For this baseball fan, unattached to either the Astros or the Phillies, it was easiest to forgo the effort of mustering up a rooting interest during this season's World Series. On one side, the dreaded cheaters and creeps from Texas: Booooo! On the other, Philly fans. Ba dum tss.
It was clear from the start, though, that there was one protagonist worth cheering: Astros manager Dusty Baker. The 73-year-old legendary skipper took the helm in Houston in 2020 after the organization dumped A. J. Hinch to try and wash their hands of their elaborate sign-stealing operation. Baker, universally respected in the game as a stabilizing presence, was the perfect guy to rehabilitate the Astros reputation. The intended message from the franchise was clear: We've got Dusty. He's consistent. He's honest.
He's also a winner. In his 19-year playing career, Baker made two All-Star teams; he won a Gold Glove award, three National League pennants in 1977, 1978, and 1981, and the World Series in 1981. Baker became the seventh Black manager in MLB history when he took over the San Francisco Giants in 1993, and since then he's racked up 2,093 regular season wins, formerly the most for any manager without a World Series title. Over the course of nearly three decades as a manager, he also won three pennants and three Manager of the Year awards, and almost became a curse-breaker as the leader of the 2003 Chicago Cubs. That season, the Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves to win the NLDS, their first postseason series win since 1908, but were foiled by a calamitous meltdown that started in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS. With the Reds after that, and the Nationals in 2016 and 2017, Baker couldn't get past the divisional series.
Baker battled prostate cancer when he ran the Giants and was hospitalized for a stroke in 2012. As he got older, the goal of leading a team to a World Series grew more and more urgent, to the point that it threatened to overshadow all he had already accomplished. The Braves beating the Astros in the 2021 World Series could have marked a bittersweet ending to an incredible but ultimately incomplete life in baseball. But Baker came back, piloted his 106-win Astros to the best regular season of any team he's ever managed, and then steered them through a dominant playoff run that culminated in Saturday night's win. While his supporters might have taken a relaxed exhale, knowing what this title meant for Baker's legacy, the man himself didn't let on if a weight had actually been lifted off his shoulders.
“It’s not relief,” Baker said. “It’s just sheer joy and thankfulness.”
Baker is who he is. He's an old-school guy (with some very, uh, specific old-school opinions) who stuck around because people love him and he's good at winning baseball games. Even in the most celebratory moment of his managerial career, his quiet focus and understated commitment to the sport shone through. As Kyle Tucker came in from right field to catch the game's final out, Baker looked down to write in his notebook before his dugout's delirium finally pulled him out of his routine.
If this clip is any indication, finally winning a World Series won't change who Dusty Baker has always been. But it's a nice thing to put on a Hall of Fame plaque.