Dusty Baker: Is Nats' Skipper a Future Hall of Famer?
No, he hasn't won a World Series yet. And he is sometimes ridiculed for his unusual managerial style and for going against the saberstat-driven grain.
But Dusty Baker is still a future Hall of Famer. The Washington Nationals' skipper has compiled his way to greatness, winning over 1,800 games for four teams over 22 seasons.
That raw win total itself is astonishing -- only 16 of the nearly 700 men to ever captain a team have won that many games, and twelve of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other three not named Mr. Baker have their reasons for exclusion too; Bruce Bochy is still active and is a sure-fire Cooperstowner when he retires, Gene Mauch finished with a losing record and only two first place finishes, and Lou Piniella is biding his time until eventual enshrinement, himself a Dusty Baker-lite (but with a World Series win under his belt).
And Baker, a three-time Manager of the Year recipient, is quickly moving up the all-time rankings—he is 14th right now, and with a good 2018 will surpass the legendary Casey Stengel for 11th place.
But being around a long enough time to reach high statistical totals is not, on its own, enough to establish greatness—look, for example, at Gene Mauch. A manager leading a bunch of winning, but mediocre, third-place teams is far different than one with a pedigree of first-place excellence.
With six first-place finishes, and likely a seventh in 2017, Baker has that pedigree. He has led each team he's managed to at least one finish atop the division, and skippered clubs to 90 or more wins—the hallmark of a worthwhile season—nine times, with number ten on the way this year. In contast, Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson spent 26 years managing, and he had only seven first-place finishes.
Of course, regular season performance is all well-and-good, but its the postseason where it counts. Well, Dusty Baker has led eight clubs to the postseason and won over 20 games there. That's a milestone reached by only 25 other skippers—and nearly three-quarters of the inactive managers among those ranks are in the Hall.
Then there's the elephant in the room—the lack of World Series rings. Baker has never led a squad to a championship victory, and that is oft-blamed on incompetence or lack of acumen or mismanagement of talent.
But managerial prowess does not dissipate suddenly in the playoffs. Someone without a great baseball mind could not lead so many teams to not just winning seasons, but first place finishes and postseason appearances. Chalk the lack of championships up to rotten luck, perhaps, but not managerial incompetence.
And his playing career deserves mention, if one wishes to make a hybrid case for Baker—he was a very good player and a is a very good manager, one might say, and that rare combination itself establishes greatness.
Baker won multiple Silver Sluggers and earned numerous All-Star selections. And he collected a Gold Glove and won the National League Championship Series MVP honor in 1977. He combined power and speed to reach nearly 2,000 hits and over 1,000 RBI in a career that spanned two decades. He was a stalwart on the field as well as one directing it.
Baker doesn't have the skein of World Series victories of a Joe Torre or the standout run of 14-straight divisional titles of a Bobby Cox, but he does stand out. A combination of consistent positive output punctuated by multiple flashes of sheer greatness puts him among a unique pantheon of baseball managers.
And it will put him in the Hall of Fame.
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© 2017 John Winkelheimer