The calendar says October and World Series baseball is back! And in Texas, the Houston Astros have high hopes to capture their second World Series, starting tonight against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. To get there, Astros fans have put their faith in baseball and military veteran, Dusty Baker, who proudly served as a U.S. Marine.
Baker’s baseball experience is extensive, including over 20 years of manager positions with the Washington Senators, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds. And with the Astros' 4-0 win over the Seattle Mariners earlier this year, Baker became the 12th MLB manager — and the first Black manager — to reach 2,000 career wins.
Ten of the eleven other managers are already in the baseball Hall of Fame, which is no doubt Baker’s destiny, once he retires from the sport. As an All-Star player, he was a key contributor in the Los Angeles Dodgers 1981 World Series win.
Along the way, Baker played with some of the most legendary names in the league. As part of Major League Baseball’s celebration of “Black History Month” in 2016, Baker credits home run champion Hank Aaron for helping him excel in the pro ranks. Despite the enormous pressure of chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1975, Aaron demonstrated extraordinary professionalism and grace under pressure. That experience was not lost on Baker or Aaron. He was in the on-deck circle when Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th career home run.
“The year that I went through chasing the record I think really helped him to get to where he is today,” Aaron said.
“He has meant everything to me in my baseball career,” Baker added.
Importantly, it was Baker’s training in the military which primed him for a promising start in baseball and set the foundation for his leadership skills as a manager. Johnnie B. Baker Jr. was born in Riverside, California on June 15, 1949, and got his nickname from his mother because he was constantly dirty. She ran a charm school, and his dad had a civilian job in the military. “Dusty” then served with the Marines and the Reserves from 1969-1975. While stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, 1st Battalion Private First Class Baker was named the outstanding Marine in his platoon.
“The chain of command has to be in place. That's what Dusty has established,” said former baseball star and current broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe, in an exclusive commentary on ESPN.com, while discussing Baker’s military mindset in baseball. “You can't have rookies running into the manager's office complaining about this gripe or that situation -- they need to know the chain of command.”
“The armed services have proven that such an approach works, and Dusty has proven that it also works in baseball. His leadership has been exceptional,” Sutcliffe added.
Baker’s leadership talents soared from his first season as a manager, leading the San Francisco Giants to a 103-59 record and a playoff berth in 1993, propelling him to the title of Manager of the Year. He won that award two more times, in 1997 and 2000.
Baker is also part of baseball folklore. He played an integral part in the first ever documented “High Five,” which occurred between Baker and Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke on October 2, 1977, at Dodger Stadium, an event featured in the ESPN documentary "The High Five" directed by Michael Jacobs.
To date, he is one of only three Black Americans to manage a World Series team - he hopes to be only the second one to win a championship, this time with the Astros.
Baker is currently a member of the National Advisory Board of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a national non-profit organization committed to providing student-athletes with a positive, character-building youth sports experience.
“I try to develop a culture in my locker room like a family situation,” he tells PCA in an instructional video about how to develop a “Team Culture” when he leads. “I try to create a positive culture, try to develop a culture of togetherness, of diversity, which I think is mandatory in this world today but very very difficult to do.”