Dusty Baker is back where it all started.
The Astros’ manager saw his team even up the World Series in Game 2 behind a 7-2 victory, and now the series turns to Atlanta for three games.
It will be a homecoming, of sorts, for the 72-year-old manager. Baker got his start in Major League Baseball in 1967 when he was drafted by the Braves, and starting in 1968, he spent the first eight years of his 19-year career in Atlanta.
As Baker prepares the Astros for Game 3 of the World Series, here’s all you need to know about his time in Atlanta.
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Atlanta was not quite the preferred destination for Baker, a native of Sacramento, California. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker hoped he would not be drafted by the Braves as he did not think the Deep South in the 1960s would be a place for a young Black man.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, the Braves brought Baker and his mother out to Los Angeles to meet with the team during the road trip against the Dodgers. The team drafted him in the 26th round, but paid him second-round money. Baker met future MLB home run king Hank Aaron, who told him that if he believed in himself, he would be in the big leagues before his college class graduates. Aaron also told Baker’s mother that he would “take care of him as if he’s my own son.”
Despite his concerns about moving to the south and pressure from his father to take a college basketball scholarship instead, Baker signed with the Braves and began his professional baseball career.
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Baker made his MLB debut with the team in 1968 and collected his first MLB hit on Sept. 17 in a 5-1 loss against the Astros. Baker made just 98 at bats between 1968 and 1971 before becoming a regular for the team in 1972.
That first year as a regular, Baker broke out in a major way. He finished the season with a .321/.383/.504 slash line with 17 home runs and four stolen bases, finishing 22nd in the MVP voting.
He was the team’s primary center fielder his first few seasons in Atlanta before steadily transitioning over to right field in 1974 and playing right almost exclusively in 1975, his final season in Atlanta.
During 1974, he got a front-row seat to history. On April 8, he was waiting in the on-deck circle, when Aaron hit a deep fly to left field that sailed over the fence for home run No. 715, breaking the previous record of 714 from Babe Ruth.
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Baker went on to the Dodgers following the end of the 1976 season, with whom he earned both his All-Star appearances, was named 1977 NLCS MVP and took home a World Series ring in 1981.
He finished his Braves’ career with a slash line of .278/.351/.440 with 77 home runs and 58 stolen bases. By the time his playing career ended, he had tallied 1,981 hits, 242 home runs and 137 stolen bases to accompany a slash line of .278/.347/.432.