For the 24th time as coach, Houston Astros’ Dusty Baker returns home without a title

HOUSTON – When the final out was recorded in Game 6 of the 2021 World Series, Dusty Baker’s 24th year as Major League Baseball coach ended the same way as the previous 23, with another team winning the final game of the season.

Afterward, the Houston Astros coach sat on the bench and took a moment to jot one more note in the notebook in front of him. He capped the pen, allowed himself to look up long enough to see the Braves leap into each other’s arms on their field, and then stepped into the tunnel and headed for the clubhouse.

You’ve seen too much to feel the need to marinate with disappointment. Watching another team celebrate, even as an exercise in motivation, lost its appeal a long time ago.

Much of what happens in a baseball game is beyond the control of the coach. Baker has no say in whether the full account slider of Luis Garcia to Jorge Soler in the third inning he is thrown off his bat or behaves as he is supposed to. You cannot make the line of Cristian Javier to Dansby swanson in the fifth inning he went down and away instead of traveling down the center of the plate at belt height, where he rudely morphed into a two-run home run. It’s not in his power to force the guys he’s trusted all season to keep hitting just because it’s the World Series.

But Dusty Baker Jr. has never subscribed to the powerless manager theory. Believe in omens. He believes that positive energy can be transmitted. He believes that a baseball team, like a school of fish, can learn to spin as one without understanding exactly why.

He moves around the dugout, from one end to the other, as a way to alter the charm of his team. When it works, he swears that’s why. When it doesn’t, it ignores it. He is the mystic of the baseball dugout, and everything he sees is as real to him as it is invisible to the rest of us.

“I am a person who believes in miracles,” he said. “Me Really I believe in miracles. Some have happened to me. Some health problems, some fast cars, I don’t know how I got out without having an accident. There have been a number of problems in my life that let me know that someone from above is helping us. “

He survived prostate cancer while managing the Giants in 2001 and suffered a stroke while managing the Reds in 2012, and fast cars, well, we’ll have to take his word for it.

But along with miracles come trials, and winning the World Series has become Baker’s 40 days in the desert. He is the only coach to lead five different teams to the postseason, but his only other World Series team, the 2002 Giants, lost to the Angels in seven games. When he was first named the Giants manager in 1993, he used to say that his goal was to get into the Hall of Fame as a manager because his playing career, while memorable, was not of Hall of Fame caliber. Now 28 years old, 24 managerial seasons and 1,983 wins later, a World Series win is the only empty square on his resume.

“That gets over it,” he said after Game 6 as the Braves were on the field, smoking cigars, their hair covered in metallic confetti. “Other people don’t let you get over it. And other people don’t get over it.”

Perhaps sensing that the people in the room could be among those people, Baker said, “Okay. We’ll be back.”

However, there is no guarantee. He does not have a contract, and while Baker and management wish for this to happen, this may not be the case. Baker is an energetic 72-year-old, but Astros bench coach Joe Espada, 46, is well regarded throughout baseball; considered ready to manage, whether in Houston or elsewhere, in 2022.

“I hope Dusty comes back,” said the Astros shortstop. Carlos Correa, a player who is a free agent who spoke after the game as someone who does not expect to return. “He’s a great coach, a great person. I loved playing for him. I loved every second.”

BAKER HAS PASSED for many things: the manufactured controversy of handing the ball to Russ Ortiz in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series and then taking it out with a 5-0 lead ; the SCLN / Bartman fiasco In Chicago; his image rehabilitation with these Astros after assuming command in 2020 in the wake of the team’s signal theft scandal that cast considerable doubt on his 2017 World Series victory.

It was an ingenious move: bringing in a universally respected and loved man and letting his charisma deodorize the franchise. But that didn’t make it an easy job. Baker was tasked with keeping a talented roster from disappearing into the clouds of boos and vitriol that followed them across the country. He led them to the SCLA last year, came within a World Series victory, and this year he won the American League pennant. But perhaps Baker’s courage can be measured by the fact that, for many, he was the only reason rooting for the Astros gave them pause. It became an ethical dilemma in human form.

“It’s great,” Correa said. “I think the special thing about Dusty is that he is the manager, but you also see him as a friend. He backs us up, we back him.”

