Dusty Baker chose his words very carefully. Composite Getty Image.
On Thursday Dusty Baker made official what had been speculated for weeks – he will not be returning as Astros manager in 2024.
This was not a retirement announcement. Technically his contract with the Astros had expired. Thank you for a job well done. Good luck with your future endeavors. Don’t be a stranger. You’ll always be a part of the Astros family.
He wasn’t fired for the same reason. You can’t fire someone who is no longer an employee of the organization.
He’s just not returning. Let’s leave it at that.
Basically Baker was just getting in front of the situation. He’s smart. He wanted to control, at least appear to control his destiny. By announcing that he won’t be back as Astros manager, he saved owner Jim Crane and general manager Dana Brown a possible backlash of dumping a 74-year-old future Hall of Famer.
This way, there is no bad guy. Baker is leaving and it’s his choice. He goes out with dignity intact. Now he can return home to Northern California and spend his days hunting and fishing and, as Marvin Zindler used to say, whatever makes you happy.
Baker used the old “you can’t fire me, I quit” tactic. At least he didn’t tell the Astros to “take this job and shove it.”
The first recorded ploy of “you can’t fire me, I quit” was in 1964 in, oddly enough, the Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer animated TV special. Rudolph performs the song, “We’re a Couple of Misfits.” The lyrics go “Why am I such a misfit, I am not a nitwit, they can’t fire me, I quit!”
In 2023 Dusty Baker was a misfit in the Astros organization.
Reports had circulated for several weeks that Baker would not be invited back for 2024. The decision was inevitable and probably best for both Baker and the team. The Astros were flailing in second place, more threatened by the Mariners creeping up the standings than the Astros overtaking the Rangers for first place in the American League West. Plus there were disagreements between Baker and management over how to award playing time to roster players. Baker clearly had grown tired of being told how to run his business.
There’s a saying that a new broom sweeps clean. Earlier this year, Crane hired Brown as the Astros new general manager. One of the key decisions, perhaps the biggest, that a general manager makes is who manages the team. Dana Brown didn’t hire Dusty Baker.
Dusty Baker wasn’t a Dana Brown guy. While the Astros made it to Game 7 of the ALCS, it was a troublesome regular season. The Astros finished with 90 wins, 16 fewer than their World Series title year in 2022. There are cracks in the team’s foundation that must be addressed from a new perspective. This is Dana Brown’s team moving forward.
Listen to Baker’s carefully chosen words – and what he didn’t say - when he broke the news to USA Today that he would not be managing the Astros in 2024.
“What I really appreciate is that Jim (Crane) has been totally honest and transparent with me on all things,” Baker said.
That could either mean that Baker read the writing on the wall or was told that a decision had been reached to move in new a direction after the 2023 season.
“I have a lifetime of knowledge, much more than those who have never played the game.”
He might be talking about fans and the media, who have been on Baker’s back this season for his perplexing lineup choices and other strategy moves. Baker can read the newspapers and he has a radio in his car. He likely recognized that he had lost much of the public’s support.
But listen to his closing words.
“I still have a lot to offer, baseball has been my life. I’m gone, but I will be back.”
Baker is 74. If the phone were to ring tomorrow and it’s a team looking for a veteran manager with playoff experience … "when do I start?"
Remember Daryl Morey’s reason for leaving as Rockets general manager on Oct. 15, 2020 after 13 years in Houston. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Seventeen days later he signed to become president of basketball operations with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.