Before the World Series championship run, I was calling one person on this year’s Houston Astros as “THE X-FACTOR.”
Many would assume it would be a healthy Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman or maybe even hot hitting rookie Jeremy Pena. This entire roster in all actuality is full of X-Factors.
So, who could I be talking about? I am going to let you think about this for a few minutes while I talk to you about how this man was tagged as my X-Factor.
When the MVP vote totals came out the Astros had six players in the Top 25. Yordan Alvarez (3rd), Jose Altuve (5th), Justin Verlander (10th), Kyle Tucker (15th), Alex Bregman (19th), Framber Valdez (21st). That is six total players, and these players must be led by someone.
Yes, they are all at the top of their game, but we have seen talented teams, with talented players not be successful, and when that happens its always the managers fault. Rarely do wins fall on the skipper, but this time I think Dusty Baker deserves credit.
This comes from a guy (myself) who was critical of Dusty through out the year for roster moves and in game decisions. With no MLB managing experience it is always easy to criticize, we all do it at some point with our favorite teams. There are some things I know about Dusty that make him one of the reasons this team achieved what they did by winning the World Series in 2022.
I have interviewed Clay Hensley who has won a World Series championship with the San Francisco Giants and also played for the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins as well. At one point, Hensley played for Dusty, but it was not when the Giants won it all.
Hensley said that not only is Dusty a player’s coach, but he also has one of the most underappreciated careers as a manager in MLB history. He has taken five teams to the playoffs but until this year had been unable to win the one that counts. He has a history of mismanaging starting pitchers, bullpens and has been the scapegoat every time his team failed to reach the pinnacle of baseball immortality.
This all changed in 2022, and of course this team almost seems like it does not even need a skipper. That of course is a bar room talk, but you need someone who understands the players, the culture of the ballclub and when to make moves when the time is right.
In pointing back to my time with Hensley, he told me story after story about how Dusty managed players, talked to players, managed players. He focused on the person, trusted his gut and at times it did not work out.
Hensley wasn’t the only one that shared with me about Dusty’s approach.
Former Duke star and Astros seventh-round draft pick Joey Looperfido shared an experience he had with Dusty at Spring Training. Dusty asked Joey, “What position do you play kid?” Joey said, “Coach I am a center fielder…” Dusty then looked at him and said, “Go play right field.” That next inning Joey would have a screaming line drive hit his way, he would lay out and make the grab, the final out of that inning. As Joey ran back into the dugout Dusty said, “Ok well maybe you are a centerfielder.”
The next day Dusty put in Looperfido’s locker a hat, some wine, and other items to celebrate his Italian heritage. He said that Dusty is one of the neatest people he has ever met.
This season Dusty put on a master class by utilizing a bullpen that helped the Astros win an 18-inning playoff game, throw a combined no-hitter in Yankee Stadium, hold things down in a Game 6 after Schwarber hit a solo shot to give the Phillies the lead, and hoisted the Governors Trophy as his team won their second title and his first ever of his career.
Yes, this team is talented, and we all know what they have in Jeremy Pena as a Gold Glove, ALCS MVP, and World Series. Never forget that Dusty is the one who fought for him to be in the two hole, Dusty kept him in the lineup when he was slumping, and that move alone helped this team win.
With Dusty returning, the Astros have their eyes set on a back-to-back title run in Houston. As I have learned, you may question Dusty’s moves, you may not like a lineup he puts out, but in the end IN DUSTY WE TRUST!
Brett Chancey is the co-host of the Locked on Astros Podcast. He can be followed on Twitter/Instagram @htownwheelhosue or @stros411 on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook.