Dusty Baker

The Houston Astros are in the news a lot these days, and a former Brave from way back has taken control over the madness in Dusty Baker.

Dusty Baker, the Right Choice

The 70 year old Baker is a logical choice for a franchise who had an unexpected vacancy to fill on the cusp of Spring Training. Dusty has a track record of managing good teams and a good reputation in the game, which could help dissipate some of the heat aimed at the Astros in the aftermath of their sign-stealing scandal. (When Nick Markakis says you need a beating, you better believe that’s a beating.) Baker has a one year contract with a team option for 2021, and will buy the Astros time until they figure out what they really want to do.

Track Record

Dusty has been criticized for his old school style of managing, something he may have a chance to address some day at Cooperstown. His career record as a manager is 1863 – 1636 for a .532 W-L%, and his wins and winning percentage are well positioned among current Hall of Famers. A lack of a World Series title (to date) may hold him back in the voting. Adding to that, his teams have won 1 pennant in his 22 seasons.

Dusty stands 15th in Major League history in managerial wins, accumulated over 10 seasons with the Giants, 4 with the Cubs, 6 with the Reds, and 2 with the Nationals, where he won 95 and 97 games in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He’s been NL Manager of the Year 3 times, and just 43 more wins this season would leave him in 12th all time. Averaging 70 wins per year over the next two seasons would move him into 9th place, although a 70 win season in 2020 would undoubtedly preclude a second season in 2021.

The Player

Baker also had an outstanding career as a player, breaking into the majors with the Braves as a 19 year old in 1968. He had minimal opportunities those early years before starting full time for 4 seasons beginning in 1972. His .321 batting average in 1972 was 3rd in the league. He played mostly as a center fielder or right fielder for the Braves, and occasionally found time to sign autographs for 9 year old boys. You can read Mac’s assessment of Dusty as one of the 44 greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Dusty was traded to the Dodgers after his age 26(!) season along with Ed Goodson for Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster, and Jim Wynn. He spent 8 seasons in L.A., hitting 30 homers in 1977, and once again finishing 3rd in the league in batting in 1981, at .320. Baker eventually spent 19 seasons in the majors, totaling 242 homers and a .278 batting average.

Leave Dusty Out of This

There won’t be many people pulling for the Astros this year, but my hope (and undoubtedly the Astros hope) is that we don’t take it out on Dusty Baker.

Thanks for reading our piece on Dusty Baker. If you enjoyed this retrospective look on a former player, you might enjoy our 10 for 10’s series of which all parts can be found linked in this piece.

Long Live Braves Journal!

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

35 thoughts on “Dusty Baker”

  1. sorry, posted this in the last thread a few minutes late…imho, baseball needs to find some sort of evidence that the players interviewed under the immunity deal lied (hello buzzer?), then take back the immunity and suspend those players (hello Altuve?) for the season or a significant portion thereof. Let the union fight it if they want, the union will have their own internal struggle before joining that fight.

    I’m unclear on the logistics of those proposing a post-season ban for the Astros. How would you do this and protect the integrity of the game? Shoot, everybody in the AL West would be playing 19 games against a team who is eliminated from day 1.

  2. I’m a big fan of Johnnie B., who wins everywhere he goes. He’s being brought into a really tough situation, and there’s no one who could be better for the job — getting his guys to clear out the distractions and focus on baseball.

    But in the wider world, the Astros have a target on their backs a mile wide, and while I don’t think that Manfred will lose his job over this (since Roger Goodell is equally incompetent and has weathered constant scandals), it seems likely that more shoes will drop, particularly after MLB releases its report on the Red Sox. And whoever leaked Manfred’s letter to Luhnow may be willing to drop another dime.

  3. @1
    I think a postseason ban is wishcasting, but I’d be in favor of it, and I think that all of the other players in MLB would be as well. It would be revenue suicide, though, and that’s where the line is drawn in the sand. No dice.

    I’d also like to see some suspensions without pay. Manfred could do it where it has less effect on the day to day team, staggering the suspensions over the course of the year so there’s not a large chunk of players that are out at 1 time.

    @2
    If the Red Sox scandal comes out to be 75% of what’s went on with the Astros, Manfred could be in real trouble, and rightfully so.

  4. Haven’t been a part of the discussion re: Astros much as either a commenter or reader, just lots of stuff going on. But my question is: How did the Astros think they’d get away with this long-term? All it took was an ex-player to talk and the whole system would be exposed, and that’s exactly what happened. Seemed like the kind of obvious outcome that would have been a deterrent, but what do I know? I’m a risk averse/cost benefits kind of guy.

  5. @4
    They won a World Series and nary a peep made it to the mass media. That was all the fuel they needed to keep feeding the fire.

