Dusty Baker, then manager of the San Francisco Giants, just retired from the stadium after a devastating loss to the Los Angeles Angels in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series when he ran into his father.
Johnnie B. Baker Sr. didn’t beat around the bush.
“He came out and said to me, ‘Man, the way you just lost this one, I don’t see how you can win another,'” Baker recalled Sunday.
Nineteen years after that talk and more than a decade since his father’s death, Baker finally has a chance to show that the father he loved so much was wrong.
The opportunity presents itself starting Tuesday night in command of the Houston Astros against the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
The 72-year-old Baker always keeps that conversation in mind. And since the Astros dispatched the Red Sox to their third Fall Classic in five years last Friday, his father’s words have been louder.
“That has been my motivation,” Baker said.
It will be Baker’s second World Series appearance as a driver. He did it three times as a Dodgers player, winning once in 1981 as a left fielder with a productive bat.
In an illustrious career as a player and manager spanning more than 50 years, winning the World Series as a manager is the only unfinished business for Baker.
“I know,” he said. “I have to fill it out.”
So does Reggie Jackson, the original Mr. October and Hall of Famer who now works as an advisor to Astros owner Jim Crane. “It would be a wonderful addition to your credentials.”
Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, is on a mission to give Baker that satisfaction.
“It has been a long time and it is still pending,” said the Puerto Rican star. “We will go out and do it for him.”
It has been two years of many twists and turns for Baker. After being fired by the Nationals after a 97-win season in 2017, he wondered if he would get a chance to coach again, much less think about the elusive title.
Back at his residence in Northern California, devoted to his wine business and vegetable fields in his garden, he pondered in perplexity how he was overlooked when manager vacancies were opened. Their requests received no response.
Baker assumed that his age and salary at this stage in his life made team executives shy away.
“Do you end up resigning yourself?”, He once said. “You resign yourself, but you end up losing faith in people, between what is good and bad. And you understand that in this world, especially in this new world, there has always been discrimination, racial discrimination, but in this new world, there is age and salary discrimination, which are intertwined ”.
It was when his parents’ words echoed.
“I always had it in mind when I did not know if I could return to this sport”; said.
That’s when it was revealed in late 2019 that the Astros were illicitly stealing rivals’ signals during the season they were crowned champions in 2017. The uncovering of the scandal caused manager AJ Hinch to lose his job, leaving the team in immeasurable trouble. image and in need of a strong leader.
Crane found that leader in Baker, No. 12 on the all-time racing win list and who has led five teams in the postseason. In the shortened COVID-19 season last year, the Astros slipped into the playoffs as wild cards and fell short of a World Series win.
“The first time I met him, we talked for almost two hours and he immediately knew he was the right person,” Crane said. “He is someone unflappable because he has had to go through a lot of things.”
And this week his career comes full circle as he faces the team that selected him in the 1967 draft after graduating from high school, and where he served for the first eight seasons of a 19-year career as a player.
His first hit was with the Braves, connecting him not far from Minute Maid Park, in the now defunct Astrodome. He was 19 years old, when that September 17, 1968, he hit a “little grounder against Mike Cuéllar.”
More importantly, in Atlanta he began a lifelong friendship with the legendary Hank Aaron, who passed away in January at the age of 86. It was Aaron who convinced Baker to sign with the Braves instead of embarking on a college basketball career.
“I was selected to be with Hank,” he said.
Baker was waiting his turn and among the Braves who rallied at the plate to celebrate with Aaron on April 8, 1974, when he hit his 715th home run to leave Babe Ruth at the top of the all-time list.
Aaron was Baker’s mentor, reiterating many of the lessons that Baker’s father had shared with him, such as honesty and being supportive of others. She also advised him on how to live in the American South as an African American in the 1960s. It was something Baker needed to know from growing up in California.
“It was about life and being proud as an African American, but not bragging because it’s something you carry,” Baker said.
Baker finds it ideal that he returns to Atlanta with the entire baseball world on the lookout and is excited to meet Aaron’s wife and kids.
“It’s very special to come back to Atlanta,” he said. “It will be like the end of a storybook for all of us.”
The Astros are the villains of baseball, booed in every ballpark for cheating and hated by a majority outside of Houston.
But Baker is so admired in baseball that some will grudgingly cheer on the Astros this week for their veteran manager.
“There are a lot of people against it, but also a lot of people who support us,” Baker said. “Many people who are rowing in my favor.” AP (HN)