Opinion by Charlie Vascellaro
Is Cooperstown calling for Dusty?
Houston Astros veteran manager Dusty Baker is on the brink of winning his first World Series which should assure him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
In the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that tarnished the Houston Astros 2017 World Series victory and three-year run of success, veteran manager Dusty Baker was hired in 2020 to right the ship and restore the team’s reputation.
During the Astros fan-less season of 2020 the team managed to elude the scrutiny and jeering associated with its indiscretions over the course of the abbreviated 60-game season.
Baker guided the team to a respectable second-place finish in the American League’s West division, the Astros fell one game shy of reaching the World Series, losing the seventh game of the American League Championship Series to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Baker’s 24-year managerial career has been largely defined by such devastating losses: In his rookie season as manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1993, Baker’s Giants finished one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League West division despite winning a franchise record 103 games.
In 2002 powered by the historic performance of slugger Barry Bonds, Baker’s Giants captured the National League pennant but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Angels in seven games after having a 3-2 lead in the Series. Baker’s contract was not renewed after the season, and he was immediately signed by the Chicago Cubs taking the 2003 team all the way to the seventh game of the National League Championship Series again losing games six and seven after holding a 3-2 lead.
After four seasons with the Cubs Baker moved on to his third managerial position with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 and delivered the Reds first NL Central title in 15 years in 2010. The Reds were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in three straight games in the National League Division Series.
Under Baker the Reds won the NL Central again in 2012 and lost a closely contested NLDS three-games-to-two after holding a 2-0 lead. In 2013 the third -place Reds captured the second Wild Card playoff spot but lost the one-game pay-in to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baker was fired at the conclusion of the season.
After a two-year hiatus from managing Baker won back-to-back NL East division titles with the Washington Nationals in 2016 and 2017, falling in the first round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and to the Chicago Cubs in 2017.
Now in his first full season in Houston Baker is back on the brink of capturing his first managerial World Series ring which would almost certainly punch his Hall of Fame ticket.
The Astros opened the World Series at home against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, October 26.
Baker’s 1,987 managerial wins ranks him 12th in major league history and 10 of the 11 managers in front of him on the list have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Bruce Bochy, 2,003, is 16 wins in front of Baker over 25 seasons).
More than two dozen managers who have won many less games than Baker have also been inducted to the Hall including such luminary legends as: Casey Stengel (1,905), Tommy Lasorda (1,599), Dick Williams (1,571), and Earl Weaver (1,480).
“That guy is going to be a Hall of Famer soon,” said Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, after Houston’s AL pennant-clinching victory over the Boston Red Sox last week.
Baker was an accomplished major league player during his 19-year career playing with four different teams. He broke into the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves in 1968 where he was mentored by Henry Aaron batting in the clean-up (fourth) spot behind Aaron in the Braves batting order. It was Baker who famously greeted Aaron at home plate when he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record with number 715 in Atlanta on April 8, 1974.
After eight seasons in Atlanta Baker was traded by the Braves to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975.
Baker was the MVP of the 1977 NLCS hitting tow home runs with eight RBI and a .357 batting average in the Dodgers three games to one victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. He played on three NL pennant winning teams for the Dodgers (1977, 1978, 1981) capturing his only World Series ring as a player in 1981.
He spent the final three seasons with the San Francisco Giants (1984) and Oakland A’s (1985 and 1986) finishing his career with 242 home runs, 1,013 RBI and a .278 batting average. He was named to tow NL all-star teams with the Dodgers in 1981 and 1982, batting .320 and .300 respectively. Baler was one of four Los Angeles Dodgers to eclipse 30 home runs in 1977 the others being, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Reggie Smith.
For his cumulative accomplishments in the game Baker certainly merits Hall of Fame consideration but if he should capture a World Series championship with the Astros this year, Cooperstown will most likely come calling.