One milestone remains for Dusty: ‘Yeah, it matters’

HOUSTON — Dusty Baker had come to terms with the fact his baseball career was probably over when the Nationals didn’t bring him back as manager after the 2017 season. He likely wasn’t going to get 2,000 wins or win a World Series as a manager, which were the only two accomplishments missing from his resume following 22 years of managing.

Baker packed those disappointments in the back of his mind and most of his baseball gear in his attic in his home in the Sacramento, Calif., area, content to watch his son, Darren, get his playing career underway while tending to his vineyard and wine. It was a baseball life well-lived, and one largely without regret for a man considered one of the finest gentlemen in the game.

He was at home in January 2020 when Astros owner Jim Crane called and asked him to interview for the managerial opening in Houston. At 70 years old, it was unexpected, but Baker hadn’t gotten baseball out of his blood just yet. The Astros hired him to take over a team in turmoil on the heels of 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 hit that mark — and when he wakes up Saturday morning, he’ll be on the cusp of completing his career achievement: a World Series championship. Baker’s Astros can win the 2022 World Series with a victory over the Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

“I’m a goal-oriented person, and it means that we met one goal and got another goal to go,” Baker said.

Dusty Baker on Astros’ Game 5 win
There won’t be many people in the game not associated with the city of Philadelphia who will be rooting against Baker, the coolest 73-year-old on the planet. He’s been in this spot before. The 2002 Giants blew a 3-2 World Series lead, but that was with Games 6 and 7 on the road against the Angels. The Astros need to win just one game at home, and they have two chances to do it.

“I don’t think about the situation I’m in,” Baker said Friday. “Just taking a day of rest, because if you think about something all the time, it would drive you crazy. So you just got to take a day off, let it come in your mind and [let it]out in passing.”

Baker’s legacy from 55 years in the game is strong. He broke in as a player with the Braves in 1968, was taken under Hank Aaron’s wing and was on deck when Aaron hit his legendary 715th homer to pass Babe Ruth in 1974. He won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981, the crowning achievement of a 19-year playing career.

Still, the missing championship as a manager casts a long shadow.

“I mean, I got 2,000 wins and all they talk about is I haven’t won the World Series yet, you know?” he said. “So, yeah, it matters. It matters to the people. It matters to us.”

Dusty Baker’s 2,000th win

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) and National League (2002 Giants). After losing the World Series in six games to the Braves, the Astros signed Baker to a one-year deal a year ago Saturday, and he delivered a 106-win regular season and second consecutive AL pennant.

“We love going out there every single day and competing for him,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He loves this team. He loves winning. He loves the game of baseball. And 100 percent, we want to win for him. I think, just like Dusty would say, I think it’s the same mindset that all of us have is this game [Saturday] is the most important game and we just got to stay locked in on every single pitch.”

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Of the previous 11 managers to reach 2,000 career victories, 10 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only one who isn’t is Bruce Bochy (2,003 wins), who’s 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 accomplish that milestone, it should be straight to the Hall of Fame,” catcher Martín Maldonado said when Baker reached 2,000 wins.

Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he’ll enter another offseason in limbo. Whether he returns could depend on the future of general manager James Click, who’s also a lame duck. But if you thought Baker was going to retire upon 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’m going to manage, but I always said if I win one, I’ll win two. I hate to be a liar.”