Posted on January 29, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
After a few days of rumors and speculation, it’s all but official: Dusty Baker will be the next manager of the Houston Astros. The club and Baker came to an agreement on Wednesday on a one-year deal with a team option for the 2021 season. The 70-year-old Baker will take over perhaps the most hated team in baseball right now and an organization that is still reeling from a cheating scandal that has rocked the sport.
The need for a new manager was created first when incumbent A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were suspended for the 2020 season for their role in the team’s sign-stealing scandal. Both Hinch and Luhnow were subsequently fired, creating a permanent vacancy for both positions. Astros owner Jim Crane has taken his time with the decision, firing Hinch and Luhnow more than two weeks ago. But in recent days it’s become clear that Baker was his top choice.
“Everybody likes to feel like they’re wanted,” Baker said last week after he interviewed for the job. “I talked to Mr. Crane and he made me feel that I was wanted here.”
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With Baker, the Astros are getting one of the most experienced and respected managers in baseball. He has over 20 years of managerial experience with four different teams. Opening day will be the 3,500th game of his managerial career. Baker has also managed 55 postseason games despite never winning the World Series as a manager. However, he won National League Manager of the Year honors in 1993, 1997, and 2000, all during his time with the Giants.
While there is no sense in doubting Baker’s credentials, he’s certainly an interesting match for the Astros. He becomes just the third major league manager to be hired after the age of 70. Baker has also had a two-year hiatus since his last job, as the Nationals let him go after the 2017 season despite leading Washington to back-to-back division titles. This is also Baker’s first time managing in the American League.
Moreover, Baker is viewed as more of an old-school manager. He doesn’t have an analytics-driven perspective on baseball, a trait possessed by many of the new managerial hirers in recent years. On the other hand, with the shame that the Astros have brought upon themselves with the sign-stealing scandal, a change of culture and a move away from analytics might be what’s best for the organization moving forward.
Obviously, Baker will walk into a bit of a mess in Houston. The Astros have a bad image at the moment and he will be partly responsible for trying to repair that. At the same time, Baker is also taking over a team that’s expected to win and compete for a title. The Astros have won more than 100 games in three straight seasons, running away with the AL West each year. They’ve also been to the World Series twice in the last three years, winning it all in 2017, possibly with the help of illegal tactics. Controversy or not, Baker is still expected to have the Astros playing deep into October.
Of course, only time will tell if Baker and the Astros will be a good match. He’s an older manager who’s walking into a tough position for reasons that go beyond high expectations. It may not help to have just one guaranteed year on his contract. From Houston’s perspective, it’s hard to see how they could do much better than Baker. He’s been around long enough to handle a situation like this and help the Astros turn the page. In addition to all of that, Baker finds himself with perhaps one more chance to win a World Series as a manager and cap his career the right way.