Dusty Baker hopes to find a new calling after retiring as Astros manager

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker Jr. holds up his Houston Astros World Series ring as he answers questions during a baseball press conference announcing his retirement, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)
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Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) β€” As Dusty Baker officially ended one notable chapter in his illustrious career, he said Thursday he feels an obligation to do more around the game with his next one.

Baker, 74, confirmed his retirement at a press conference following his fourth season managing the Houston Astros, who came one win shy of reaching the World Series for a third straight year with a loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

The toothpick-chewer and epic storyteller finished his career ranked ninth all-time with 2,183 victories in 4,046 regular-season games. He was the 12th manager in major league history to reach 2,000 wins and the first Black man to do it.

Ten of the other 11 managers who have accumulated at least 2,000 wins are in the Hall of Fame. Bruce Bochy (2,093), who is still managing the Rangers and isn’t yet eligible, is the only exception.

Baker began managing in 1993 after a 19-year playing career as an outfielder. He played with Hank Aaron in Atlanta and won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981.

Baker said Thursday that attending Aaron’s funeral in 2021 was an eye-opening experience for him.

“All these people were talking about how Hank had contributed and helped out their college education and affected this life and that life,” Baker said. “I came back home and told my wife, ‘I don’t feel like I’ve done anything.’

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know it’s going to be good, whatever it is. I believe that.”

Baker managed San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati and Washington before coming to Houston.

Baker’s Giants, starring Barry Bonds, entered Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Angels a win away from a title. As the road team for the last two games of that series, the Giants squandered a five-run lead in a 6-5 loss in Game 6 before the Angels won the title with a 4-1 victory in Game 7.

Baker took plenty of criticism over his managerial career β€” especially for his aggressive handling of young Cubs pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, who both burned out as starters due to injury. But Baker persisted and succeeded β€” he’s the only manager in major league history to take five different teams to the postseason.

After being fired by the Nationals following a 97-win season in 2017, Baker wondered if he’d ever get another shot to manage, much less win that elusive title.

Back home in California, as he worked on his wine business and grew collard greens in his garden, he often felt perplexed he had been passed over for interviews so many times as managerial openings came and went, having made inquiries that he said were unanswered over the years.

Then came Astros owner Jim Crane’s call after the sign-stealing scandal that cost A.J. Hinch his job, and Baker was back in the dugout.

Baker took over for the 2020 COVID-19-shortened season. The Astros squeaked into the postseason as a wild card before heating up in the playoffs and coming one win shy of reaching the World Series.

Baker posted a 320-226 record with the Astros, leading them to the playoffs in each of his four seasons and winning the pennant twice.

Baker made two World Series trips before winning it all with Houston last season. Baker and the Astros fell to the Braves in six games in 2021 after his most crushing defeat in the Fall Classic in 2002.

“It was probably the quickest four years I ever spent in my life,” Baker said. “But that’s what happens when you’re winning. When you’re losing, three or four years can feel like a decade.”

Astros owner Jim Crane addressed Baker directly at Thursday’s press conference.

“You were a great example for everyone,” Crane said. “We love you and we’ll miss you. You came in and helped us when we needed some help. You did a great job. You were the only guy who could do that.”

Baker wore his World Series ring on Thursday and said he hasn’t worn his 1981 Dodgers ring in a while because “it hasn’t fit in 30 years.”

“I was kind of mad at the world when I got through playing,” Baker said. “Like a lot of African-Americans and Latin players, there aren’t jobs, really. I was going to go home. And then my dad told me, ‘After all the people you’ve met, it’s not up to you to take with you and possess what they gave you. It’s up to you to pass it on to somebody else.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Baker said he feels like he has unfinished business around baseball.

“I haven’t made my mind yet on what I’m going to do, but I’m going to go home to talk to my daughter, who thinks she’s my mother, and spend some time with my grandkids and let the Lord tell me where to go and what to do with my life,” Baker said. “I still feel like I haven’t done what I’m supposed to do in life, so I believe the Lord has some great things ahead for me.”

Houston has the sixth manager opening of the offseason after Cleveland, the New York Mets, San Diego, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Angels. Only the Giants have filled the vacancy, hiring Bob Melvin from the Padres.

“We’ll work on it quickly,” Crane said. “(General manager Dana Brown) and I will do the work and we’ll find someone. It’ll be tough to replace Dusty, but we’ll work fast to get somebody in place.”