Dusty and the Road to 2,000
There has been shockingly little talk about this, but sometime in the next couple of weeks — in this 75th anniversary season of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier — Dusty Baker is going to win his 2,000th game as a big-league manager. He was sitting at 1,993 victories entering Friday, which is poetic because he began his managing career with the San Francisco Giants in 1993.
That year, the Giants — after going 72-90 the year before — won 103 games. They also failed to make the playoffs because Atlanta won 104 games.
In so many ways, that season is a microcosm of Dusty’s managerial career.
Two thousand wins. It’s an astonishing feat, accomplished by only 11 managers, the greatest of the greats — Mack and McGraw, La Russa and Cox and Torre, Sparky and Bucky, McCarthy and Durocher and Alston. All 10 of them are in the Hall of Fame. The 11th is Bruce Bochy, who won his 2,000th game almost at the end of the 2019 season, when the Giants won 11-3 in Boston. He will be in the Hall of Fame soon.
And Dusty will make a dozen. Of course, it means something different with Dusty. I mentioned Jackie Robinson earlier; you might know that in the last years of his life, it was his most enduring wish to see an African-American manager in baseball. In his last public appearance at the 1972 World Series — 25 years after he debuted — he made the point as clearly as he could.
“I am extremely proud and pleased to be here,” he said. “But I will be more pleased the day I can look over at the third-base line and see a Black man as manager … It is a shame baseball does not have a Black manager.”
He did not live to see it. He died nine days later, and it wasn’t until 1975 that another Robinson, Frank Robinson, became the first African-American manager.
Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, was there on that 36-degree day in Cleveland to throw out the first pitch.
“The road has been too long,” she said that day. “It has taken too long to get here. … I wish Jackie could have been here; it was his only dream. But I think in so many ways he is here.”
With that, though, Rachel Robinson also offered a warning — one that would prove prophetic: People, she said, should not see the hiring of Frank Robinson as an end-point but rather as a beginning. As much as she celebrated the moment, she also understood that Frank was a unique figure in baseball, one of the greatest players in the game’s history as well as one of baseball’s most admired people. It’s one thing for a struggling team like Cleveland to hire the great Frank Robinson as a player-manager.
But what would follow?
Would other teams follow? And, even more challenging, would other teams consider Black managers who, perhaps, did not have the standing and distinction of a Frank Robinson? After all, in 1975, the game’s most renowned managers were all virtual non-entities as players. The Orioles’ Earl Weaver never made it to the major leagues as a player, neither did the Phillies’ Danny Ozark. The Dodgers’ Walter Alston had one big-league at-bat. The Reds’ Sparky Anderson hit .218 in his only major league season. Boston’s Darrell Johnson was a rarely-used backup catcher for six big-league seasons.