He’s finally just four wins away. Just four more wins — that close.
Then, again, some might remember the night he seemed just five outs away.
What’s certain is that it’s been far too many years that Dusty Baker’s credentials as one of the great managers of his era — as a Hall of Fame manager — have been called into question by harsh critics from outside the game and just enough quiet disregard from the inside to lead to inexplicable gaps in employment over the years.
But just as certain is the fact that as the World Series gets underway this week in Houston, the Astros manager can all but assure his place in Cooperstown with the last four wins available this season and a championship.
What’s at stake for Baker at this point in a 24-year managing career is one of the great storylines of this World Series as a man who’s widely respected and beloved within the game — but oddly polarizing to many outside it — takes what might be his last shot at the ring.
If he succeeds, it might also go a long way toward silencing at least some of the critics, although at 72 he seems long ago to have gotten past that.
“Like I tell these guys, you don’t have anything to prove or show anybody,” Baker said after the Astros beat the Red Sox to reach the World Series for the first time since MLB punished the team for cheating during its 2017 title run.
“The only entities that you have to satisfy are God, family and yourself, and then the other people can see you later.”
Baker, the former Cubs manager, only got his current job after A.J. Hinch was suspended by MLB for his role in the cheating scandal and eventually fired
At that point, he’d been out of work as a manager for two years, following his questionable firing by the Nationals after their NLDS loss to the Cubs in 2017.
The Astros are the record fifth team Baker has managed to a division title. Only Hall of Fame managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre have guided teams to more playoff appearances than Baker’s 11.
The only thing missing on his Hall of Fame managerial resumé is the World Series title he missed in 2002 when his Giants blew a seventh-inning lead in the potential Game 6 clincher and then lost Game 7 to the Angels.
“I think he has the credentials already,” said La Russa during the White Sox manager’s ALDS loss to Baker’s Astros earlier this month.
“I’m a Hall of Famer, so I guess I’ve got some credibility,” added La Russa, who came out of retirement after nine years away to take the Sox job this year. “Maybe they don’t all agree, but I think a lifetime of success with the wins he has and the championships he has, I think he has the credentials already.”
La Russa also pointed out a 19-year playing career that included 242 homers, two All-Star selections, a 1981 World Series title and two more pennants.
The Sox manager could have stopped at the 24-year managing career that stands on its own in delivering Baker to the doorstep of the Hall.
No matter how many fans and media members want to criticize pitching decisions in San Francisco and Chicago and other managerial tendencies in Cincinnati and Washington — even in the face of consensus support from those who played for him.
No matter how long he had to wait between jobs at times, despite his credentials, while others were quickly snapped up and recycled into new jobs.
Baker, whose 1,987 wins rank 12th all-time among managers, sat out two seasons each between jobs the last two times he searched, after getting fired by the Reds and Nats.
By contrast, in a job that by its nature is a hired-to-be-fired position Baker contemporaries Bruce Bochy was recruited away from the Padres by the Giants after the 2006 season; Don Mattingly was let go by the Dodgers after 2015 and quickly hired by the Marlins; Joe Girardi was fired by the Marlins after 2006 and turned down the Orioles job in 2007 before getting hired by the Yankees after 2007. Lou Piniella was never fired from any of his five managing jobs.
After Bud Black was fired by San Diego at midseason 2015, the Nationals offered him a managing job at the end of the season, and he turned it down — at which point the Nationals turned to Baker.
Only Girardi has a better career winning percentage among any of those managers than Baker — whose .534 also is better than Hall of Famers Connie Mack, Casey Stengel, Dick Williams and his own former Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda.
It’s also better than Jim Leyland, Buck Showalter, Bob Melvin and Joe Maddon.
Baker said the other day he identified with this Astros team when he took the job because of the scandal fallout hanging over its head.
“I had some things over my head, too,” he said, “so we had a lot in common.”
Asked to elaborate, Baker said he felt he had more to accomplish in the game, adding:
“When I got to different jobs, I heard mostly criticism. ‘You didn’t do this,’ or, ‘You’re not good at that, you don’t know how to use your bullpen, or you don’t like young players.’ I heard a whole bunch of stuff, most of it not complimentary. As an African-American, most of the time they don’t really say that you are of a certain intelligence. That’s not something that we usually get, and so I’ve been hearing a lot of this stuff most of my life.”
All he’s done about it is win. Every place he’s been. Whenever they’ve hired him.
That Baker is a one of the few Black managers in the game has always been part of the description — he was the only one in the league at the time the Reds fired him after 2013.
Whether that’s also been part of the source of criticism over the years, Baker has a 24-year resumé that stacks up against almost anyone who’s ever done the job, including eight first-place finishes, seven runner-up finishes, 11 90-win seasons — including the last five full seasons, with three different franchises — and even the Cubs’ first postseason series win since 1908 against these same Braves in 2003.
“Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me,” La Russa said.