can tell by the number of African-American No. 1 draft choices (four of the first five picks in 2022). The academies are producing players. So hopefully in the near future we won’t have to talk about this anymore or even be in this situation.’’
Maybe, winning a World Series will help raise awareness too. But then again, Cito Gaston won back-to-back World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was never again hired as a manager by another organization. Baker and Dave Roberts are the only two current Black managers. Chicago White Sox vice president Ken Williams is the only Black head of baseball operations.
“I’d love to see Dusty win, really, I’d love to see them win four and really make a statement,’’ says former 20-game winner Dave Stewart, Baker’s former teammate with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “But make a difference? I don’t see that. I don’t see anything changing. You know how this song is going to end out, brother.’’
Winning a World Series may not change baseball’s demographics but Baker would at last be recognized as one of the greatest managers in baseball history.
This is a team that didn’t have a left-handed reliever in the bullpen this year. They didn’t have a reliable left-handed hitter off the bench. Veteran starter Lance McCullers pitched in only eight games. Slugger Yordan Alvarez missed 29 games. Left fielder Michael Brantley underwent season-ending shoulder surgery and has been out since June. They didn’t have a regular center fielder for most of the season.
Yet, the Astros still won 106 games, producing the best record in the American League. They swept the Seattle Mariners in the first round, winning the three games by a total of four runs, including an 18-inning game. They swept the New York Yankees in four games, with only one game by more than two runs.
You think the manager might have something to do with their success?
“Dusty hasn’t been given the credit that he deserves over the years,’’ says Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, an Astros special advisor. “You can always go back to the fact that he’s Black and doesn’t get the credit. But once he wins this World Series, it’s going to go away and erase the lie, because he’s going to get the credit.’’
The Astros realize that the impact of winning another World Series for their legacy. They have six consecutive American League Championship Series appearances, four AL pennants, and could have two World Series titles.
“They keep bringing up the cheating thing on TV,’’ Baker said. “It’s like, “Come on, when are you guys going to realize these [expletive] guys just must be [expletive] good.’’
The Astros’ legacy will always be marred by the cheating scandal of 2017. The Astros have plenty of evidence that other teams were cheating that year, with the Yankees and Red Sox also disciplined to a much lighter degree, but only the Astros are publicly scorned.
Yet, after all of the turmoil, the firings of GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, desperately needing someone to calm the uproar and lessen the hatred, Baker has been the perfect man for the job.
“He was just what we needed,’’ Astros third baseman Alex Bregman says. “He calmed everything down. He’s as good a manager as there is in this game.’’
Baker, who was out of work for two years after being fired by the Washington Nationals, was one of perhaps a dozen candidates that interviewed for the job. Some were internal candidates. Others were coaches in the game. Some were ex-managers.
But no one had the resume, charisma and intelligence of Baker.
“I interviewed a bunch of guys, and you could tell he was a communicator,’’ Astros owner Jim Crane says. “I was just so comfortable with him. There were a lot of young guys I liked, but they didn’t have the experience.
“We needed a guy with experience to get everybody focused, and Dusty was the right fit.’’
Three years, three postseason appearances, two American League pennants, and a potential World Series title, the stage if all set for Baker to be forever remembered in Astros’ history.
“I remember nobody ever talked about Bobby Cox winning 14 [division titles] in a row, but they talk about that World Series,’’ Baker says. “I remember [Tommy] Lasorda would always be talking the two World Series he lost back-to-back to the Yankees, before finally winning one. That’s what made me so happy to beat the Yankees this time.
‘So, what are people going to say now?’’
Baker plans to manage in 2023, in what likely will be his final season, for a potential repeat. The Astros have already decided they will bring him back next year, and are expected to bring back GM James Click, too.
If he has another 100-victory season – only the fourth manager in history to achieve the feat in both leagues – Baker will become sixth on the all-time victory list, with everyone in the top 10 inducted into Cooperstown.
“The Lord has chosen me to do this,’’ Baker says, “even when I didn’t want to do it. There were times I didn’t want any part of this game. I know how this game is, man. But this game has also taken care of me, my family, my friends, everybody.’’
What if Baker hadn’t ended up in Houston?
“Dusty did a wonderful job putting this team in position to make them great,’’ says veteran scout Ralph Garr, Baker’s former teammate in Atlanta.
“They play solid baseball, better than anybody… He was the perfect guy for this job,’ says Garr, who scouts for Atlanta, and attends every Astros home game.
“Think about it, if not for Dusty being hired, look at we would have missed.
“Now, Dusty wins the World Series, people are going to realize just what he represents and means to so many people.
“That’s the most beautiful thing about this.’’
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