Baker with the Nationals in May 2017
|Houston Astros - No. 12|
|Outfielder / Manager|
|Born: June 15, 1949|
|September 7, 1968, for the Atlanta Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 4, 1986, for the Oakland Athletics|
|Runs batted in||1,013|
|Career highlights and awards|
Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker Jr. (born June 15, 1949) is an American Major League Baseball manager who currently manages the Houston Astros. A former major league player, he had a 19-year career as a hard-hitting outfielder, primarily with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. He helped the Dodgers to pennants in 1977 and 1978 and to the World Series championship in 1981. He previously managed the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals. He led the Giants to the 2002 National League pennant and also reached the playoffs with the latter three teams. In 2020, he was hired to manage the Houston Astros on a one-year contract. In his first year with the Astros, Baker became the first MLB manager to lead five different teams to the playoffs.
Baker was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 1967 amateur draft out of Del Campo High School near Sacramento, California. Baker was inducted into the Sac-Joaquin Section's Hall of Fame class in 2010 for his play at Del Campo. He began his major league baseball career as an outfielder for the Braves in 1968. As a Brave, he earned a spot as a footnote in history. On April 8, 1974, he was on deck when Hank Aaron hit home run 715 to pass Babe Ruth in career home runs.
Many of Baker's accomplishments as a player came during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which include playing for the National League All-Star team in 1981 and 1982, and winning three League Championship series in 1977, 1978, and 1981. Also in 1977, Dusty Baker was awarded the first ever National League Championship Series (NLCS) Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Baker ultimately won a World Series title in 1981 with the Dodgers. However, Baker played poorly during the series, batting .167 with an OBP of .192.
After spending eight full seasons with the Braves and another eight with the Dodgers, as well as short tenures with both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, Baker finished his career as a player in 1986 with a .278 batting average, 242 home runs, and 1,013 runs batted in.
Many believe that Baker played an integral part in the first ever high five, which occurred between Baker and Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke on October 2, 1977, at Dodger Stadium, a story featured in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "The High Five" directed by Michael Jacobs.
It was the last day of the regular season, and Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker had just gone deep off the Astros' J. R. Richard. It was Baker's 30th home run, making the Dodgers the first team in history to have four sluggers - Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith - with at least 30 homers each. It was a wild, triumphant moment and a good omen as the Dodgers headed to the playoffs. Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it. "His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back", says Baker, now 68 and managing the Nationals. "So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do."
He is noted for his love of toothpicks. He chews them every game and was once quoted saying, "Toothpicks are an excellent source of protein."
Baker's coaching career started as a first base coach for the San Francisco Giants in 1988, and then he spent the following four years (1989-1992) as the hitting coach, and finally became the manager in 1993, replacing the departing Roger Craig. In his first year as Giants manager, he won the NL Manager of the Year award, leading the team to a 103-59 record, which was the second-best record in baseball that year (behind the 104-58 Atlanta Braves), and 31 games better than their 72-90 finish the previous year. His Giants went on to win division titles in 1997 and again in 2000; Baker would win Manager of the Year honors in both of those years as well. It was during his San Francisco tenure that the term "Dustiny" was coined by former Giants pitcher Rod Beck.
In 2002, his Giants gained the wild-card berth and from there advanced to the World Series, where they lost in seven games to the Anaheim Angels, who were managed by his former Dodger teammate, Mike Scioscia. Baker is infamously known for removing Russ Ortiz during Game 6 of the 2002 World Series despite Ortiz allowing only four hits. Many Giants fans credit Baker for causing the loss as the Angels came back and won that game 6-5. Despite Baker's success in San Francisco, he had an increasingly strained relationship with owner Peter Magowan, one that even the Giants' first pennant in 13 years could not mend. The Giants did not renew his contract after the season, letting him leave to manage the Chicago Cubs and hiring Felipe Alou to replace him. Baker finished his tenure with a record of 840 wins and 715 losses in the regular season and 11 wins and 13 losses in the post-season.
To date, Baker is one of only four African Americans to manage a World Series team. Cito Gaston (the only African American manager to win a World Series) was the first, managing the Toronto Blue Jays to the championship in 1992 and 1993. Baker was the second, and Ron Washington and Dave Roberts have since joined Gaston and Baker by managing the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively, to the World Series. Baker also has the second most wins as manager in the San Francisco portion of Giants history; only Bruce Bochy has won more games since their move from New York.
