Dusty Baker finally got the one thing missing from his Hall of Fame career: a World Series title
Dusty Baker and the rest of the Houston Astros dugout watched the fly ball float into foul territory down the right-field line. It took only a few seconds before it got from the bat of Nick Castellanos into Kyle Tucker’s glove, but for Baker, it was the weight of nearly three decades that was finally lifted.
Baker, 29 years after managing his first game, is now a World Series champion after his Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. Baker, who assumed the leadership of this team in the midst of scandal in 2020 and has guided it once more to the top of the baseball world, had won 2,093 games in his career, ninth-most in history and most by any manager before winning a title.
He had taken five different teams to the postseason. His teams had won nine division titles over his 25 years as a manager. But he had never achieved the ultimate goal, and it was the only thing keeping him from certain induction into Cooperstown.
The rest of the Astros knew it. Once Tucker caught the final out, they all gathered around Baker. The 73-year-old (the oldest to ever win the World Series), found himself in the middle of a group of leaping, jovial Astros. Throughout all he’s been through in his career, Baker never lost faith he would get to enjoy a moment like that.
“I thought about it a lot. I tried not to dwell on it. Tried to have faith and perseverance and knowing that, with the right team and the right personnel and the right everything, this was going to happen,” Baker said in his first press conference as a championship-winning manager. “Had this happened years ago, I might not even be here. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen so I could be here and influence a few young men.”
Past disappointments only made it more special for Baker
Game 6’s hadn’t been kind to Baker. In 2002, Baker’s San Francisco Giants led 5-0 in the seventh inning, just eight outs away from the title. Then they had it snatched away. The next year, now with the Chicago Cubs, Baker was in the dugout at Wrigley Field during Game 6 of the NLCS when the name Steve Bartman became the most infamous in baseball.
After that 2002 defeat, Baker related a story that his father told him he would never get that close again. Baker had that in mind when he prepared to take on the Phillies on Saturday.
“I was thinking about him this morning when I got up. Game 6 has been my nemesis throughout my career, and this was Game 6. I was like, I didn’t really want to get to Game 6 again, but I was like, maybe this is how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “I’ve had some ups and downs and some disappointments, but those disappointments make you stronger or they break you. That’s kind of been the story of my life.”
Baker had a successful 19-year career as an MLB player. He got to play alongside Hank Aaron—Baker was on deck when Aaron hit home run No. 715—and played in three World Series with the Dodgers, winning in 1981. It was 41 years between World Series titles, a journey that came full circle on Saturday. When Baker managed his first game with the Giants in 1993, Geronimo Pena was in the opposing lineup. Now three decades later, Pena’s son Jeremy is the MVP of Baker’s first World Series title.
It’s been one incredible journey, and it paid off. “It’s not relief. It’s just your joy and thankfulness,” Baker said. “Everybody was talking about it more than I was even thinking about it. I always said before that if I win one, I’ll win two, but you gotta win one first. The one was hell to get to this point, but it was well worth it.”
Astros owner Jim Crane said following Game 6 that he’ll look into the status of Baker and General Manager James Click for next season beginning on Monday. And if this was the last ride for Baker, it was an incredible way to cap off a legendary career.