‘I’m gone’: Dusty Baker, an MLB icon with Sacramento roots, to retire from coaching

Dusty Baker, the capital region’s most decorated professional baseball player and coach, is expected to announce his retirement as Astros manager on Thursday after four successful seasons with Houston.

The Astros announced a news conference Thursday at Minute Maid Park that will include Baker, owner Jim Crane and general manager Dana Brown.

Baker managed the 2023 season on a one-year contract he signed after winning a World Series with the Astros last fall. Houston’s attempt to repeat ended Monday night with a loss in the ALCS to the Rangers.

Although Baker declined Monday night to address his future, a team source echoed to the Houston Chronicle the belief that Baker, 74, would retire. Baker told USA Today, in a report published Wednesday, that “I’m gone.”

“I’m very grateful and thankful to (owner) Jim Crane and the Houston Astros for giving me this opportunity, and to win a championship,’’ Baker told USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale. “I felt like they’ve been good for me, and I’ve been good for them. What I really appreciate is that Jim has been totally honest and transparent with me on all things.’’

In four seasons with Baker as manager, Houston reached two World Series, winning one championship, and made four consecutive ALCS appearances. This season was Baker’s 26th managing in the majors; he ranks seventh on the all-time managerial wins list.

Baker joined a team in turmoil upon arriving in Houston. Crane hired Baker in Feb. 2020 after firing manager A.J. Hinch, as well as general manager Jeff Luhnow, in the wake of the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. Baker’s first season was truncated amid a pandemic. He still became the first MLB manager to guide five teams to the postseason, as the Astros came within one win of an AL pennant.

Baker initially received a one-year contract with a club option for 2021, which the team exercised in July 2020. In 2021, Baker guided the Astros to a World Series, where they lost in six games to Atlanta, while becoming the first MLB manager to win a division with five different teams and ninth to win pennants in both leagues.

The Astros brought Baker back on a one-year contract for the 2022 season, announcing it days after the World Series in a news conference in which Baker declared he had “unfinished business to take care of.” To that point, Baker had taken two teams to the World Series as a manager and lost, also falling short of a title with the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

In 2022, buoyed by the best pitching staff in franchise history, Houston won 106 regular-season games. Baker recorded the 2,000th win of his managerial career that May, becoming the 12th manager in major-league history to reach the milestone. He achieved another in November when the Astros defeated the Phillies in six games to win the 2022 World Series.

Baseball icon’s capital roots

Baker, whose family moved to Fair Oaks from Riverside when he was a boy, graduated from Del Campo High School and holds a unique place in baseball lore.

He had a close-up vantage point for the two greatest home run chases in history: the on-deck circle in 1974 with the Atlanta Braves when idol and friend Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth for the then-all-time record with his 715th, and in the dugout in 2001 as the Giants’ manager when Barry Bonds set the season record with 73.

As an All-Star outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baker was part of the first high-five exchange. During his managerial career, he has enjoyed highs (three-time Manager of the Year) and endured lows (the Giants’ 2002 World Series loss to the Anaheim Angels and the Chicago Cubs’ 2003 National League Championship Series loss to the Florida Marlins).

Baker also was the first manager in major league history to win a division title with five different teams

Baker won World Series in 2022

Baker, at 73, became the oldest manager to lead a World Series winner, securing the ring that had been the lone thing missing from his managerial resume. He reiterated afterward his oft-repeated line of: “If I win one, I want two.”

Baker agreed to return on another one-year contract shortly after the World Series. Days later, Houston fired general manager James Click, with Crane serving as de facto GM until the Astros hired Brown to the position in late January. Baker and Brown became just the second concurrent Black manager and general manager with a team in MLB history.

The 2023 season proved trying. The Astros endured injuries to several key players and spent most of the season trailing in the AL West. Baker, who received plenty of public scrutiny for his lineup and in-game decisions, referenced having to “guard against the negatives” with his team mired in a late-season skid.

For Baker, his Astros chapter added to a life spanning more than five decades in professional baseball. Baker played for 19 major-league seasons, making two All-Star teams and winning a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981. He finished playing in 1986, intending to become a stockbroker, but a pivot put him on the Giants’ coaching staff in 1988 and began his second arc in the sport.

Baker became San Francisco’s manager in 1993 and led the team for 10 seasons, exiting when the Giants did not renew his contract after he guided them to an NL pennant in 2002. He managed the Cubs for four years and the Reds for six, with Cincinnati firing him after back-to-back division titles. The Nationals, whom Baker managed for two seasons, also fired him after a playoff appearance in 2017.

Dusty Baker makes a point during the first inning of Game 3 of the 2002 World Series between the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park.
Dusty Baker makes a point during the first inning of Game 3 of the 2002 World Series between the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park.

Although Baker never retired, he remained out of baseball for two seasons. Then came the Astros’ call. Over four seasons with Houston, Baker owns a 320-226 record. His record in 26 managerial seasons is 2,183-1,862. He ranks seventh on the all-time managerial wins list and is one of 12 men with more than 2,000 victories as a manager.

Ten of those men are in the Hall of Fame. Only Baker and Bruce Bochy, whom he opposed in this year’s ALCS, are the exceptions, as neither is yet eligible.

Baker, now 74, maintained throughout this season and playoffs when asked that he was focused on the present and declined to discuss his future. His son, Darren, a prospect in the Nationals’ system, was present for much of Houston’s playoff run and Baker spoke glowingly of his presence. Multiple Astros players voiced gratitude toward Baker in the wake of the ALCS as it became clearer he might depart.

“He’s been incredible,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “Great man, great manager. Somebody who you want to go out and play for. He’s been awesome. He’s been just an incredible human being. And thankful I got the opportunity to be a part of his teams.”

Starter Justin Verlander deemed Baker “a great man. Cares so much about his guys. And I really appreciate getting to know him as a person, not just on the field, off the field. We’ve had some great conversations the last few years. And it’s been a real pleasure to be able to play for him.”

The Houston Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara and The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson contributed to this story.