Bigger than the Astros: Dusty Baker, the Godfather of Baseball

Doug Glanville with Dusty Baker, 2022
November 8, 2022
by Doug Glanville
My childhood raises its hand once in a while to demand attention. It could be because one of my four kids could benefit from a story from that time, but more often it is a reminder of the loyalties and lessons from 30 years of being in and around pro baseball.
The 2022 World Series has brought it into focus like no other time since I entered post-career life after retiring from MLB in 2005. We had two teams that underscored so much of my baseball experience. I was a huge Phillies fan as a North Jersey native. So much so that the first road trip I took when I got my driver’s license was a trip to Veterans Stadium. Yet, the Astros brought one man that pushed my childhood aside when it came to the stakes that collided in this World Series. 
Dusty Baker. 
Baker was my manager in 2003 when I played for the Chicago Cubs. He became a mentor and father figure after I lost my father the last game of the 2002 season. I stayed in touch over the years. I would see him during my ESPN travels and we would catch up. He even appeared as a guest on the inaugural episode of my show on sports and society.
This deep personal connection helps ease my inner conflict since “rooting” for a team has taken on a different definition over the years. I have covered so many teams in my media life that my cheering has found new criteria. I find myself drawn to players who overcame incredible adversity, well-rounded players who hit and play great defense, players who are great with fans or are charitable, teams and players that played it straight. As a parent, I look at good examples more than I look for good athletes. After all, all of these players are talented.
The scales of balance get even more uneven because I played for the Phillies after I was traded one off-season in 1997. It was not only the chance to play with my team in the city where I went to college, but it was where I had a chance to actually play….every day.
That opened up doors of professional life as a Philadelphian, in a city where many of my great aunts and uncles lived after my family’s own great migration from the South.
I knew my great Aunt Tank (that was her nickname) was a big baseball fan, but it was not until I sat down with my family after my trade that I learned baseball was both love and pain for them. The pain came from memories of how Jackie Robinson was treated by some of the Phillies when he played against them. The lowlights of it were showcased through Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, as his harassment of Robinson was brought to the big screen in the movie “42.”
It was still so raw, that many of my family members continued to boycott the team. Some still read the papers or listened on the radio, but they had no plans of showing up at the ballpark…until I arrived. 40 years after the Phillies integrated. I didn’t know all of this when I became a fan of Dave Cash or the late 70s and 80s Phillies teams. But learning it challenged my innocence.
During that rising fandom, Dusty Baker was the enemy. He contributed to my broken heart after beating up the Phillies in the 1977 NLCS where he hit two homeruns with eight RBIs in four games. Then in 1978, Baker went seven for fifteen en route to knocking out my Philles again in four games. In addition, as a Jersey kid, I had to watch the local Yankees play the Dodgers for two years in a row in the World Series.
After six years of playing for the Phillies, fandom morphed into family through the many people who welcomed me. The late Phillies president David Montgomery comes to mind, but there are so many people who remain that I have seen and visited over the years while working for ESPN. They are grayer, but still family. And I want my family to be happy and successful. The Phillies winning makes that more possible.
It would turn out that my being traded from the Phillies healed something for my family too. Restorative justice by simple representation. My blood family moved on. Never finding the acceptable apology they didn’t know they needed. Seeing that I was happy in a Phillies uniform was enough.
It is easy to see what Dusty Baker signifies when you extrapolate what I meant to my Philly family. He is representation personified in a game whose Black players and Black leaders at the top have thinned. Sure, team loyalty matters, but it cloaks the internal conflict that knows the power of seeing someone who looks like them in leadership. And more than that, hoisting the trophy over their head. Deep insecurity in our social position can turn moments like Baker’s triumph into instances symbolizing acceptance. We hope it confirms what we know and what we believe broader society tends to doubt: we are competent, and even more inspiring, we can be the best. Dusty Baker simply cannot be reduced to the most negative and lazy narratives around affirmative action.
