The Houston Astros won the World Series and Dusty Baker was an integral part of their success. With a record of 13-3, they found themselves in possession of baseball’s ultimate prize for the first time ever. For many people it wasn’t just about winning or losing; but rather how much this team means to Houston itself. Introduction: The ’90s brought us some truly iconic TV shows like Friends, Seinfeld and ER that still hold up today because we’re able to watch them all over again on Netflix Instant Streaming with our kids! But what if you could rewatch every episode from EVERY season? That would be awesome right? Well now you can thanks to a new project being developed by social media app Snapchat called Snapstory
I HIT 1,000TH HIT OF MY CAREER ON THE LAST DAY OF THE 2002 SEASON, A SINGLE TO LEFT AGAINST THE MARLINS IN FLORIDA. My Philadelphia Phillies were set to finish the season with a losing record, so it was wonderful to have something to cheer about. But that happiness would be fleeting. My father died during the game, more than 1,000 miles away in Teaneck, New Jersey, following a lengthy fight with diabetes, cancer, and the consequences of a series of strokes.
I’d be celebrating the clinching of a division championship with my Chicago Cubs teammates at Wrigley Field one year, nearly to the day, after my father’s death. It occurred on the season’s second-to-last day, and it felt much better than I had anticipated.
My boss was Dusty Baker.
In a cloud of sadness during the 2002 offseason, I signed with the Texas Rangers, relocating halfway across the nation from my beloved childhood team, my alma university — the University of Pennsylvania — and my now-widowed mother in quest of a starting position.
Then I was dealt from Texas to Baker’s Cubs at the deadline. After enjoying the hottest month of my career leading up to that trade, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting on the bench. But I’d known Dusty for years from the opposite dugout. People picked him as the manager they most wanted to play for because he was generally liked. So I swallowed my pride and set about figuring out what my new position would entail.
Dusty came over to welcome me on my first day with the Cubs. He knew I was on fire in Texas, so he described his plan to use a rotation of seasoned players in different positions than we’d seen before. Since most on our bench had been starters, some as recently as a week before, I worried how he could keep all of these egos in check: Kenny Lofton, Mark Grudzielanek, Tony Womack, Eric Karros, Randall Simon, Tom Goodwin, Troy O’Leary.
I was also adjusting to life without my father. I had lamented my father’s deterioration in Philadelphia. I’d sobbed on a coach’s shoulder after my preoccupation caused me to lose track of the number of outs in the game, allowing the winning run to score. As a Phillie, I grew into a seasoned veteran, and it was my Phillies family that persuaded my front office and teammates to attend my hometown burial to offer their respects.
My new Cubs teammates were completely unaware of this. They had no idea who I was. But, little by little, I saw Dusty as someone I needed. Dusty was quickly shown to be much more than a manager. He had the swagger and the will to win, but he also saw successes in helping us all grow as individuals. He thought that we would never cease growing and that we should embrace it. We have to constantly be interested, learn, and do it together. I was impressed by how eager he was to learn about the players, and how genuine the conversation was. He was forthright about his life lessons, which made us feel more at ease about sharing ours.
Baseball is littered with father figures who aid in the development of young men. This was just what I needed at the moment, as I was dealing with a lot of new discomfort. Playing the game had gone from an euphoric delight to a shameful absence even before my father died, a change that became evident as I watched my mother deal with his rapid fall in health. My father was a psychiatrist, and his job required him to learn about others without disclosing too much about himself. How would I share now that he was gone and I had a new boss who expected a lot of me?
Dusty made things simple for us. He took the time to learn about the challenges that our generation of players faced. He picked up on the popular music of the day. In discussions, he referenced artists and delved into pop culture. We didn’t know as many 50 Cent lyrics as he did. He disarmed us and broke through barriers with such ease that you didn’t even realize it was happening. That year, I had a lot of barriers up.
Dusty was the grounding force, the spiritual core, and the straight talker for myself and the rest of the clubhouse. My hair grew nicely into old school afro area following my loss, but without any strategy or style. He convened a conference to discuss my hair, and he presented me with three options: twist it, chop it, or shape it. Dusty was not in the game. I snipped it.
My dissatisfaction with my position would sometimes sweep over me. I was on the bench for a club that looked like it was going nowhere for most of the season, when I could have at least been a starter for a team that was going nowhere. But then there was Dusty, who had such faith in his team’s abilities and such a clear understanding of what was genuinely essential. It was difficult to resist boarding the bus he was driving.
It never occurred to me that I may not be on the Cubs’ postseason roster when it came down to it. Not until Dusty summoned me to his office and asked if I was interested in playing infield. I smiled and informed him that I had probably last played infield in Little League. Dusty said, ” “Let me ask you another question. Are you able to play infield?” I received the message.
Tony Womack’s elbow had blown out on a slide home, and the only way I could join this club was as the backup infielder. Dusty didn’t blink, and he didn’t pause. He was certain that this was a request from a guy who would go to any length to make a postseason squad and contribute to a World Series victory, even if it meant committing five mistakes in an inning if he was ever forced to play shortstop. I promised I’d do it.
