MLB America has a real dilemma.
On one hand, it’s easy to hate the Houston Astros. After all, they were caught in one of the biggest cheating scandals in the history of sports. The only problem is that when you root for them to lose in the postseason you are also rooting against Dusty Baker.
And that doesn’t feel good or right. Baker might be the most likable guy in the game. He was a very good player and is an even better manager in his second career.
Still, it’s a fine line for a lot of baseball fans. Baker is Houston’s manager and wears the same uniform. But he wasn’t at the helm when the Astros were stealing signs from their opponents to help them get an edge at the plate by knowing what pitch was coming.
For a minute on Sunday night, it looked as if the Astros would be celebrating again and moving onto their fifth straight American League Championship Series.
Instead, the Chicago White Sox bounced back from an early four-run deficit and won, 12-6, in Chicago. The Astros lead this best-of-five series, 2-1.
They have two chances to win one game and advance yet again.
If the Astros do move onto the ALCS, it will be the second year in a row under Baker and the fifth straight year for the franchise.
For sure, most thought the Astros were going to go away, and just tumble to the bottom of the standings after their cheating was exposed.
It hasn’t happened. Instead, they keep winning. They keep grinding the glass into our hand.
It’s truly painful.
And let’s be honest. When they hired Baker, now 72, it looked as if they were just hiring a veteran skipper to watch over the carnage and deflect all the bad press and fan reaction that was to come in 2020. Baker is a world- class charmer.
And Baker did a good job of that. But, somehow, he also got them up off the mat and back onto the biggest stage in the game.
In 2020, Baker’s team struggled in the regular season. But because MLB allowed 16 teams to make the playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic after a reduced 60-game season, the Astros made it with a 29-31 record. They were just the second AL team to reach the postseason with a losing record.
Then, they beat the Minnesota Twins in a two-game sweep in the Wild-Card Series. From there, they went to the Division Series and beat the Oakland A’s. Then, they met the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS, losing in seven games.
Despite all the turmoil, they were a game away from making it to the World Series.
Many think they may be able to get there this time around.
Coming into the postseason, it was hard to not to look at Baker and the job he did as manager. This season, he led them to the AL West title, thereby making him the first manager to win a division title with five different teams. To boot, Baker is one of just six managers in MLB history to reach the postseason 10 times.
There has been only one problem: He hasn’t been able to win all the marbles. In fact, he’s had a real chance to win in at least three of his previous four spots. Baker has had some tremendous teams to manage.
Baker managed Barry Bonds in his prime with the San Francisco Giants. He was with the Chicago Cubs during the Steve Bartman debacle in the postseason. He managed the Washington Nationals with a loaded rotation. And he made the Cincinnati Reds division winners, too.
Baker — who was a two-time All-Star and won a World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 — has been all around baseball history and magical moments.
It truly is amazing.
Baker gets credit, along with teammate Glenn Burke, for the first-ever high five. The two celebrated with a slap of hands over their heads after Baker hit his 30th home run in 1977.
In 1974, while playing for the Atlanta Braves, Baker was on deck when Hank Aaron hit his 715th HR, the one that broke Babe Ruth’s all-time record at the time.
Baker needs just one more thing to complete a tremendous run in his baseball career — a World Series trophy as a manager. It would be a great story… if only he wasn’t wearing that damn Astros’ uniform.