It’s a sentiment that is shared far beyond the dressing room walls. During baseball’s second straight impersonal postseason, with COVID-19 restricting access to an interview room that served as a mixed zone, Baker treated every conversation with anyone who asked a question at a press conference as the only one. two people in the room. In one case from the last series, a reporter asked a question that received a quizzical look from Baker. She acknowledged it was weird, to which Baker replied, “I’m trying to get weird with you.”

At one point, he invoked the wisdom of Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh, just as, over the years, he invoked the wisdom of philosophers as diverse as actor Scatman Crothers and musician John Coltrane. Baker said that Oh once told him, “You must have a burning desire to succeed in your heart, but the serenity of mind to control your heart.”

You can offer your own original philosophy, as you can imagine. Before Game 6, in response to a question about the young men on the Astros roster, he said, “No matter how old or young you are, this is a man’s game and you have to play it like a man.”

As Game 6 progressed, testing began early. When Soler’s three-run homer went through the wall and then the stadium in the third inning to give the Braves a 3-0 lead, Baker stood up and reacted angrily. Even with a mask, the cadence of his head movements were easily recognizable as a common three-syllable outburst of disgust. (This was an ongoing topic in a mostly topicless series, this expressive man shielding the world from his expressions.) From that point on, Baker spent most of the night crouched in the corner of the dugout, his vantage point roughly a meter above the playing field, one man alone in a massive crowd.

After Swanson hit his two-run homer off Javier in the fifth to make it 5-0, Baker walked to the mound, light feet and the former player’s forward lean still evident at 72. He took the ball, He tapped Javier twice on the shoulder, threw the ball into the air and caught it with his latex-gloved hand and waited for Blake taylor. When Taylor got there, Baker put the ball in the southpaw’s glove, slapped him on the back of the thigh and headed back to the dugout.

He was back three batters later, to steal the ball from Taylor, who had allowed an RBI double to Freddie freeman and gave it to Phil Maton. Taylor’s ceremonial transfer to Baker to Maton was much more moderate. No slapping the shoulders, no turning the ball, no slapping the thighs. All that was left was the vigorous placement of the ball in the glove as confidence gave way to resignation.

“I feel awful because I’m not really ready to go home,” Baker said. “I haven’t been home [en el norte de California] since I left in February so you know I must love these guys and love what I’m doing. “

CANDLESTICK PARK, 1993: Baker was sitting in his office early in his first year as a major league coach. A sad country song made its way through the clubhouse on a groggy Sunday morning, and Baker stopped mid-sentence and raised his head as if he smelled something rotting in the other room. “Give me a minute,” he said to those of us in his office. “I have to take care of something.”

He stepped out and stood in the clubhouse, the sad stresses of bad decisions and broken-down trucks reaching into his soul. “What’s that?” he asked, and then answered his own question. “I will tell you what It is not, it’s not music. “

With that, he made his way to the place where the music was changed, and within seconds Bob Marley was asking the room if he could be loved and Dusty was walking back to his office, a smile on his face, his feet keeping pace with rhythm.

“Now that’s good music, “he said.

Are stories like that just lovable folklore or do they represent something else? Do they accumulate to the point of becoming something like an identity? Is it possible to transfer being ‘cool’? The Giants lost 90 games the year before Baker took over. They added Barry Bonds and won 103 in 93, but did not make the playoffs. It will never happen again. The next time baseball had a postseason, in 1995, the wild card was in place. For Baker, it is always something.

“What can you do except go home, take a shower, figure out how you’re going to get back and win next year?” he said after Game 6 on Tuesday. “Look, last year we were one game short of the World Series, and this year we were two games short of the championship. So I guess that’s progress.”

He didn’t seem totally convinced. He has seen too much to console himself with the good attempt. On Sunday, with his team losing three games to one and the fifth game just a few hours away, he was asked if he was disappointed with the situation: on the brink of elimination, his team struggling to find its way, 19 years after his only other World Series as a coach.

“No, I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “I mean, I would be disappointed if I had to wait until 20, you know what I mean?”

His other loss in the World Series was followed by the immediate loss of his job, so he had that test, too. Will you have one more chance to chase away disappointment? On Tuesday night, in the gloom of the moment, the answer was like so many other things inherent in his occupation: completely out of his control.


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For the 24th time as coach, Houston Astros’ Dusty Baker returns home without a title