Wednesday, October 25, 2023

On Dusty Baker

Astros manager Dusty Baker apparently told Jim Crane this afternoon (Wednesday, October 25) that he is retiring. A press conference will be held on Thursday at noon at Minute Maid Park. Dusty:

I'm very grateful and thankful to Jim Crane and the Houston Astros for giving me this opportunity, and to win a championship. I felt like they've been good for me, and I've been good for them. What I really appreciate is that Jim has been totally honest and transparent with me on all things.

Dusty would like to remain in an advisory role, either with the Astros or with a team closer to his home in Sacramento. 

Some of the many highlights from his resume:

-7th all-time in managerial wins, with 2183. 

-8th all-time in games managed, with 4046.

-4th all-time in postseason wins, with 57 (a Rangers' World Series win next week would bring Bruce Bochy level with him).

-4th all-time in playoff appearances, with 13. 

-His .540 managerial win% is 18th among managers with at least 2000 games in the dugout.

-In his four seasons with the Astros, Dusty posted a 320-226 regular season record. His 546 games with the Astros are the 7th-most by an Astros manager in franchise history. 

-His 320 wins are 6th-most in franchise history. And his .586 win% is 2nd-best among managers who managed more than one game, just behind A.J. Hinch's .594 win%. 

-He was 34-19 as manager of the Astros in the postseason, a .642 win%, by far the best postseason winning percentage in Astros history (A.J. Hinch was 22-12 in the postseason). 

Dusty is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, on track to be the first Black manager to be inducted in Cooperstown in three years. 

And here's the thing: nobody at the end of the 2019 season expected Dusty Baker to manage the Astros at all, let alone for the next four years. The exposure of the Trash Can Scandal threw the lifelong tenure of A.J. Hinch with the Astros out the window, 63 wins shy of tying Bill Virdon for the franchise lead.

But the Trash Can Scandal did happen, much as we would like to forget it (and as much as we would like everyone else to, as well). We won't, and neither will They. So Jim Crane did the right thing and fired Hinch. 

As I wrote when it was announced that Dusty had been hired:

1. They need someone who is well-respected (by the media and General Baseball People, anyway - your complaints were heard loud and clear)...
2. They need someone who has managed in a variety of situations...
3. They need someone who can handle A Circus...

...Columnists across [puts hand across forehead] the land are going to love it because their hand-wringing, and bringing blood out of a turnip, will easily provide that week's Column. But then they have to deal with Dusty Baker, whom pretty much everyone loves except for you, who gets their narrative from FanGraphs. Their hearts will melt. It's an organizational rehab assignment, for a year, and the best-case scenario is that the Astros (and by that I of course mean Us) and Dusty Baker gets their ring in 2020. Winning a World Series like this, in this year, with this much hate, would be delicious, and the scrutiny would cleanse it. Yankee and Dodger Fan would move the goalposts, to be sure. But it would be sweeter than the first (I think).

That second ring came a couple of years after, but the point is still valid. 

The team is sullied by scandal but still set to contend for a title. Its image and reputation remain in ruins. Players will endure eight months of invective from opposing crowds and players. Baker arrives as a slice of serenity amid acrimony, a man who Crane hopes can galvanize an Astros clubhouse still searching for a way forward.

He did all that. Dusty guided this team through those first few years. The vitriol is still there - but the vitriol also is a testament to how much the Astros have won (and who they've beaten) in the last seven years. I understand why other fans hate the Astros, and why the Trash Can Scandal keeps getting brought up. I still make "Change Your Password!" jokes about the Cardinals. It's never going to go away, no matter how many times you can point them to Tony Adams' website. There's absolutely no point in getting upset about it.

Dusty Baker managed 4046 games and played in 2039 more. That's 162 games...37.5 times over. Dusty earned the right to go out on his own terms. He got his ring, and with another loaded roster in 2023 (before we all watched Jose Abreu not hit water if he fell out of a boat for three months), it's understandable why he would want to see if he could run it back for a first-in-a-generation repeat.

You can rightfully question some of the decisions that Dusty made throughout the 2023 season: insisting on Martin Maldonado over Yainer Diaz, and hating Chas McCormick for some reason (banana pudding aside). In my heart of hearts I truly believe that Dusty loved pretty much everyone on that team, and in the end it may have bit him in the ass, particularly in managing Game 7 of the ALCS like there was a Game 8 two days later. Dusty's Magic is designed to work over a 162 game season. Not so much when the season is on the line in the next 10 minutes. 

But now that Dusty is stepping aside - allegedly - it's time that Jim Crane remembers his roots. He let Jeff Luhnow run the show based on analytics and look what happened. Crane gets the credit of the work of analysts who "never played the game." Jeff Bagwell and Jim Crane gave Rafael Montero $39m. 

Allowing Jeff Bagwell to have a hand in choosing the next manager is extremely concerning because it betrays the very principles this Dynasty (and, yes, it's a dynasty) was founded upon. What I fear for this organization is extremely eloquently summed up by My Buddy Mike. My fear is that Jim Crane can be adequately characterized by Barry Switzer (BOOMER) in that he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.