HOUSTON — It is a for-certain truth that Dusty Baker is the first manager in World Series history to drop a 2Pac reference on the eve of Game 1.
Asked what music he had been listening to ahead of his Houston Astros playing the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, Baker mentioned 2Pac and the Houston-area rapper Slim Thug.
Baker is 71 and well-schooled in classic jazz and blues. He even wrote a book about attending the famed Monterey Pop Festival as an 18-year-old in 1967.
“Music is a big part of my life,” Baker said Monday. “It’s a big part of setting the mood and the tone for what I need. Sometimes I need jazz to calm me down or blues, or I need something to pick me up.”
It’s no coincidence the 2Pac song that landed on Baker’s playlist was “Picture Me Rollin’.” Consider the lyrics:
Can you see me now? (Oh, picture me rollin’)
Move to the side a little bit so you can get a clear picture
Can you see it?
Picture me rollin’ (Picture me rollin’).
That’s really what this World Series represents for Baker, a chance to move to the side so baseball can get its clearest picture yet of Johnnie B. Baker Jr.
Baker has the most victories, 1,987, of any manager not to win the World Series. Not that there haven’t been chances.
He was six outs away from a championship with the San Francisco Giants in 2002 before the then Anaheim Angels stormed back. A year later, managing the Cubs, Baker needed five outs to return to the Series when a seemingly innocuous fan at Wrigley Field lunged for a foul ball and chaos followed.
Now he’s back in the Series with the Astros, this time staging his own comeback to topple the Red Sox last week.
Win four games and Baker will leave no questions about who he is and where he stands.
Only 11 managers in history have won more games, and all are members of the Hall of Fame outside of three-time World Series winner Bruce Bochy, which is a formality.
Win this World Series and Baker will present irrefutable credentials once he lands on the ballot. There will be substance behind all the style.
You know the style. Baker last played in 1986, but still wears thick wristbands with his uniform to hide what he considers skinny forearms. He works a toothpick all game, having abandoned tobacco long ago, and views the field from behind tinted glasses, sometimes from the far end of the dugout just to get a different look.
Baker was out of the game for two years, fired by the Washington Nationals after winning 97 games in 2017. The Phillies were interested before the 2020 season, but decided on Joe Girardi.
The Astros were Last Chance U., having fired manager A.J. Hinch after the extent of their cheating in 2017 was revealed. Baker’s personality and reputation was a handy shield for the abuse they would face, and his acumen was needed to pull another championship out of a talented core of players.
It has worked. The Astros advanced to the ALCS last season and took the Rays to seven games before winning 95 games this season. They are 7-3 in the postseason.
“When I first came in, I was more like an uncle, and then I became more like a dad,” Baker said. “So I’m kind of in between a dad and maybe even a granddad. But I’m probably a little bit too cool to be a granddad right now.”
This will be a familial series for Baker, who played for the Braves from 1968–75. His teammate from that time, Ralph Garr, is a Braves scout and a dear friend. Their shared mentor was Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who passed away in January.
Baker had no intention of signing with the Braves in 1967. As a young Black man from progressive northern California, he saw no future playing in the Deep South in that turbulent time. It wasn’t until Aaron called Baker’s home and promised he’d look out for him that the deal was made.
“I think about him all the time, especially in a series like this. I feel his presence, especially him and my dad,” Baker said. “He had a tremendous impact not only on the baseball field, but in my life and in my family and in business. I’ll be forever grateful to him.”
Now Baker has Aaron again looking over his shoulder as he seeks to fill the only gap in his career. Win this World Series and Baker will surely stand on the stage in Cooperstown someday.
Would a championship cleanse the Astros? Probably not. It would their manager.
“You play the game for the love of the game and the love of winning, and they’re about winning, and I’m about winning,” Baker said. “I’ve always been about winning my whole life.
“I mean, it’s perfect for both of us.”