  6. Yeah — flags fly forever, clubhouse omertà is real, and to quote John Maynard Keynes, in the long run, we’re all dead. In sports, short-term strategy is the only strategy.

  7. Let me play devil’s advocate for a second here. And for the record I’m in favor of a 2 year postseason ban for Houston.

    I think you can look at most of the cheating scandals of the past 20-30 years and say that they all started with some sort of paranoia about others cheating. Or if they didn’t start from there, it at least became the justification perpetrators used to absolve themselves.

    Take PEDs, the narrative is that Bonds sees McGwire and Sosa’s magical summer and says, well I could do that and more if I was also willing to cheat. Futhermore, no punishment seemed to be coming for Mac and Sammy, so why not. And frankly, if I don’t cheat, then I’m the sucker playing on an uneven playing field.

    Take Coppy, we all know that the international market has long been the Wild West. Even to this day, we know who has illegal deals in place for all the top July 2 prospects (2021 and 2022 are probably set for many as well). Coppy went overboard, doing something that every team does, but in this case, the Red Sox just a year before got busted for the bundling scheme and MLB made it clear that it had to stop. From Coppy’s perspective, he may have even already had these deals in place before Boston got caught, but I still argue he was doing basically what others were (I guess it’s better to break the rules first than be second).

    Take Houston, they believe Boston and New York (teams with more resources and revenue) are already cheating to get an edge, rumors of NY goes back to 2015 I think and again the Red Sox are the reason MLB intended to crack down as they were breaking the rules already (with watches I think?). If you are Houston and people (Beltran) come to you and say, I can’t believe you aren’t doing this because my last team was, doesn’t that at least give some pause. And again the Red Sox appear to be the beneficiaries of getting caught first.

    I’m as mad at Houston as the next person, but I think if you had transported 20 of our guys or any other team onto that 2017 team, they probably would’ve acted the same (given Cora and Beltran’s apparent spearheading of the operation). Atlanta may (now) have a better front office, so perhaps it wouldn’t have happened here, but I for one am hesitant to “cancel” each player from the 2017 Astros team (which includes McCann and Gattis).

  8. People have been complaining that baseball is too much of a business since at least the mid-19th century.

  9. Not sure if it was public knowledge yet, but AA said on MLB Network this morning that Riley would work exclusively at 3B in the Spring. I think he said that he would not get any OF work.

  10. I’ll preface this with the fact that the Astros should be punished, Manfred is awful, and the game is heading towards a very bad place. I know I’m losing interest and I cant be the only one…

    But…if you feel like your team was cheated by sign stealers, that’s on you and your team. Be smarter. Everyone is trying to get an edge and that’s nothing new. If your signs are stolen then your entire org is just dumb.

  11. Teams only change their signs when a runner is on second. After all, that’s the only time pitchers and catchers can’t communicate privately. No team would know to change their signs when no one is on base, and that’s why people are so pissed. This creates such a huge advantage to cheating teams where it can almost directly affect the outcome of the game. Steroids didn’t do that; both pitchers and hitters were juiced.

  12. Baseball has been on TV for decades, you have to assume the other team sees your signs…if you aren’t doing something to thwart that then you deserve to lose.

  13. Making codes unbreakable isn’t impossible, it’s just so time-consuming and effortful that it often isn’t worth it. A one-time pad is an unbreakable code. The baseball equivalent would be for the catcher to go up to the mound after every pitch. But it would make the game unwatchable.

    Think I’m being melodramatic? The Nats already took a few steps down that road in October. They assumed that the Astros were cheating in the 2019 World Series, so they came up with a very elaborate set of plans:

    First, each pitcher had to have his own set of signs, and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki had to be familiar with each one. So the staff printed out cards with the codes and had them laminated. The catchers could have them in their wristbands, a la an NFL quarterback with play calls strapped to his forearm, and the pitchers would have them in their caps. Each pitcher had five sets of signs, and they could change them from game to game — or even batter to batter, if necessary. Using the set labeled No. 2, but worried the Astros were catching on? The pitcher could signal to the catcher to move to set No. 3.

    Next came the way the Nats employed their signs, which was nontraditional. Rather than just use, say, the second sign the catcher put down, the Nats might “chase the two.” That meant the pitcher would watch for the catcher to put two fingers down, and then throw the pitch that corresponded to the following sign. Or they could play “outs plus one.” So if there was one out, the pitch would be the second sign the catcher put down. If there were no outs, it would be the first sign. “Strikes plus one” worked the same way.

    The amount of time between pitches is the enemy — it kills pace of game and it makes games longer. It is in the absolute interest of major league baseball to solve this before the counterespionage arms race turns a nine-inning game into a five-day cricket match.

