It took only 25 seasons, but Dusty Baker finally managed his team to a World Series title. The 73-year-old Baker had come up just short on a number of occasions but, under his command, the 2022 Houston Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. Baker was the man who was once a bright beacon of hope on the North Side of Chicago, only to fizzle out rather quickly.
"In Dusty we trusty!" exclaimed Cubs fans in 2003, who saw their team land the former San Francisco Giants manager. Getting within five outs of the 2003 World Series was the closest any Cubs manager had got the club to the Fall Classic from 1946-2015, a seven decade span. However within a few years after that 2003 run, "In Dusty we trusty," turned into, "Fire Dusty!"
There were plenty of reasons for Cubs fans to be frustrated with how Baker managed the team. Particularly how he handled Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. It is still cringy to think about Prior throwing 133 pitches in a playoff game. It was also clear by the end of 2004 that the dynamic among the team was no longer working. The infamous '04 collapse included drama between Baker and former Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone, Sammy Sosa walking out on the team, and boomboxes being smashed in the clubhouse - among other things. Despite managing the Cubs for another two years after those events, the true downfall of that era can be traced to the end of 2004. He was gone after 2006 when the Cubs lost 96 games.
Cubs fans booed Baker in his return to Wrigley Field in 2008 when he managed the Reds. Even years later in 2017 he did not receive the warmest of welcomes at the Friendly Confines during the NLDS when he managed the Nationals.
How will Cubs fans react to seeing Dusty Baker win a World Series?
So, as Cubs fans, how are we supposed to feel now that Baker has his ring? Seems pretty mixed. I personally do not have much hatred toward Baker these days, mainly because I feel like his methods that were often criticized (Prior and Wood) were not malicious in intent. Do not get me wrong, it was NOT a good way to handle arms at all, but he was not actively doing it to ruin the kid's career. He seems like a well-liked guy in the baseball community, and always has been. Of course, I don't know what goes on in a clubhouse and I am only going off my perception of him. It also helps that the Cubs erased their demons of the past after winning it all in 2016. Had they not won it then and were still on a century-long drought, I might feel a tad different. Who knows but luckily we do not have to worry about that.
I can understand why Cubs fans would still hold a grudge, I just do not have much of one toward Baker at this point. One could still wonder what could have been with Prior and evaluate how much of that was on truly on Baker. For me 2003 was really the first year I followed the Cubs in detail as a third grade elementary student, so I do get some nostalgic feelings thinking about Baker's early tenure here.
Baker has the ninth most wins as a manager in MLB history and the only thing that was missing from checking all the boxes, he finally got. I have a feeling he will be in Cooperstown one day. While I feel fine saying good for him, I respect other fans who feel differently and will leave it at that. What is truly important now for Cubs fans is seeing what Jed Hoyer has in store for us this offseason.