About that failure, I will say only this: There are very, very few times where a manager can actually influence the pace or direction of a game. Even when managers make lineup or substitution or bullpen choices, the players still have to perform and success or failure is on them, not the manager.
In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, though, when “the incident” happened — and of this we need say no more, it’s been done to death — Dusty Baker had some choices. He could have, and should have, gone to the mound to settle his pitcher down, and remember that at that time Mark Prior was just 23 years old and in his first full MLB season. He could have, and should have, quickly started warming up his closer, Joe Borowski, or someone else if Borowski wasn’t his choice. Or both of the above.
He did neither. He sat on his butt and did nothing, and you know what happened. That is Baker’s singular failure as a manager.
He had a similar failure the previous year, when his Giants were six outs away from a World Series championship in Game 6 against the Angels — with a 5-0 lead. Between wrong relief choices and some poor pitching, the Giants lost that game 6-5 and also lost Game 7. Nineteen years later, Baker is still seeking a World Series title.
Since 2003, Baker has led teams to the postseason seven times, and in all those years prior to 2021, his teams fell short of the World Series. In fact, until his 2020 Astros won both a wild card series and division series, Baker-managed teams hadn’t won a postseason series since the 2003 Cubs’ division series win over the Braves.
But now Baker has won a second league pennant as a manager. Regardless of how you feel about the Astros’ cheating scandal, Baker was not part of it. In my view he was the perfect choice to manage that team, a calming influence always ready to take the heat off his players. He did that for the Cubs in 2003 — until that NLCS. His Cubs tenure obviously did not end well.
Baker has 1,987 managerial wins in 24 seasons and has taken all five teams he’s managed to the postseason. The win total ranks 12th in MLB history. Every manager with more is in the Hall of Fame, save Bruce Bochy, who will certainly be inducted in a few years’ time. His lifetime managerial winning percentage is .534, which is comparable to HoF managers Tony La Russa (.537) and Joe Torre (.538). He’d like to come back and manage again in 2022 and it appears that might happen. If it doesn’t work out for him in Houston, he’d be a pretty good fit to manage the Mets, who could use a guy with that kind of personality in the manager’s office.
Beyond all that, Baker had a 19-year MLB playing career in which he hit .278/.347/.432 with 1,981 hits, 242 home runs, 137 stolen bases, a Gold Glove, two Top-10 MVP finishes and 37.0 career bWAR. As a player he is without a doubt in what we would call the Hall of Very Good.
Some will say he should have at least one World Series win on his resume for Hall induction. That’s not an unreasonable position. I would say, though, that his combined body of managing work and his very good playing career rate Hall induction.
Lastly, despite his failures as Cubs manager, Baker seems like a quality human being, something seemingly in short supply these days.
I say he’s a Hall of Famer now. If the Astros win the World Series — regardless of how unhappy some might be about that — that should cement his place in Cooperstown.
What say you?
This poll is closed
... is a Hall of Famer now based on his resume to date
... needs a World Series win to merit induction in Cooperstown
... is not a Hall of Famer
Something else (leave in comments)