There’s no sugarcoating it. Dusty Baker needs to win.
Not a playoff game. Not a playoff series.
Not even the league championship series.
Nope. Baker needs to win the World Series.
It would crown his remarkable and historic career as both a big-league player and a manager.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
And as in years gone by, it won’t be any easier for Baker, the Washington Nationals’ manager.
After all, this postseason is supposed to be about the Chicago Cubs, the team with the best roster and record in the majors this past regular season.
Many believe the Cubs will finally break that lousy 108-year-old curse that has stopped them from winning a World Series again.
And add to that, Baker’s first opponent in this year’s playoffs are the Los Angeles Dodgers, a tough foe, indeed.
And to mix in some spice, it’s the first postseason matchup of two black managers in the national pastime’s history. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts is a first-year manager.
Still, this postseason is about Baker, 67, as much as it is about the Cubs.
“I’m not going to let nobody tell me I’m a failure,” Baker told the media in DC. “I’ve done the best job I could do. You can’t fool yourself.”
The Nationals turned to Baker, one of only two managers to win three National League Manager of the Year awards, for one reason only – win a title.
“We were looking for a manager to help us achieve our ultimate goal of competing for a World Series championship,” Washington owner Ted Lerner said in a statement when they hired Baker. “During our broad search process we met with any qualified candidates and ultimately it was clear that Dusty’s deep experience was the best fit for our ballclub.”
This is Baker’s fourth managerial gig, spanning 20 years. He’s won everywhere he’s been – San Francisco, the Cubs and Cincinnati. But he just hasn’t been able to win in the postseason, win the big prize.
The Nationals, as a franchise, desperately need to win it all, too. They clearly have championship-caliber talent. Baker’s track record said he could handle this situation, finally getting Barry Bonds to a World Series in 2002. That’s why Washington made a great hire in Baker.
Even before landing in DC, Baker had gotten good grades for how he handles a starting rotation. And that proved to be huge for the pitch-rich Nationals.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
But Baker wasn’t hired to fill a quota. You would be crazy to believe this. Baker, a former MLB outfielder, can manage. He relates to players and players have always played hard for him.
In Cincinnati, his last stop, Baker was 509-463 in six years. His win total ranks third all-time on the Reds’ managerial list.
In San Francisco, Baker took the Giants to the 2002 World Series. In 2003, he led the Cubs to a division title.
But as much success as Baker has had, he hasn’t won the World Series. He needs to win one to seal his legacy. It’s his only missing piece to a stellar career.
Only Gene Mauch (1,902) has won more games as a major league manager without winning a World Series than Baker (1,725). In the postseason, Baker’s record is 19-26.
The Nationals, picked by many to win the World Series after adding stud starter Max Scherzer to the rotation, were a flop in 2015.
But they bounced back big time, winning the NL East running away. Their pitching proved to be better than the New York Mets. Last season, the Mets surprised everyone by winning the division instead of the Nats and getting all the way to the World Series.
That’s where Baker needs to get to this Fall. It would really be a happy ending to his career if he can finally win a World Series as a manager. Baker did it as a player in 1981 with the Dodgers.
Baker needed the Nationals. And the Nationals need Baker. It really is the perfect match.
“He just let’s up play,” Nationals’ shortstop Danny Espinosa said about Baker. “He didn’t come in here trying to tell us what to do. He was a big leaguer. Hey, you guys know what to do – go out and play. That’s what I liked.”
If Baker can do it – win the Fall Classic against all odds – there will be another prize waiting for him. He will definitely be the first African American manager to make it to the Hall of Fame.