Everyone in baseball knows the name Dusty Baker, but few Nats fans really know him. The most recognizable man in the world with a toothpick. Johnnie Baker, Jr. will turn 67 years old on June 15th of the 2016 season and he says he feels young and ready to take on this managerial job, and don’t call him Johnnie.
Yesterday in the early morning, Mike Rizzo threw the baseball world another curveball and it was caught by Dusty Baker who accepted the job as the 6th full-time manager of the Washington Nationals. Baker will enter on Opening Day only behind Bochy as the winningest active manager.
Most wins – active MLB managers: Bruce Bochy: 1,702 (win pct: .503) Dusty Baker*: 1,671 (.526) Mike Scioscia: 1,416 (.546)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 3, 2015
Dusty Baker was a good baseball player and was drafted by the Braves in 1967 and debuted in 1968 and was actually on the on-deck circle when Hank Aaron hit his 715th HR. He’s played with some of the best players in the game and won a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1981. Dusty was a career outfielder and a 2-time All-Star with a Gold Glove and 2 Silver Sluggers, and Dusty got better with age with his best years in his early 30’s.
Here’s some of his accomplishments as a player and a manager:
- 2× All-Star Teams (1981, 1982)
- World Series Champion as a player (1981)
- NLCS MVP (1977)
- Gold Glove Award (1981)
- 2× Silver Slugger Award (1980, 1981)
3× NL Manager of the Year Awards (1993, 1997, 2000)
- NL Pennant as a Manager SF Giants (2002)
- Appearances in the playoffs as a Manager (7)
- Division 1st Place Titles (5)
It was 2002 when Dusty’s Giants were within 9 outs of winning the World Series with stars Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent in Game 6, up 3 game to 2, against the Angels . They were up 5-0 leading to the bottom of the 7th versus the Angels. Starter Russ Ortiz had the shut-out going and gave up back-to-back singles and Dusty yanked him for Felix Rodriguez. The 1st batter he faced was Scott Spiezio and he promptly gave up a 3 run HR. The lead was cut to 5-3. Dusty would go match-up for the final 2 batters of the inning with Eyre and Worrell. In the bottom of the 8th, Dusty brought Tim Worrell back out and he gave up a leadoff HR to Darren Erstad then 2 straight singles before being removed with a 5-4 lead and men on 1st and 3rd. Dusty brought in his closer Robb Nen who gave up the double to the 1st batter that lost the lead. Nen was one of the top closers in the game and Worrell was one of the best set-up men in the game. The Giants lost 6-5 and would go on to lose Game 7. Giants fans couldn’t get over the loss.
Dusty wasn’t retained after the season as he was without a contract and let go after that season which is almost unheard of when you win the pennant. Dusty was scooped up quickly by the Chicago Cubs who finished with a 67-95 record and last place the year before Dusty took over. He took that team from bad to 1st with players like Sammy Sosa, Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou and Kenny Lofton. Dusty had star pitchers Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. In the playoffs, it was Dusty’s team derailed by the “Bartman” play. The following season the NL Central got better and Dusty’s team didn’t make the playoffs winning 89 games. It was downhill from there and he was let go after the 2006 last place finish.
In 2008, Dusty took over the Reds after they finished as a 72-90 team the year before and Narron was fired mid-season and interim manager Pete Mackanin wasn’t retained. Dusty improved the team by 2 wins but then in 2010 won the NL Central. Dusty would take that team to 3 playoffs but didn’t have much post-season success and was let go after the 2013 season after they went 90-72 and lost in the Wild Card as Cueto melted down.
Dusty stayed in managerial unemployment since October 2013 until November 3, 2015. He’s had 2 years to reflect on his life and he has done a lot of talking and defending his record and race relations in baseball. Some people cringe on both of those subjects, but Dusty won’t shy away from it, but he really stepped into it back in 2003, when Baker said, “black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players.” That comment was considered reverse racism, but Baker was never disciplined for it. When it appeared that Baker wasn’t going to get the Nats job, he talked openly about race in the MLB, and thinks MLB has a diversity problem. He said over the weekend wondering if the lack of African American managers was “You wonder if it’s an accident or by design.” Some would say MLB has always had a problem with Managers who don’t win it all and Matt Williams would agree with that and the only color that matters is silver which is the color of the Commissioner’s Trophy awarded to the World Series Champions.
Baker has carried other criticism that has dogged him for years as the manager who ruined young pitching arms like Robb Nen, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and even World Series hero Edinson Volquez. This could be debated forever. Wood and Prior as Cubs suffered serious arm injuries following their first full seasons under Baker but consider he had a long season that went to the World Series that seems to mirror just what happened with the young Mets arms this year and that becomes a cautionary tale. Wood and Prior averaged 122 and 126 pitches per start, respectively, in their final six regular-season starts of 2003 when critics say there was no reason for them to go that far.
Dusty has been described as an “old-school baseball traditionalist” because of the scrutiny he was under on comments about stats and the media has often criticized him as being out of touch with the way the game is now played. Seems like Ned Yost just won a World Series with old-school in-game strategies, but Dusty’s critics are out there. One comment about men on base when he said the players were “clogging up the bases” has also brought his critics to say he didn’t understand SABR stats and stats in general. You can counter all that with Baker has been a winner overall and finds ways to win in his “Dusty” style.
Baker is known as a “player’s manager” and his former players seem to back that up. Bryce Harper was the 1st Nats player to welcome him.
Good ol Dusty..Welcome to DC skip! Let's make some history #DCorNothing
— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) November 3, 2015
This is a fitting Tweet from Clint Robinson:
— Clint Robinson (@BatHoarder) November 3, 2015
While it’s still unclear if Ted Lerner and Mike Rizzo agreed on who each wanted as the manager of the Nats, the fact is the Nats will welcome Dusty as the team’s 6th manager on Thursday. The Press Conference will air ‘live’ on MASN. Stay tuned.
When Dusty thought he didn’t get the Nationals job, he had this to say to reporters over the weekend, “I’m happy for Buddy. I mean, Buddy played for me, but naturally, I don’t think anyone would have been as good for the job as me. It seemed like a perfect fit. The town. The diversity of the races. People from all over the world. That’s OK. The way I look at it, hey, man, if it wasn’t to be, it wasn’t to be. Is this the end? I don’t know. But I keep on living. You can’t stop.”
Then Dusty continued on that he heard he didn’t get the Nats job from his wife Melissa, “I was really disappointed, but I was in a place for a couple of days where you can handle disappointment. It gave me strength.”
From last night:
Blessed and thankful to be back in the dugout for @Nationals and work for this first class organization. Can't wait to get started!
— Dusty Baker (@dbaker_12) November 4, 2015
Yes, a first class organization.