Baker made a major impact with the Cubs in 2003, his first season as manager for the ball club. With the help of an impressive pitching staff and big gun batters such as Sammy Sosa and Moisés Alou, the Cubs were able to claim their first division title in 14 years. However, the Cubs' hopes for winning a World Series title were cut short during the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, which included the infamous Steve Bartman Incident in Game 6 when the Cubs were up 3-0 and five outs from their first World Series appearance in almost 60 years. The Bartman incident proved to be a media distraction, but in fact it was critical execution failures by Cubs' players, such as a ball-four wild pitch, a fielding error on a would-be inning-ending double play, and a bad throw from the outfield after a single, which permitted the Marlins to score 8 runs in that eighth inning, to win the game 8-3. The Marlins would go on to win Game 7, and the 2003 World Series.
In 2004, the team was involved in a heated wild card chase with the Houston Astros, but fell out of contention near the season's end. In 2005 the Cubs lost several of their key players, most notably ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, to injuries. The team finished the season with a 79-83 record, marking the first time in three years that the Cubs finished with a losing record. The Cubs' performance continued to decline in 2006 as they fell to 66-96 and finished last in the entire National League.
A month after that season ended, the Cubs declined to renew Baker's contract. They allowed Baker to address the media in a press conference in early October, where he officially announced his departure. The Cubs turned to Lou Piniella to replace Baker for the 2007 Chicago Cubs season. Baker finished his tenure with a regular season record of 322 wins and 326 losses and a post-season record of six wins and six losses.
On October 13, 2007, Baker was hired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, replacing interim manager Pete Mackanin. Baker and the Reds finished 74-88 and 78-84 in 2008 and 2009, finishing 5th and 4th in the NL Central. In 2010, the Reds enjoyed success as one of baseball's breakout teams, and on September 28, 2010, the Reds won the Central title. This championship led to their first playoff appearance in 15 years. However, the appearance was short-lived as the Reds were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS. Baker signed a two-year contract extension with the Reds on October 4, 2010.
During September 2012, Baker stayed in a Chicago hospital for treatment of an irregular heartbeat. Baker, 63, was hospitalized because of a longstanding heart problem. The Reds clinched the 2012 Central Division championship in his absence, their second in three years and Baker's fifth as a manager. On October 15, 2012, he signed a 2-year contract extension as manager of the Reds.
On October 4, 2013, Baker was fired as manager of the Reds after a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game, their sixth straight loss dating to the end of the regular season. Baker finished his tenure with a regular season record of 509 wins and 463 losses and a post-season record of two wins and seven losses. On October 22, 2013, he was replaced by Reds pitching coach Bryan Price.
On November 3, 2015, Baker was named the new manager for the Washington Nationals for the 2016 season, his first managerial position since being fired by Cincinnati in 2013. At the time of his hiring, he was the only black manager in Major League Baseball and had the second-highest total for most wins in MLB. The Nationals won the NL East in Baker's first season, but lost in the NLDS in five games against the Dodgers. The following season, Baker led the Nationals to another NL East Championship. However, their postseason was once again cut short after losing in the 2017 NLDS to the Chicago Cubs. On October 20, 2017, the Nationals announced that Baker would not return as the team's manager in 2018.
On January 29, 2020, the Astros announced they hired Baker as their new manager to replace A.J. Hinch, who had been fired in the wake of the Astros sign stealing scandal. The contract was for one year with a club option for a second year. The Astros job marks Baker's first time managing an American League franchise. On September 25, the Astros clinched a playoff spot as the sixth seed in a COVID-shortened season. Baker now ranks as the first baseball manager to lead five teams to the postseason.
Baker, an old-school baseball traditionalist, was scrutinized for the Cubs' declining productivity. Baker has said that putting men on base can be unimportant and merely "clogging up the bases." This position has made Baker a target among the sabermetric community.
