BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Who has it better than Dusty Baker? How about nobody?
It has to be good to be him these days. After managing 3,883 games that spanned 30 seasons with 2,093 wins to show for it, he finally became a World Series champion Saturday night when the Houston Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. The Astros earned their second championship in six years with a 4-1 victory over the Phillies.
One would be hard-pressed to find someone who was not happy for Baker the other night. He is universally beloved in the baseball community for the class he displayed as a player and as a manager. He is a great manager who has earned this moment for what he has accomplished. He should have won a championship with the San Francisco Giants in 2002 until the bullpen blew a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the World Series against the Anaheim Angels that eventually turned into a 6-5 loss. The Giants would lose 4-1 to the Angels in Game 7.
Good things should happen to good people. Baker dealt with unfair criticism about not winning the big one in his managerial career. He does not have to answer to anyone about that anymore, and that’s why it was great to see him being hailed as a champion.
He was a Hall of Famer before Saturday night. He has validated his claim to be in Cooperstown now that he has won a championship. 2,093 wins, three pennants, 12 postseason appearances with five different teams make his case.
The perception of Baker not winning a big game was unfair. All managers can do is prepare their players to play, and then it’s on the players to perform. Players make good managers. Managers know how to get the best out of them.
Everywhere Baker has gone in places such as San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington and Houston, he won. He must be doing something right. A manager doesn’t win 2,093 games without doing something right. A manager doesn’t get hired by any team without the credibility he brings into the dugout. A manager has to work hard to earn respect from the players. Baker has done all of that.
Baker is a baseball lifer. He has made a difference in the players’ lives. The players have nothing but great things to say about him. They play for him. He knows how to relate to them, even as a 73-year-old manager. He always has his teams playing the right way.
Baker constantly elevates teams to play at a high level when he manages them. He knows how to handle people. He can lead as a manager. He calls a good game and puts his team in a position to do well. He has always had the goods to be a successful manager.
He can’t change history about his Giants teams, Cubs teams, Reds teams and Nationals teams flaming out in the playoffs, but his pros outweigh his cons when looking at the body of his work.
Baker was the right guy at the right time for the Astros. They needed a manager that would bring stability after Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and Astros manager A.J. Hinch were fired for their sign-stealing cheating scandal few years ago. The team still had the core players to go to the playoffs and win championships.
There’s no doubt MLB commissioner Rob Manfred cajoled Astros owner Jim Crane to hire Baker. It worked out well for the Astros. Under Baker, they made three playoff appearances with three American League Championship Series appearances and two World Series appearances. They finally got a championship under him.
As much as it worked out for the Astros, it worked out well for Baker, too. He did not even know he would manage in Major League Baseball again after the Washington Nationals decided not to retain him after being their manager for two seasons in 2017 and 2018. He was let go after losing a couple of Division Series as the Nationals manager.
With baseball heading toward hiring young managers who would follow orders from the general manager to play certain players in a given game, Baker had every reason to think he would not manage again. He applied for the Philadelphia Phillies managerial position few years ago, but he was not really taken seriously as a candidate and the job went to Joe Girardi in 2019.
But the baseball gods smiled on him when the Astros presented an opportunity for him to manage them, and he made the most of his opportunity by getting the Astros to the playoffs and finally getting that championship he always wanted. Maybe it was meant to be he managed them.
Not only has Baker been good for baseball, but the sport has been good for him, too.
It’s hard to imagine what went on Baker’s mind as soon as the Astros won it all. There’s no doubt there were emotions, but it’s hard to imagine unless one experiences it in person. Only he can tell everyone what he was going through. In so many ways, Saturday might have as well been “This is Your Life” for him in a sense this was the apex of his life and his managerial career.
Baker is a legend forever. That’s what winning a championship does. It’s what people work hard for in their careers.
Critics can’t take this away from him no matter how hard they try now.
These next few months will be enjoyable for Baker. He will be in demand by anyone who wants to talk to him. He is going to enjoy and reflect on what he accomplished this season and his career. He is going to rejuvenate himself to go for a repeat.
Just seeing him in the Astros parade on Monday afternoon, there was a smile on my face. It’s good for the soul to see him hoist the World Series trophy and fans chanting “DUSTY! DUSTY! DUSTY!.”
If there’s a man that deserves a moment like this after all these heartbreaks in the playoffs, it’s Baker.
He showed nice guys can also win a championship instead of finishing last.
This writer can be reached on Twitter: @LeslieMonteiro6
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