Astros’ Baker: Historic 2,000th win ‘extra’ special

Sports

Dusty Baker became the 12th manager in major league history to win 2,000 games — and the first Black manager to reach the milestone — with the Astros4-0 victory Tuesday night over the Seattle Mariners in Houston.

The 72-year-old Baker began his managerial career in 1993 with the San Francisco Giants, and he has led five different teams — the Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and Astros — to the postseason, the only manager to achieve that feat. He also is one of nine managers to win pennants in both leagues, guiding the Giants to the World Series in 2002 and the Astros in 2021. His 40 career postseason wins are tied for eighth all time with Terry Francona.

With his iconic toothpick and wristbands, Baker has been one of the most vivid personalities in the game over the past three decades — on top of a 19-year career as a player that saw him finish with 1,981 hits and 242 home runs.

Despite the 2,000 wins, his Hall of Fame case remains a contentious debate. Of the 11 managers with more wins than Baker, 10 are in the Hall of Fame, with Bruce Bochy viewed as a lock to get elected when he is eligible for the ballot in December 2023. All 10 Hall of Fame managers with more wins than Baker, however, also have at least one World Series championship, while Bochy won three with the Giants.

Baker’s teams fell short in both of his World Series appearances and suffered some heartbreaking playoff defeats along the way — notably Game 6 of the 2002 World Series with the Giants, Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series with the Cubs and Game of the 2015 NL Division Series with the Nationals, all potential clinching games that his squads led in the seventh inning or later.

Still, Baker’s regular-season success makes him a strong Hall candidate, especially given his track record of turning franchises around — or, in the Astros’ case, lending a steadying presence in wake of the organization’s sign-stealing scandal. Consider:

• The 1993 Giants went from 72 wins to 103, although they lost the NL West race to Atlanta on the final day of the season.

• The 2003 Cubs went from 67 wins to 88 and reached the NLCS.

• In Cincinnati, Baker took over a franchise in 2008 that had suffered seven consecutive losing seasons and had it back in the playoffs in 2010, also making it in 2012 and 2013.

• Taking over the Nationals in 2016, they improved from 83 wins to 95, and they won the NL East in both of Baker’s seasons at the helm.

• Finally, he took over the Astros in 2020 after the sign-stealing scandal forced the firing of AJ Hinch. Despite the losses of Gerrit Cole in free agency and Justin Verlander to injury, Baker guided the Astros to the American League Championship Series in 2020 and to 95 wins and the World Series in 2021.

When the Giants hired Baker, he became just the seventh Black manager in MLB history. When he had retired as a player after 1986, Baker initially had no interesting in managing; but he eventually joined the Giants as first-base coach and then hitting coach for four seasons before replacing Roger Craig as manager after the 1992 season.

He is one of just two Black managers in 2022, along with Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Only a couple of things are missing now, a championship and the 2,000th win,” Baker told the New York Times during the offseason. “I’d be the only African-American in that club, know what I mean, brother? And I’m hoping that I can help convince other owners that me and Dave Roberts shouldn’t be the last, that we should have a lot more.”

Baker is working on a one-year extension signed just after last year’s World Series loss.

“I’ve just got some unfinished business to take care of,” he said at the time of his extension. “We’re close. We’re getting better every year. I thank the organization for giving us the pieces, thank [general manager] James Click for adding the pieces at the right time and the togetherness we have on this team. I’m very proud to be the team’s leader.”

If the Astros do win the World Series this season under Baker, it would be another milestone for him: At 73 by World Series time, he would become the oldest manager to win a championship.

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