Additionally, many fans, commentators, and writers have blamed his tendency to overuse pitchers for damaging the careers of Robb Nen, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Edinson Vólquez. Wood and Prior suffered serious arm injuries following their first full seasons under Baker. Wood and Prior averaged 122 and 126 pitches per start, respectively, in their final six regular-season starts of 2003. In later years, Baker's teams featured players throwing fewer pitches, and some baseball writers have noted that there is no clear link between pitches thrown and injuries suffered.
Baker is known as a "player's manager." He is seen as preferring to play veterans over prospects even when his teams are out of the playoff hunt, stating a need to maintain the integrity of the playoff races.
In 2003, Baker was the subject of some controversy when he stated that "black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players." Baker, defending his beliefs, later said, "What I meant is that blacks and Latinos take the heat better than most whites, and whites take the cold better than most blacks and Latinos. That's it, pure and simple. Nothing deeper than that." Similar comments in 2015, when he suggested his Washington Nationals should field more players of color as "you've got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans," also generated controversy. Baker said of the comments, "I'm not being racist. That's just how it is."
Baker has never won the World Series as a manager and has been criticized as a poor postseason manager. In 1998, the Giants finished the season tied for the Wild Card playoff position, but lost the National League Wild Card tiebreaker game to the Chicago Cubs. The 2002 postseason was the only time in his managerial career with the Giants that he won a postseason series. The 2003 NLDS with the Cubs was only his third series win, and he never got past the Division Series in any of his next five postseason appearances with the Reds or Nationals. From 2003 to 2017, Baker-managed teams lost 10 straight postseason "close-out" games in which they had the opportunity to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Baker has presided over some of the biggest collapses in baseball history. In 1993, his Giants led the National League West by 9.5 games on August 7, but ended up losing the division to the Atlanta Braves and missing the postseason. The Giants lost 12-1 on the final day of the season when a win could have forced a tiebreaking game with Atlanta for the division championship. In 2002, the Giants led the World Series against the Anaheim Angels 3 games to 2. San Francisco had a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning of the sixth game, but allowed the Angels to score six unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings to win. The Angels also won Game 7 to win the championship. In 2003, Baker's Cubs led the National League Championship Series 3 games to 1 against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins stormed back to win the final three games of the series, including overcoming a 3-0 Chicago lead with 8 runs in the eighth inning of Game 6. The loss in that game was blamed in part on poor managing, leaving starter Mark Prior in the game when he had already thrown over 100 pitches. In 2012, Baker's Reds led the National League Division Series 2 games to 0 against the San Francisco Giants. With the final three games of the series at home in Cincinnati, the Reds needed to win just once to advance to the National League Championship Series, but the Giants completed the comeback by winning games 3, 4, and 5 and went on to win the World Series. The Reds also suffered a six-game losing streak to end the 2013 season, including a loss in the Wild Card game at Pittsburgh. Baker was fired by the Reds shortly afterwards. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty admitted the team's latest collapse played a role in the decision to fire Baker.
|Team||From||To||Regular season record||Post-season record|
|G||W||L||Win %||G||W||L||Win %|
|San Francisco Giants||1993||2002||1556 [a]||840||715||.540||24||11||13||.458|
Baker served as an ESPN analyst during the 2006 MLB Postseason and served in a similar role during the 2007 season. In 2015, Baker joined TBS as a studio analyst for the final two weeks of their regular season coverage and for their coverage of the National League playoffs.
Baker was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve from 1969 through 1975. Baker has a wife, Melissa, and two children named Natosha (born 1979) and Darren (born 1999). Darren was rescued by J. T. Snow from being run over at home plate as a batboy during the 2002 World Series. In 2017, Darren was drafted in the 27th round of the MLB draft by the team his father managed at the time, the Washington Nationals. As of 2020, Darren played infield for the California Golden Bears. Baker and his family reside in Granite Bay, California. Near the end of the 2012 baseball season, Baker was hospitalized for both an irregular heart beat as well as a "mini-stroke."
Baker is a member of the National Advisory Board for Positive Coaching Alliance, a national non-profit organization committed to providing student-athletes with a positive, character-building youth sports experience. Baker has appeared in several videos and webinars for this organization, all of which can be found on the group's YouTube channel. Dusty is also owner of Baker Family Wines, along with owner and winemaker Chik Brenneman. Baker was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2018, Baker returned to the Giants organization as a Special Advisor to the CEO.