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Dusty Baker is retiring as a manager

... and I have thoughts.

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Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Dusty Baker will announce his retirement from baseball today:

A press conference has been scheduled for Thursday at noon ET at Minute Maid Park, where Baker is expected to publicly announce his decision.

“I’m very grateful and thankful to Jim Crane and the Houston Astros for giving me this opportunity, and to win a championship,’’ Baker told USA TODAY Sports. “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.’’

Baker will retire with 2,183 wins as a manager, which ranks seventh all-time. He’s won three league pennants and one World Series title, with the Astros in 2022. What many don’t remember about Baker is that he was a very good player for a very long time. He played 19 years in the major leagues. His best years were with the Dodgers from 1976-83, where he was a two-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove. All told, he had 1,981 career hits, 242 home runs and 137 stolen bases.

There’s no doubt that his combined body of work will get him into the Hall of Fame someday, especially since he won division titles with all five teams he managed (Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Astros) and had 17 winning seasons among his 26 years as a manager.

He also had a winning record with four of his five teams. Only as Cubs manager did Baker finish under .500, and just by four games, 322-326. The 322 wins ranks eighth in Cubs franchise history.

Baker has a reputation as a players’ manager, and he had that reputation here with the Cubs. It was said that as long as he had strong player leaders in the clubhouse, that his teams would more or less run themselves. That happened in 2003, when Damian Miller and Eric Karros helped keep that Cubs team going well and it ended up in a division title just a year after a 95-loss season. But Karros and Miller both left after 2003 and despite the 2004 team being seen as more talented overall, something happened in that clubhouse that might have helped lead to the late-season collapse.

And then there’s the 2003 NLCS. While there’s lots of good to remember about Dusty Baker’s managing career, it is not possible to let any review of that career go without mentioning what he did, or rather, didn’t do when the incident with the foul ball happened in Game 6, and yes I’m deliberately not mentioning the fan’s name because if not for the Chicago Sun-Times, we might not know it to this day.

At the time the Cubs were leading Game 6 3-0 with five outs to go.

For purposes of this argument, it doesn’t matter whether that foul ball would have been caught or not.

What matters, to me, is this: Mark Prior, on the mound, was 23 years old and in his first full MLB season. He’d already thrown a lot of pitches — well over 100. Most managers would have at least had someone up in the bullpen, even back then. Dusty didn’t.

But that’s not the worst thing Dusty didn’t do. There are very few times when a manager can actively influence the course of a baseball game. That was one of those times. Baker needed to come out to talk to Prior, start someone throwing in the pen, talk to the kid — yeah, he was just a kid, it’s almost shocking now to see the bearded Prior who is the Dodgers pitching coach — do something, ANYTHING to slow the game down, remind everyone there were five outs to go and the Cubs were eminently capable of getting those five outs. You know, kind of the 2003 version of the Jason Heyward clubhouse speech.

(It’s not as if Baker was a newbie at managing — he’d taken a team to the World Series the previous year! And don’t ask Giants fans about their Game 6, either.)

Baker did not do any of that. Baker did not do anything. He sat in the dugout and did nothing. Prior simply took a new baseball and made the next pitch.

To me, that is Dusty Baker’s singular failure as a manager. He could have slowed the game down. He did not. Would it have made a difference? We’ll never know, and of course the primary reason the Cubs lost wasn’t that foul ball, it was Alex Gonzalez booting an easy double-play ball.

But Baker could have influenced the course of the game by doing the thing that most managers would have done in that situation. He didn’t, and partly as a result, we all had to wait 13 more years before the Cubs got to a World Series.

Dusty Baker seems like a good man and all his players love him. He’ll get well-deserved plaudits today on his retirement.

I just thought it was worth noting that he didn’t always do the right thing.