Hoping to move past one of the biggest scandals in baseball history, the Houston Astros are turning to one of the most accomplished managers on the market: Dusty Baker.
The Astros have agreed to hire Baker, who has 22 years of major league managing experience, to replace A.J. Hinch, who was fired along with General Manager Jeff Luhnow over the sign-stealing scandal deployed by the Astros in 2017 and 2018. The agreement, which was first reported by USA Today, was confirmed by a person familiar with the deal who requested anonymity because it had not yet been announced publicly.
Baker joins the Astros with a long résumé: He is a former two-time All-Star outfielder and 1981 World Series winner, and he has managed the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, and is a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner.
Baker, 70, who will become the oldest active manager in the majors, has struggled to shed the reputation that he is an old-school figure at odds with the modern age of analytics. Clubs across the sport have increasingly turned to younger managers well versed in analytics and people skills, and the Astros in particular have long led the data revolution in the sport.
Baker has been known much more for his gregarious personality and people skills than his skills as a baseball tactician. But at each of his previous stops, Baker’s teams saw immediate improvement in his first season as manager. A tough task lies ahead with the Astros, who still do not have a general manager.
Luhnow and Hinch were fired this month shortly after Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, issued a scathing report that detailed the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing operation, which included using live video feeds and banging on a trash can to convey to batters which pitches were coming next.
The Astros were given one of the harshest penalties in baseball history, including a fine of $5 million and the loss of two first-round draft picks. Luhnow, who had been with the team since 2011, and Hinch, their manager since the 2015 season, were each suspended for a season by M.L.B. before being fired by the team.
The scandal also ensnared other teams that employed former Astros. The Boston Red Sox, currently under investigation for possible illegal sign-stealing of their own, parted ways with their manager, Alex Cora, who helped lead the Astros’ scheme while serving as their bench coach. The Mets did the same with their new manager, Carlos Beltran, who was the only player implicated by name in Manfred’s report.
The Astros’ players, however, went unpunished in exchange for their cooperation with the investigation. And despite losing a few key players to free agency — most notably the star pitcher Gerrit Cole, who joined the Yankees — the Astros are still expected to contend for another title.
But now they will be led by Baker, who has the most wins of any active manager, with 1,863 — 15th on the career list.
In a sport that has seen a dwindling number of black players in recent decades — and few in management positions — Baker will be one of two active African-American managers in M.L.B. Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who is also of Japanese descent, is the other. Baker, who has championed more diversity in the sport, is one of only four African-American managers to manage a team in the World Series.
Baker guided the Giants from 1993 through 2002, leading them to the World Series in his final season before falling to the Anaheim Angels.
After the Giants did not renew Baker’s contract, Baker left for the Cubs. In his first season in Chicago, the team fell one foul ball (the Steve Bartman incident against the Florida Marlins) and one win short of returning to the World Series. After four seasons with the Cubs and one year off, he managed the Reds for six years, taking them to the playoffs three times.
Baker was fired after the Reds were swept out of the 2013 playoffs. After a disappointing 2015 season that included clubhouse turmoil under then-manager Matt Williams, the Nationals turned to Baker.
He shepherded the Nationals to two consecutive National League East titles, but they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs both years as a few of Baker’s tactical decisions backfired. Baker, who had already disagreed with ownership about a contract extension, was replaced with a rookie manager, Dave Martinez, who, in his second year, led the Nationals to a World Series title win over the Astros.
Now Baker takes over his former’s team vanquished, and scandal-ridden, foe.
Tyler Kepner contributed reporting.