I only got one at-bat in the NLDS, but I got another in the NLCS, pinch-hitting in the 11th inning of a 4-4 tie Game 3. Baker surprised me by allowing me, a right-handed batter, to face a right-handed pitcher — particularly a sinkerballer, which is usually a nightmare for me. (If this situation had occurred in 2021, there’s no chance I would have struck.)
He had, however, done this before. During the season, I was called in to pinch bat for the opposing side, which had brought in a right-handed pitcher. When a manager tried to remove you for a pinch hitter, I learned not to glance back in the dugout. So I planned to have them summon me back to the bench. They did, but Dusty only said, “Can you strike this guy?” to my amazement. “Well, I do have a home run off of him,” I said. He allowed me to hit.
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Even back then, I could tell Dusty was being chastised for relying too much on his “gut” or being more concerned with emotion than scientific evidence, but when you play for him, you understand. He’s not just throwing a random individual into a circumstance; he’s throwing a son into a period of personal growth. He is pushing us all to believe that we can succeed in the face of adversity. And it is this conviction that gives players and coaches the courage to trust one another. And now, more than ever, I wanted to avoid becoming a statistic. My father would never have whittled me down to the lowest common denominator.
Dusty’s philosophy may or may not always coincide with what is best for the team at the time. It’s perilous to put someone in a situation where he has to strain his own boundaries when there may be a better choice available. It’s simpler to justify difficult decisions with cold data in a post-game news conference. Because of who he wanted to save on the bench, he let me hit in Game 3, and I hit righties better than lefties in my career — but I was 1-for-9 against Braden Looper heading into that at-bat.
When it mattered, I went 1-for-1 with a 4.000 OPS. I blasted a three-run home run to put the Cubs up 5-4. We were victorious in the game.
In the postgame scrum, I was a little snarky about being dubbed a “unlikely hero,” so I was a little snarky in my replies, telling reporters that I could smash righties and had done so throughout my career.
Dusty approached me after my interview. My remark was a subliminal message to my boss, who had decided not to start me. When I walked into his office, he told me that he knew I could hit righties, but that he had a job to perform, which was to place us all in the best possible position to succeed, and that it was difficult with so many excellent alternatives.
In actuality, I was thinking about so many greater events that had come before when I heard the concerns about my chances of succeeding in that at-bat and how significant that hit was in my life. A year spent figuring out how to cope with the death of a parent. Before joining the Cubs, I spent two months in Texas recovering from an injury.
Dusty emphasized that we all have the capacity for greatness at any time, and that realizing that we have encountered hardship in the past helps. It is a part of us. No one has the authority to decide what your most significant moment is. This resolve, Dusty would say, comes from a greater power.
For the third time in five years, Houston is in the World Series. The Astros dominated October in the following ways.
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All these years, I’ve maintained in contact with Dusty. Even though I chose to return home to Philadelphia after the 2003 season, I recall him calling to see if I would return to Chicago. I recall how many times we’ve spoken to catch up since then. He was also my first guest when I just debuted a new program that I had been working on for years. When I inquired about his appearance, he said, “Yes, of course. I want to see you succeed. Count me in if this may be of assistance.”
There’s something amazing about a person who has endless time to spend with others. I got the impression that he had endless time for me, particularly when I needed it the most. It meant even more coming from someone with his legacy: a three-decade career that began as a first base coach for the San Francisco Giants in 1988, less than a year after Los Angeles Dodgers GM Al Campanis made disparaging remarks about Blacks and their managerial opportunities in a 1987 television interview.
Dusty’s chance, and his subsequent elevation to manager five years later, was one of the first steps toward bringing fresh faces into leadership. Despite his success with the Giants and other clubs, it was difficult for him to be considered a fixture in the dugout, something I grappled with as a player and as a buddy. He paid all of the job’s dues, as well as the tax that race imposes on the bill. Despite winning more than 90 games twice, he was nevertheless sacked.
With him in the game, it’s a lot better. It’s a more forgiving, empathic, and varied game than before. He was the ideal individual to realign an Astros club that had been embroiled in one of baseball’s worst scandals. They may not be able to escape their contaminated past, but Dusty demonstrates that it isn’t required — that shame, hatred, and grudges hold us all down.
Dusty Baker will most likely not be managing Houston in the 2021 World Series if that controversy does not occur. He was unemployed when the Astros needed a manager, and he inherited a position that required him to clean up someone else’s mess. But I’m sure Dusty won’t let me put it that way. He’d tell me that it was all part of the plan, and that this year’s success was a testament to the power of love.
So, despite the fact that many people have expressed their desire to root for Dusty rather than the Astros, it is almost hard to do so. I’m torn, too, but he taught me that where we are is where we’re supposed to be. These Astros guys and their history are precisely why we can see what incredible leadership abilities he has. It brought out the best in him.
Dusty’s effect is incalculable in terms of the trophies he has won. He’s gotten his teammates to look at their gaming successes and see so much more. Relationships, affection, and time spent together are all equally important to him. It’s why, if all of that comes together with a World Series championship, it’ll mean much more. Because it’s always more important to Dusty to rejoice with his family.