Lee Heidhues 11.1.2021
I remember the years Dusty Baker managed the San Francisco Giants. He was a local favorite. One time I was having lunch at Fog City Diner along the Embarcadero, Dusty came in. He’s a very self effacing guy while giving off the aura of royalty.
Patrons in the restaurant greeted Dusty fondly and respectfully. When he was fired by Giants management after the 2002 season it was a genuine loss. Dusty had guided the Giants to the National League pennant and game seven of the World Series.
That didn’t matter. Baseball is a business and Dusty was found to be expendable.
Dusty Baker may be managing the Houston Astros in 2021 but he is still a beloved figure in San Francisco.
Excerpted from The Nation – 11.1.2021
You don’t have to care about baseball to care about Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, whose team is heading to the sixth game in the World Series tomorrow. He is a civil rights hero: a Black Major League Baseball manager who’s taken five teams, in three decades, in both leagues, to the playoffs and/or World Series.
And who, in almost all of those years, didn’t have a contract waiting for him at the end of the season.
In 2002, after Baker had won three Manager of the Year awards, the same magazine hired me to do a 10-year appreciation of his tenure. But what I quickly found out was that management was gearing up to fire him. I’m not a sports reporter, obviously—but I had the local scoop of a lifetime, in sports terms. Baker was recovering from prostate cancer, and I was lame enough to believe that would keep the Giants management from firing him.
Is that, maybe, about race? I think so. It’s complicated—like stories about race always are. It’s been a melange of culture clash and bad professional fit and changing white front-office dudes… and yet, when you see it over the course of almost 30 years, it’s hard not to say race had something, maybe, to do with it.
He talked openly about race and being a Black manager of a multiracial team. It honestly changed my little white life. Though not at first. In person, he was all bravado—race didn’t matter. “I didn’t even think about that. My attitude is, I’ve got a job to do, and it’s not a matter of black and white.” I asked him about how players tended to separate themselves, by race, in the clubhouse.
“That’s in every job. You hang out with people you have the most in common with.” I gave up. Then he called me on the phone a few weeks later. He talked about his struggles going to the South in the minor leagues—and I’m not even going to share that here, because it still hurts me to read—and also about clubhouse racial politics.