Commentary: Astros make right call in hiring Dusty Baker as new manager

A source tells USA Today that the former Cubs skipper will take over the scandal-rocked club.

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Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker will take over the Houston Astros.

Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker will take over the Houston Astros.

Nick Wass/AP

The Astros, a franchise in the crosshairs of Major League Baseball’s cheating scandal, are about to choose Dusty Baker to be their next manager, a person familiar with the hiring said.

The person spoke to USA Today on the condition of anonymity because Baker’s contract has yet to be finalized.

Baker, a three-time National League Manager of the Year who guided four teams — including the Cubs — to nine postseason berths, seven division titles and an NL pennant, is the perfect choice.

The Astros finally did something right. Baker, 70, is the ideal man to get them through perhaps the most tumultuous time an organization will face since the Black Sox Scandal in 1919.

The Astros, who were caught using illegal electronic equipment to steal signs, resulting in the suspensions and firings of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, are going to be facing horrendous backlash every time they leave the city limits of Houston.

They will be insulted, scorned and ridiculed — and that’s just by opposing players. Fans will taunt them every time they step to the plate, hearing chants of ‘‘Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!’’

It will be relentless and vicious.

‘‘I’m sure it’s going to be hostile,’’ Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. said last week.

Astros owner Jim Crane, realizing what lies ahead, had to find the man who best would insulate the clubhouse from the outside noise, keeping the players together. He chose Baker.

Baker is the Dalai Lama of managers. There’s no manager in the game more well-liked, respected and admired by his peers and players throughout the industry.

‘‘His greatest attribute is the way he manages people,’’ Davey Lopes, a longtime friend and former Dodgers teammate of Baker’s, told USA Today in 2017. ‘‘I find it hard to find someone who’s better.

‘‘Getting the best out of the players, getting them to want to play, getting them to want to put that extra effort into it, that takes a special talent.’’

That attribute will be needed more than ever when it will be so easy for the Astros to succumb to the pressure and distractions and fall apart.

The Cubs made one postseason appearance during Dusty Baker’s four seasons as manager.

The Cubs made one postseason appearance during Dusty Baker’s four seasons as manager.

Joseph Oliver/AP

It’s up to Baker to make sure that doesn’t happen. So when the team assembles in spring training Feb. 17 in West Palm Beach, Florida, Baker will have them gather around and tell them about his own battlefield.

He withstood heavy scrutiny during the 1980s, when some of his closest friends were implicated in the Pittsburgh drug trials, resulting in mandatory drug tests for the rest of his playing career.

He endured the public embarrassment of the IRS coming after him for $4 million in back taxes and penalties when a series of tax shelters were disallowed, garnishing his paychecks.

He insulated Barry Bonds from the media circus in 2001, when he set the single-season home-run record with 73 amid the BALCO fallout, and kept the feud between Bonds and teammate Jeff Kent from dividing the clubhouse.

He has been fired four times as a manager and hired five times.

He has had glory, winning more games than any active manager, and horrific heartbreak. He was one game away from winning the 2002 World Series before his Giants lost Game 7 to the Angels, and his Cubs squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Marlins in the 2003 NL Championship Series.

He survived prostate cancer, an irregular heartbeat and a stroke.

He also persevered through racism in his career as a player and a manager, being deluged with hate letters when managing the Cubs.

Now here he is, being given the greatest challenge of his managerial career. He must ensure the Astros stay strong in what looms as the biggest ordeal they’ve faced.

If Baker leads the Astros back to the World Series, the road might lead him right to the greatest resting place in the sport: the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

‘‘It would mean a lot to me and my family to be the first African American manager in there,’’ Baker recently told USA Today. ‘‘But what matters to me the most is the championship. That’s what I want. I want to be a World Series champion.

‘‘That’s what has always brought me back.’’

Read more at usatoday.com

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