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Dusty Baker

Houston Astros’ Dusty Baker: ‘Gotta have it’

Astros manager chases World Series title that has eluded him

HOUSTON – Dusty Baker is too cool to be seen as grandfatherly, even at 72 years old. After all, how many grandpas do you know sip beer from their nasty shoes as the kids hoop and holler around him?

But it’s that grandfatherly touch that has nurtured and lifted a group of men at a time when they’ve needed it most. Baker has loved on his Astros, protected them, defended them, hugged on them.

He has ushered them into the postseason yet again, carrying their dreams with his own. The Astros are in search of their second World Series title in four years. Baker’s drought has been 10 times that long. 

He has been chasing his second title since 1981, the year he and Fernando Valenzuela’s Dodgers won it all. Johnnie B Baker was already in the 14th season of his 19-year playing career when he helped the Dodgers win that title. 

Dusty Baker sits on 39-year drought

He played five more seasons after that, finishing on an Oakland A’s team managed by Tony La Russa, the man now leading the White Sox in the best-of-five Division Series against the Astros.

La Russa, a 77-year-old Hall of Fame manager, is the only manager in the majors older than Baker. Beginning with Game 1 Thursday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, they must lead their teams against each other for a chance to reach the American League Championship Series.

They’re friendly once bitter rivals, but rivals nonetheless. La Russa made history this year by becoming the first manager in baseball history to win a division title in five consecutive decades.

Baker made history by becoming the first manager to win division titles with five different teams. They’re both old school, literally and figuratively, but their management styles are different.

Baker’s style is what the Astros needed most in the aftermath of the cheating scandal that prompted MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to suspend manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.

“From the moment he got here, he didn’t have it easy,” Carlos Correa said of Baker. “He had to deal with a lot, especially that spring training 2020. He loved us from the moment he met us, and he had our backs from the moment he met us. So for me, that truly means a lot.”

Baker was perfect for this job. He had managed Barry Bonds and defended the surly slugger with the Giants. He made it work earlier this century when a pair of National League Most Valuable Players in his clubhouse openly despised each other.

Close call in 2002

Baker guided those Giants with Bonds and Jeff Kent within a win of the 2002 World Series title. He was then ushered out the door in San Francisco that winter. Then he had the Cubs dreaming about a World Series appearance the very next year until it all crumbled with Steve Bartman in Game 6 of the NLCS.

He never got close again during his four years with the Cubs. Baker won two more division titles in six seasons with the Reds, but he was unemployed for two years before the Washington Nationals hired him again. Two division titles in two years weren’t enough for the Nationals to retain him. Even worse, nobody called offering a job. 

He sat out the 2018 and 2019 seasons and wasn’t expected to manage until Astros owner Jim Crane came calling in need of a veteran who would give his organization credibility again.

Baker welcomed the challenge and absorbed some of the vitriol that came the Astros’ way last year as they came within a victory of a trip to the World Series.

“Coming from a different team, he had no part of what happened in the past,” Correa said. “He still was there for us every single second of the way. 

“And also the stories that he’s got, he’s got so many great stories that I’m going to tell my kid. He’s a great manager, but an even better human being. I’m grateful that I got to meet him and work with him.”

Baker can drop names with the best of them. He’s damn near the Forrest Gump of baseball.

One moment he’s talking about Hank Aaron. The next he’s quoting Tommy Lasorda or telling stories about Fernando Valenzuela, Barry Bonds or some player you’ve never heard of. That doesn’t include the countless stories he has about famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix.

Dusty Baker: ‘Gotta have it’

He’s been there, done most of that.

The only thing he hasn’t done is win a World Series title as a manager. He has come close enough to hand Russ Ortiz the ball as a memento in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series only for it all to fall apart.

He has 1,987 regular season victories and one National League pennant over 24 years as a manager. He’s back in the postseason chasing the title that has eluded him.

“You keep knocking on the door, man,” Dusty Baker says. “If you don’t knock on the door, you don’t have a chance. The way I look at it, Thomas Edison, he tried a thousand times, you know what I mean, before he discovered the light bulb and electricity. 

“Look at Bobby Cox. How many division titles did he have, like 15 or 16? I ain’t even close to that. The way I look at it if it’s going to happen, the Lord wants me to have it. If it doesn’t, it’s still been good. That don’t mean — you know how I really feel inside. I need it, and I gotta have it.”

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