Dusty Baker’s managerial career officially came to a close on a Thursday, marked by the usual fare of press releases and news conferences. Yet, this felt inadequate for a man whose career in baseball stands as a testament to perseverance, adaptability, and the unique ability to be present at some of the most historic moments in the sport. Dusty Baker is no ordinary figure; he’s a baseball icon.
“This isn’t a goodbye, it’s simply a ‘see you later,'” Baker told the reporters, leaving us with the assurance that we haven’t seen the last of his involvement in the sport. Even if he’s stepping down as a field manager, Baker’s legacy in baseball is indelible. Only six managers have won more regular-season games than him. Only three have won more postseason games. And all of this comes after an accomplished playing career in which he tallied 242 home runs, 1,941 hits, one championship, three pennants, and perhaps even invented the famous high-five.
Dusty Baker’s journey in baseball has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s lived through every evolution the sport has undergone, from the different playoff formats, the advent of free agency, designated hitters, mound height adjustments, and the rise of analytics. He’s witnessed the game’s evolution firsthand.
If you wanted to tell the story of baseball over the past 56 years, Dusty Baker’s career serves as a reliable guide. If someone mentions a significant baseball event that took place during your lifetime, you could almost always say, “Dusty Baker was there for that,” and you’d be right.
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Baker’s career kicked off with the 1967 Austin Braves, where he played alongside notable figures such as Cito Gaston, who would later become the first black manager to win a World Series (a feat Baker would later achieve as well).
In his first big league game in 1968, Baker shared the field with baseball legends like Hank and Tommy Aaron, Tito Francona, Felipe Alou, Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. The coaching staff included the great Satchel Paige, who affectionately referred to Baker as “Daffy.”
Throughout his career, Baker crossed paths with numerous baseball legends. He had the privilege of playing with Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record by hitting number 715 in 1974. Dusty not only witnessed this historic moment but also stood by his friend during the difficult times Aaron faced due to the threats he received.
Baker’s journey is best summarized by likening him to fictional characters like Zelig and Forrest Gump. He’s been part of countless historical events, rubbing shoulders with greats from Mantle to Ohtani, from Johnson to Biden, from Eckert to Manfred.
One defining moment in his career came on April 8, 1974, when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s hallowed record. Dusty Baker was there on deck, leaping in celebration as he hugged his close friend, Ralph “Gator” Garr, while Aaron rounded the bases.
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In 1975, Baker played for the Braves and was finally traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He joined a team that transformed into one of the most iconic power-hitting squads of the era, smashing 30 or more home runs each. It was during a home run celebration in 1977 that Baker and his teammate, Glenn Burke, exchanged a high-five, thus, by legend, inventing the high-five gesture.
Dusty Baker didn’t experience postseason action until he managed the 1977 Dodgers to a victory over the Big Red Machine in the NL West. He earned his first taste of playoff baseball, including a memorable three-run homer in Game 3. However, the defining moment of the series was Game 6 on October 18, 1977.
The 1981 baseball season, marked by a players’ strike, a new playoff format, and Fernandomania, was a whirlwind. Dusty was right in the middle of it with the Dodgers, leading to the team’s World Series victory. This season was also when Baker witnessed the tragic earthquake that disrupted the 1989 World Series.
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His playing career concluded in 1986 with the Oakland Athletics, and although he initially intended to continue, he transitioned into coaching. Eventually, he became the manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1993, where he expressed the hope of one day winning a World Series.
After managing the Giants and other teams, Baker joined the Chicago Cubs in 2003. He managed a Cubs team that was not seen as a contender at the time. Yet, the team defied expectations and reached the NLCS, bringing them within inches of the World Series. But the Bartman Game, a historic and dramatic moment, proved to be a heartbreaking loss that has since gone down in baseball lore. Despite the Cubs’ eventual Game 7 loss, Baker remained pragmatic about the outcome.
Baker then went on to manage the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals, guiding both teams to the postseason. Although he had strong rosters, he couldn’t secure a championship.
In 2020, Baker returned to manage the Houston Astros, where his leadership was critical in stabilizing the team following a sign-stealing scandal that led to the departure of the general manager and manager. In his first season back, Baker led the Astros to the ALCS. The following year, the Astros reached the World Series, only to be defeated by the Atlanta Braves.
In 2022, Baker led the Astros to their fifth straight ALCS appearance, eventually defeating the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series, marking Baker’s first World Series win as a manager. After 10,806 days from his first game as a manager, Baker became the oldest manager to win a World Series, cementing his place in baseball history.
Dusty Baker’s career is a remarkable journey through baseball history, full of iconic moments, legendary figures, and ultimately, a triumph that solidified his status as a future Hall of Famer. His story serves as a testament to perseverance, character, and the enduring love for America’s pastime. As he said, “It’s tough to take now, but this too shall pass,” and it did, marking the conclusion of one of the most extraordinary careers in baseball.