After Dusty Baker won his first World Series title in a 25-year reign, he made clear his plans for the future.
“What’s next? I said if I win one, I want to win two,” he said Saturday night after his Houston Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 to win the six-game series at Minute Maid Park.
At 73, Baker is the oldest manager in Major League Baseball and wants another shot at 74. Baker won in his third attempt, losing in 2002 with the San Francisco Giants and last year with the Astros.
“I mean, it’s been hell to get to this point, but it’s been worth it,” he said. “I’m in a great city, with great people, great fans and I have a great ball club.”
It should be an easy decision for owner Jim Crane. Organize the parade on Monday and clean up some work in the days after. Crain said before the start of the series that his decisions on the retention of Baker and general manager James Click will wait until the results are out.
He also said Baker has been very positive in the three years since he was hired to stabilize the organization after MLB fined Crain and the Astros $5 million in a sign-stealing scandal. MLB also suspended then-general manager Jeff Lunow and manager AJ Hinch, who Crane then fired.
“Dusty came here under very difficult circumstances and did a good job,” Crain said.
This is a trend in MLB at this point – a return to older, more experienced managers. Nine clubs have managers 58 or older who have won eight World Series titles.
Across the state in Arlington, the Texas Rangers last month hired Bruce Bochy, 67.
In the fraternity of what Baker calls “the old dudes,” no one could be happier for Dusty than his friend Bochy.
“I spoke to him earlier. I’m happy for Dusty,” Bochy said Sunday in a telephone interview. “What a remarkable career he has had. That’s one box I know he wanted to check. With all the success he had as a manager, I’m sure this was the success he wanted to achieve. It’s a pretty cool moment when it all ends.
Bochy, who won three titles from 2010-14 with the San Francisco Giants, was hired after three seasons off. And like Baker now, he’s a surefire member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame when their careers are over.
“He’s one of the best, best managers around,” Baker said. “Great baseball guy, baseball mind. One more for the old dudes.
Bochy was hired by Chris Young, a first-time general manager who stood in for Bochy when he managed the San Diego Padres.
“For me, at this point, having an experienced manager in the bullpen not only suited me, but I think it’s what’s best for our organization and our players,” Young said at a media conference late last month in Arlington, for to represent Bochy. “So that was a big part of the decision.”
“I talked to Chris Young for about seven hours,” Bochy said. “When I finished, I was just like, ‘Man, it’s me.’ It was the perfect time to come back.”
Besides Dusty and Bochy, the list of old-timers includes Atlanta’s Brian Snitker and Cleveland’s Terry Francona, both 67; Buck Showalter with New York Mets, 66; Bud Black with Colorado, 65; and Bob Melvin of the San Diego Padres, 61.
The move began when, in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, Crain hired Baker, who had been looking for another managerial job for three seasons after being fired by the Washington Nationals in 2017.
“I mean, when the scandal came out and then I got hired here, I felt like that’s the way it should be,” Baker said. “I don’t think I was first on his hiring list. But some of the guys I had played with and his former players on his advisory team really told him that I was probably the best person for the job.
Last winter, the Mets fired the inexperienced Luis Rojas and hired Showalter, four years after he was released by the Baltimore Orioles.
At the same time, after working with a succession of inexperienced managers — Pat Murphy, Andy Green and Jace Tingler — and finishing under .500, Padres general manager AJ Preller was cleared by Oakland to hire the veteran Melvin.
The Padres, like the Astros and Mets, went to the extended playoffs, though each had varying levels of success.
“Bob and his team have done a great job creating an atmosphere in this clubhouse,” Preller said during the closing media conference in San Diego. “Through injuries and other situations, his group kept the team focused.”
That’s no small feat, and why more than a third of MLB’s 30 teams have experienced managers who have been 50 or older.
Of course, redirecting elder statesmen doesn’t always work. Joe Maddon, 68, and Joe Girardi, 58, were fired by the Los Angeles Angels and Phillies, respectively, during the season. Tony La Russa, 78 years old and already a Hall of Fame manager, was forced to retire from the Chicago White Sox due to a heart condition. And Don Mattingly, 61, left the Florida Marlins after seven seasons.
Two of those jobs were filled by younger managers with little experience: Pedro Grifol, 52, replaced La Russa, and Skip Schumaker, 42, gets his first chance to manage for Mattingly.
The rise of these newcomers does not stifle the rise of baseball’s boomerang gang.
“I’ve always said if I was going to throw myself back into the fire, it had to be the right form,” Bochy said. “It’s all about getting back on the court, walking around the gym and the clubhouse, the competition. I just missed him.”
Baker jumped into a forest fire and the heat was extreme.
“It’s pure joy and gratitude,” Baker said. “It’s not a relief at all.”