Editor’s Note: Terence Moore is an Atlanta-based national sports columnist and commentator. He’s a CNN sports contributor and a visiting professor of journalism at Miami University in Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @TMooresports and subscribe to his YouTube channel. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Before the 2022 World Series, I sent a text to somebody I’ve spent 45 years as a sports journalist covering, first as Major League Baseball player, then as a coach and manager. Over the years, the relationship has evolved into a friendship.
My text read: “Go Astros! I won’t be there physically at the World Series, but I’ll be there mentally and spiritually cheering for Dusty Baker, along with all the other right-thinking folks.”
The reply? “Thank you my brother. Dusty.”
No, thank you, Dusty. You’re an icon, with your ever-present toothpick-in-mouth and wristbands on both arms, exuding charisma just by breathing.
With your Astros winning 4-1 Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, you ended this World Series in Game 6 over the Philadelphia Phillies, and showed those facing adversity over the course of years (and years and years) that the answer is perseverance.
And you proved that a team can win guided by a leader with a positive attitude and a sense of humor – and maybe with the help of a great bullpen, a splendid defense and a slugger like Yordan Alvarez slamming pitches into the other side of the solar system.
Actually, Alvarez’s three-run homer in the sixth inning traveled only 450 feet over the huge structure behind the center-field fence called the “batter’s eye.” That pushed the Astros from a 1-0 deficit to a 3-1 lead, en route to Baker’s first world championship in his 25th season as a Major League manager.
No manager in baseball history had won as many career regular season games (2,093) as this 73-year-old eternal optimist, but until Saturday’s win, Baker had never earned a World Series ring.
He is the only manager to lead five different teams to the playoffs after winning division titles: the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, the Washington Nationals and the Astros. Most of those Baker-led teams ended their postseason in disaster. Worst of all was 2002, when Baker’s Giants led 5-0 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven World Series against the Anaheim Angels going into the bottom of the 7th, but somehow the Giants failed to win the championship.
But this time, as Baker stood with others from the Astros organization atop the victory stage, fans still screaming with glee, somebody asked Baker over the PA system if the whole thing had hit him yet.
“Oh, it’s hit me alright,” the oldest manager ever to win a World Series said, his face beaming with his contagious smile. “It hit me as soon as that ball that (Alvarez) hit over the moon out there. That’s when it hit me.”
Baker is a devout Christian who surely knows that the Bible is filled with verses counseling patience. When he signed his first Major League contract in 1967 to play outfield for the Atlanta Braves, he was unofficially adopted by future Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.
Among other things, Aaron urged Baker to attend church regularly, eat right and never do anything to embarrass himself as a Black man with a high profile. Baker told those stories in the foreword of my book published earlier this year called “The Real Hank Aaron: An Intimate Look at the Life and Legacy of the Home Run King.”
The late Aaron would be proud of Baker, and so would his late parents, Johnnie Baker Sr. and Christine Baker.
“My mom and dad taught me perseverance and that you have to believe in yourself,” Baker told Fox Sports after the game.
In 2017, the Astros won their only other world title – an achievement marred by a scandal over sign-stealing. Major League baseball officials two years later slapped the franchise with a $5 million fine and stripped them of draft picks. The Astros tried to clean up their front office and clubhouse in the aftermath. As part of that effort, they hired Baker, who went from taking the Astros to the American League Championship Series his first season to a second-place finish in last year’s World Series to this: A ring that wasn’t tainted.
Baker thought about his pre-World Series supporters (including a sports journalist friend), and he said, “There were people of color everywhere I go, and people of non-color. Hey, man. We’re all family.”
Yes, we are.
Just sent Baker another text: “Congratulations! Finally!”