  14. For the record, I originally didn’t think they should’ve stripped the World Series title, either…didn’t much see the point. However, the fact that half of the Astros are now going around saying they earned the title has changed my mind. I think if MLB came out now and essentially said, “Not only did you not earn it, you didn’t win it at all,” that would at least be a step in the right direction. As long as Houston can point to the banner in the rafters and act like they earned it, the whole scheme was worth it.

    I would also be in favor of a 2-year postseason ban. Baseball would never do it, but I’d be in favor of it. Yes, it would tank the value of the Houston franchise. And that’s a problem because…?

  15. @13, What I could read of the Athletic piece linked above, they made the decision to can her in December but didn’t tell her until now? Damn, that’s a dick move, if “sources” are correct, which they often aren’t.

  16. Great fun at lunchtime today.

    Russo and Smoltz…long…good stories

    then Russo and Snit…cliche city but still fun, he’s so adorable.

  17. @18, I’m saying I would use technology to “cheat” on defense. The pace of the game would be unaffected, might even be faster because you don’t need dramatics. If they bust you with the wireless device in your cap or back pocket or whatever, who cares? The narrative isn’t the same at all – oh you want to punish us for preventing others from cheating? See how that plays out in the court of public opinion…

  18. Also one could argue that the Nats’ counter-measures won them the World Series. They were smart. The teams that allowed the Astros to steal signs were dumb.

  19. @18 i’m just going to take a moment to appreciate the ability of pitchers/catchers/coaches/players to send and receive information hundreds of times a game, where any one miscommunication can lead to disaster. Then to make that communication more difficult on purpose at the most important time of the season, that will get my respect.

  20. The Nats used those countermeasures literally two years after the World Series in question. There’s always a lag — that’s why there’s an advantage to cheating and that’s why it’s an arms race. If the Astros’ cheating was an open secret, when did that secret become open? And how many games did the Astros win by surreptitiously breaking explicit rules?

    Why weren’t any Astros permanently banned from baseball, but our guy was?

  21. Yeah, the players aren’t paying attention if they thought runner on second was the only situation where signs were at risk. Personally I think all the player outrage is 1) hypocritical (how many would have done anything to stop it if it was happening on their team); and 2) counterproductive to the sport (why draw more negative attention to the situation). Chalk it up to lessons learned and move on already.

    I don’t think I’d want to be using the NCAA as my model for punishments (stripping titles and post season bans). Management bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for letting this happen, and a GM and three managers losing their jobs serves as a pretty strong deterrent from turning a blind eye to this type of behavior in the future. You could argue for tougher organizational penalties I suppose, but if the Astro’s and MLB had handled the PR aspects of the situation with even a little bit of competence it would all have been mostly blown over by now.

  22. I would be shocked if lots of other teams weren’t doing similar things. The head-scratcher to me is why the defense isn’t doing the same. Imagine the pure joy you’d get from watching Bregman and Altuve OPS about 400 points lower than usual in a playoff series because the signs the catcher was putting down weren’t real and instead all pitches were being called wirelessly from the dugout. Surely that should be happening too. Unless everyone in the sport is an abject moron. Which might be the case.

  23. How about fining the players their playoff and World Series shares in the relevant years? Sure, you won, but a winning share in 2017 was $439K.

    On Dusty: I’m sure he’s a great guy. To my eyes, he’s the worst in-game manager in MLB history; he’s worse than my favorite manager, Bobby Cox, who’s in the bottom half-a-dozen or so. In-game managing is highly overrated as a component of managerial skill, but still.

  24. Hitting a baseball is extremely difficult. Whenever you see a whole team hit nearly .300 for long stretches like the Red Sox’s lineups have done in recent years, then I just assume they are cheating.

    An interesting side-story here is gonna be “how do we know how good any of these guys really are?!” I wouldn’t have touched Mookie Betts in free-agency with a ten foot pole.

  25. Oh, and forfeit last year’s $256,000 too. And that’s for every player — will certainly affect the incentives to report what you see.

  26. “Next came the way the Nats employed their signs, which was nontraditional. Rather than just use, say, the second sign the catcher put down, the Nats might “chase the two.” That meant the pitcher would watch for the catcher to put two fingers down, and then throw the pitch that corresponded to the following sign.”

    We used that in high school 20 years ago, and no doubt it was around long before that, so not terribly novel. But the more you mix it up the harder it is to steal, I suppose.

  27. @18: I know we’re supposed to hate the Nats, but I just can’t after reading that. Their victory was a victory over cheaters who tarnished the game. It’s time for our boys to bring home a piece of metal.

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