HOUSTON — Dusty Baker had come to terms with the fact that his baseball career was probably over when the Nationals didn’t bring him back as manager after the 2017 season. He probably wouldn’t hit 2,000 wins or win a World Series as a manager, which were the only two achievements missing from his resume after 22 years of management.
Baker kept those disappointments in the back of his mind and most of his baseball team in the attic of his home in the Sacramento, Calif., area, content to watch his son, Darren, begin his career as a player while tending his vineyard and wine. It was a baseball life well lived, and largely without regret for a man considered one of the game’s greatest gentlemen.
He was at home in January 2020 when Astros owner Jim Crane called and asked to interview for the managerial opening in Houston. At 70, it was unexpected, but Baker still hadn’t gotten baseball out of his blood. The Astros hired him to take over a team in turmoil after the sign-stealing scandal — a man respected by everyone in the game and the perfect person to guide the Astros through the storm.
Baker reached 2,000 wins earlier this year, becoming the 12th AL/NL manager to reach that mark, and when he wakes up Saturday morning, he’ll be on the verge of completing his career: a championship of the World Series. Baker’s Astros can win the 2022 World Series with a win over the Phillies in Game 6 Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
“I’m a goal-oriented person, and it means we accomplished one goal and we accomplished another goal,” Baker said.
There won’t be many people at the game who aren’t associated with the city of Philadelphia rooting against Baker, the 73-year-old greatest player on the planet. Been to this place before. The 2002 Giants blew a 3-2 lead in the World Series, but that was with Games 6 and 7 on the road against the Angels. The Astros only need to win one game at home and have two chances to do so.
“I don’t think about the situation I’m in,” Baker said Friday. “Just take a day off, because if you think about something all the time, it would drive you crazy. So just take a day off, let it go in your head and [let it] passing.”
Baker’s legacy of 55 years in the game is strong. He broke out as a player with the Braves in 1968, was taken under the wing of Hank Aaron and was on deck when Aaron hit his legendary 715 home run to pass Babe Ruth in 1974. He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981, the peak success. of a 19-year playing career.
Still, the missing championship as a coach casts a long shadow.
“I mean, I’ve got 2,000 wins and all they’re talking about is I haven’t won the World Series yet, you know?” he said “So yes, it matters. It matters to people. It matters to us.”
Last year, Baker became the first manager to win a division title with five different teams when the Astros took the American League West, and he has led teams to pennants in both the AL (2021-22 Astros ) as in the National League (Gigantes 2002). . After losing the World Series in six games to the Braves, the Astros signed Baker to a one-year contract a year ago Saturday, and he delivered a 106-win regular season and a second straight AL pennant.
“We love going out there every day and competing for him,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He loves this team. He loves to win. He loves the game of baseball. And 100 percent, we want to win for him. I think, as Dusty would say, I think it’s the same mentality that we all have is this game [Saturday] it’s the most important game and we just have to stay locked in every pitch.”
Of the previous 11 managers to reach 2,000 career wins, 10 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn’t is Bruce Bochy (2,003 wins), who is not yet eligible for induction. Baker is ninth in regular season wins with 2,093, having passed his former Dodgers manager Walter Alston earlier this year.
“Here’s a guy who was a cancer survivor, [stroke] survivor and just to be able to reach that milestone, he should go straight to the Hall of Fame,” catcher Martín Maldonado said as Baker reached 2,000 wins.
Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and he will enter another offseason in limbo. Whether he returns could depend on the future of general manager James Click, who is also a lame duck. But if you think Baker would retire after winning a championship, you don’t know him very well.
“I don’t want to stop now,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be fighting, but I’ve always said that if I win one, I’ll win two. I hate being a liar.”