Column: Third time’s the charm? Dusty Baker is ready for his crowning moment.


Nathan Tran

Dusty Baker as the manager of the Houston Astros before a spring training game in 2020.

Jason Guth, Sports Writer

Wrist bands, toothpicks and gloves. Dusty Baker’s signature look will be on display come Friday night and this year’s edition of the Fall Classic.

One of the most iconic managers in baseball history finds himself and his Houston team in the World Series for a second consecutive season, this time against the Philadelphia Phillies.

It begs the question: Can he finally earn his first World Series title at age 73?

The first appearance came 20 years ago for Baker in what turned out to be his final season in San Francisco. It was his 10th year at the helm when he guided the Giants to a 95-66-1 record and the NL Pennant.

That team fell to the then-Anaheim Angels in seven games, and produced one of the more memorable baseball moments of the last two decades.

Baker would then move over to Chicago’s North Side to lead the hapless Cubs, who at that point were still in search of their first World Series title since 1908. Baker was also in the dugout for this infamous postseason moment his first year there.

Four relatively fruitless years led to Baker’s ouster after 2006, and after a season off, Baker stayed in the NL Central to guide the Reds for six seasons. None of those Cincinnati teams advanced past the divisional round, leading to Baker’s unceremonious departure following the 2013 season.

After two more years out of the game, Baker was tabbed as the Nationals’ manager in 2016. He led those teams to two NL East titles, but again, never advanced past the NLDS; Baker was met with another pink slip after just two years.

It had become a sort of unsolvable mystery: How could a manager as renowned as Baker have such little postseason success?

Patience is a virtue, they say.

Following another three years away from the game, Baker, perhaps the best possible hire with his then-70 years of wisdom, was chosen to right the ship in Houston after the biggest cheating scandal in recent sports history.

Under his watchful eye, 2020’s pandemic-shortened season saw the Astros return to the ALCS after one of Baker’s former teams, Washington, earned that franchise’s first World Series title in Minute Maid Park the previous October.

Houston pushed the Tampa Bay Rays to seven games, but once more, a Baker-led team was left on the sidelines come the World Series.

2021 had to be the year then, right? Wrong.

The Atlanta Braves memorably burst onto the scene after last year’s trade deadline. Sitting at 51-54 in late July, the Braves seemingly had no shot at a playoff spot, much less a World Series ring.

But those notable trade deadline acquisitions – Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson among others – catapulted the Braves to a final mark of 88-73 and the NL East title.

They advanced to the World Series and had become the better team, even as the Astros had 95 wins during the regular season. Sure enough, they beat Houston in six games, bringing the first World Series crown to Atlanta since 1995 while sending Baker and crew home empty-handed.

That brings us to today. What about 2022 is different from all of the years preceding it?

For starters, Houston has been the best team all year. 106 wins; a presumed Cy Young Award winner in Justin Verlander; the best pitching staff in baseball; and an offense that’s as good as ever.

These Astros were made for October.

They had a team ERA of 2.90 in the regular season, and while the Dodgers had a 2.80 team ERA, they aren’t around any longer.

In the postseason? Houston has actually improved that mark to a 1.88 team ERA. That is certified insane.

The Phillies, for comparison’s sake, have a team ERA of 3.06 this postseason. That is a solid mark itself, but is nowhere near Houston’s.

As for that buzz word, attrition, the Astros have swept their first two series (7-0), while Philadelphia took 11 games to get here.

Though the Phillies have mashed an MLB-leading 16 homers in these playoffs, they have also whiffed 94 times. Astros pitchers have punched out 89 batters in their seven games, good for more than 12 K’s a night.

Add to that combination that Houston won 19 more games in the regular season than Philadelphia, and the Phillies were the last NL team to make the playoffs, this series is undoubtedly in Houston’s favor.

It would be an absolute shame if Baker’s team didn’t seal the deal this year, but I for one expect them to, and Baker will finally be able to breathe easy as a champion of Major League Baseball.

And one day soon enough, Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker Jr. will forever be enshrined in Cooperstown.