There may be an unrealistic weight to solving the equation of racial inequality through the success of one man. But, part of the Black experience is hope that there is a magic moment that tells people that we can win, an opportunity to counter the racialized mythologies of being charity cases when in leadership roles.
Just as my putting on the red pinstripes meant the Phillies were all right again to my family, Baker’s winding, seven-decade-long journey to the manager’s seat in the 2022 World Series reflects the story of Black opportunity and its slippery pathways. Exemplified by the lack of a single Black American player on either active roster, the lack of representation is a first since 1950 when the Yankees took on the Phillies.
On one hand, both of the teams in the 2022 World Series made it to the top without a Black American player, a refracted glimpse of pre-Jackie baseball and a way to simply say that the best teams were fielded, irrespective of identity; on the other, it raises fair questions about what exactly is happening to Robinson’s legacy.
Dusty winning a ring may not change these dynamics. Dynamics that only true power can change, but it may be restorative in the same manner that my arrival became equal parts family pride and Philly apology.
My childhood fandom would have been happier with a Phillies win. One of my favorite players, Garry Maddox attended my wedding, Steve Carlton threw the first pitch to me before a game in 2004, and the organization had many representatives at both my wedding and my father’s funeral. They have treated me like a son and have done everything to make me feel remembered. It is now a secure love affair that is reciprocal and I sense will always be.
Yet, sometimes that feels tribal, that maybe I should consider the wider impact of the game. Be compelled by what Dusty Baker’s triumph could mean beyond another trophy in the trophy case or a ticker tape parade while also celebrating a baseball legacy in Dusty Baker, retiring the layered questions he often gets about his decision-making and “old-school” approach as if he is dismissing modern analytical thinking.
And maybe it is also because I got to know the man. “The Godfather of Baseball,” I like to call him. The one who reaches out to give opportunity to all those who are most disenfranchised. That learns his players like no one I have ever seen, then opens up to absorb from them. Music, food, traditions, needs, passions. He is a true ambassador of not just baseball but our country’s potential. His comments on race remind me of my education about Jackie Robinson. Calling it out, but wanting everything to simply be fair, demanding it by first sharing honestly how it isn’t. And nothing is more unfair than shorting someone because of their identity.
Other Black managers have won the World Series, so it can be said that this glass ceiling has already been broken. But there is something special about Dusty Baker. His first coaching job came after the controversial 1987 comments by Dodgers executive, Al Campanis, which highlighted the publicly unspoken perception of the dearth of Black talent and opportunity for coaching and managing. In many ways, Dusty’s coaching apprenticeship came because of those comments and he saw it as his opportunity.
The choice is no longer as easy as it would have been in my childhood. When it was simple and my loyalties were clear. When I only saw red, white, and powder blue, and what was on the other side didn’t matter.
Just as it mattered how the Astros won in 2017 when Dusty wasn’t there, or how a batter hit 60-plus homeruns with a syringe.
There are many who were rooting for Dusty Baker as if he is his own team. And in some ways, he is a standalone figure. It seems like everyone in baseball is zero degrees of separation from him. He is everywhere and everyone, and to everyone, a friend. He has now managed a controversial team to baseball’s promised land. Maybe that is what it took to showcase his incredible leadership. To be a turnaround executive. To remind people about love and forgiveness, faith and purpose, healing and humility.
My childhood may have wanted the Phillies, my professional life may have wanted to Phillies. In fact, every chapter of my life before I met him, wanted the Phillies and a re-awakening of my 10-year-old joy from a 1980 World Series title, but my parenthood wants Dusty Baker for his enduring impact. As much as I wish it, I no longer live in my childhood, but in the childhoods of my children and the world I want to build. I have found in these moments, we can support one outcome without wanting the other to fail. It has to be bigger than what I want as a fan. It is so much bigger than the Astros too.
When Dusty wins, we all win.
Photo Credit: Doug Glanville, 2022


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