Dusty Baker was sitting in the dugout, looking down and making a note when his coaching and support staff spontaneously mobbed him, chanting his name, as the Houston Astros secured victory in the World Series on Saturday.
“I’m feeling great, these guys are the greatest guys, they always believe. This is for my mom and my dad, my mom that passed in January, and my brother and all my boys,” he said afterwards, breaking off to hug his wife and high-five those rushing to congratulate him.
“God, dang it,” Baker continued, turning back to the ESPN reporter with a wide grin. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
The 73-year-old had achieved everything else – the only manager in MLB history to lead five different teams to the postseason and to win division titles with five different clubs, the first Black manager to win 2,000 career games and one of only two individuals in MLB history to produce 1,800 hits as a player and 1,800 wins as a manager.
“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 before the game, according to MLB.com. “So, yeah, it matters. It matters to the people. It matters to us.”
With this victory, Baker became the third Black manager to win the World Series after Dave Roberts and Cito Gaston.
“My mom, she told me a number of times, to be African-American, you’ve got to be twice as good to achieve the same thing,” he said afterwards. “I heard that over and over.”
Baker had come agonizingly close to achieving that elusive World Series title before, reaching the final hurdle twice – in 2002 with the San Francisco Giants, when they were 5-0 up and eight outs away from the title at one point in Game 6, and in 2021 with the Astros.
For almost 30 years since he took charge of his first team – the Giants – in 1993, Baker had pursued this goal that fluttered out of his reach whenever it came within touching distance.
He was the crowd’s favorite, beloved across baseball for his empathy and thoughtfulness, the one who everyone rooted for but always seemed to finish second.
Astros outfielder and first baseman Trey Mancini detailed Baker’s kindness towards his players in an interview with The Athletic.
Some players on the team like banana pudding, Mancini said, and so Baker would buy it for them on the road and leave it in their lockers, while he visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and brought back a rosary for Mancini.
For an Astros team still reeling from the fallout that marred its 2017 World Series title when MLB found that the franchise illegally created a system that decoded and communicated the opposing teams’ pitching signs, Baker proved to be the perfect antidote.
“When he came here in 2020, we had the whole cheating scandal and we had Covid,” starter Lance McCullers Jr. said, according to the New York Times.
“He was a stabilizing force for us. I wish we could have done it a little bit sooner for him, but he truly deserved this.”
And with this World Series title, Baker becomes not only the oldest manager in the MLB to win its biggest prize, but older than every other head coach who has won a Super Bowl, NBA championship or a Stanley Cup.
“I just knew it was going to happen, sooner or later, you stick around long enough and you’ve got good teams. I said, if I win one, I want to win two, so we might as well go for two – we’ll see,” he said afterwards.
Before coaching, Baker enjoyed a successful playing career, winning the World Series in 1981 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his 40 years in between titles is the most between any two consecutive World Series won as a player or manager, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I’m so happy that it took this long,” Baker added. “Because had this happened years ago, maybe I wouldn’t even be here.
“Maybe, it wasn’t supposed to happen, so that I could hopefully influence a few young mens’ lives and families, and a number of people in the country, showing what perseverance and character can do for you.”