Baseball, Behind the Bench, Sports

An ode to Dusty Baker

The creator of the high five. The winner of a Gold Glove, World Series, and two Silver Sluggers. The first African American manager with 2000 victories and the first manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) history to lead five different teams to division titles. On Oct. 26, following their elimination from the playoffs, Houston Astros’ manager Dusty Baker announced his retirement, prompting many fans to reflect on one of the most illustrious baseball careers imaginable. 

While he is largely regarded for his career as a manager, Baker’s career as a player is nothing to scoff at. In the 1967 MLB draft, the Atlanta Braves chose Baker in the 26th round; he then went on to make his MLB debut on Sept. 7, 1968 against none other than the Astros. Baker played in the minors for the following three seasons, finally cracking the Opening Day roster in 1972. Historical moments characterized Baker’s time with Atlanta, such as watching Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run from the on-deck circle. Baker also served in the Marine Corps Reserve as a mechanic in motor transport from 1968 to 1974. 

In 1976, Baker was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he not only won his first Silver Slugger and only Gold Glove, but  this was when Baker took part in what is believed to be the first-ever high five with his teammate Glenn Burke in 1977. It was also with the Dodgers that Baker won his only World Series as a player in 1981. Baker then went on to play for the San Francisco Giants in 1984 before being traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1985, where he finished out his career. During his time with the Athletics, Baker began chewing a toothpick––a staple throughout his managerial career––later revealing they both deterred chewing tobacco and were an “excellent” source of protein. In 1986, Baker also began to wear wristbands––another fashion mainstay during his managerial career––to wipe the sweat of his forehead. 

In 1993, after spending some post-retirement years as a stockbroker, the Giants hired Baker as their manager, making him the seventh Black manager of a major league team. In Baker’s first season as manager, the Giants acquired Barry Bonds, who would go on to break Aaron’s home run record under Baker’s management. Baker won his first National League Manager of the Year in 1993; then again in 1997 and 2000, when the Giants won division titles. 

Baker’s career with the Giants ended in 2002, but the Chicago Cubs hired him as their manager in 2003. In Chicago, Baker managed through the infamous Steve Bartman incident, and the team’s on-field struggles led the Cubs not to renew Baker’s contract at the end of the 2006 season. 

After one year on the sideline, Baker stepped in as manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 2008 to 2013. Baker was then hired by the Washington Nationals in 2016, and after leading the team to back-to-back National League East titles, the Nationals opted to part ways with him in 2018. 

In the aftermath of their 2017 cheating scandal, the Astros brought Baker in to help revamp the team’s jaded image in 2020. While the players garnered boos from fans on the road, Baker came to be viewed as the only manager capable of weathering the storm. And with a 320-336 record, playoff appearances in each of his four seasons, two American League pennants, and the 2022 World Series victory, Baker proved to be the man for the task. 

Baker has been a vital voice in calling out the lack of diversity across baseball. In 2022, Baker was incredibly vocal of the lack of effort by MLB to draw more U.S.-born Black players to baseball, as not a single U.S.-born Black player played in the 2022 World Series for the first time since 1950. 

Ultimately, Baker took home 2183 wins (seventh all time), three Manager of the Year awards, three pennants across the American league and National league, and one World Series. His toothpicks and sweatbands will be remembered and as far as we can tell, Dusty’s voice will remain in the baseball world for years to come.

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