By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
The local Black baseball community, nonprofit youth organizations, dignitaries, proprietors, and elected officials honored the legacy and accomplishments of Dusty Baker Dec. 29 at the Guild Theater in Oak Park.
The longtime Sacramentan guided the Houston Astros to a World Series, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in a best-of-seven series. It is Baker’s first Major League Baseball championship as a manager.
To put his career in perspective, Baker said it was all made possible by his higher power and God-fearing parents who made him go to church every Sunday before he was free to go play any sport he desired.
“First of all, I have to thank the Lord above because [without] him I would not be standing here,” Baker told a gathering at the theater that included seven area youth sports leagues. “I urge you to get into the Word because it will direct you to where you want to be, where to go, and what not to be.”
The special event in Oak Park — organized by community advocates Kevin Carter and Greg King — was an opportunity for youth to get acquainted with a person who made the game of baseball his life, hear about the sport from a Black perspective and meet others who played and managed teams in America’s pastime.
Carter learned there was not one African American athlete participating in the most recent World Series and felt that it was of great importance to have the man that guided the Astros to a championship speak to the youth.
“We are going to be acknowledging Dusty for the work that he does because he is not just a baseball manager. He is a [civil rights] advocate, too,” Carter said. “This [event] is about family, how we connect with one another, and how we can keep the torch going.”
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that African Americans compose 7% of the players in Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1991, 18% of MLB players were Black.
Among MLB’s 30 teams, Baker and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts were the only Black managers. Baker winning the World Series speaks volumes: on May 22, he earned his 2,000th victory as a manager — making him the 12th to do so and the first Black person.
Mack Neal “Shooty” Babitt, who played for the Oakland A’s in the 1980s and now serves as a baseball scout and broadcast commentator for the team, was among the event’s guests. He wanted the youth to understand what Baker means to MLB, which didn’t open the doors to Black players until 1947.
“To be here to be a part of anything that Dusty Baker is a part of is something that you can’t fathom,” Babitt said. “We’re not talking about Dusty as the baseball manager. We’re talking about Dusty the man. In my opinion, he should be named Man of the Year.”
Turnout Includes Parade Of Area Greats
Other guests included former professional players, coaches and scouts including Ricky Jordan, Lavel Freeman, Leon Lee, Juan Blackwell and former MLB Manager of the Year Jerry Manuel. Lee, the brother of Sacramento baseball great LeRon Lee and the father of World Series winner Derek Lee, was the first Black manager in Japan.
In addition, Baker’s son Darren Baker, former player and current Capital Christian baseball coach Mark Cole and baseball scout Don Lyle attended the event.
Former City Councilman Allen Wayne Warren, who played in the New York Yankees’ system, shared Sacramento’s significant history with the guests. Derrell Roberts from the Roberts Family Development Center (RFDC) served as the host and OBSERVER Publisher Larry Lee sat down with Baker for a question and answer session.
Youth from RFDC, Oak Park Little League, Airport Little League, Oak Park Youth Baseball League, Grant Little League, Parkway Little League, Tahoe Tallac Little League and the Dusty Baker Baseball Academy sat in the audience to hear about the Black experience in baseball.
“In this room are some of the baddest baseball players in the league,” Roberts said of the athletes in the theater who had the opportunity to play professionally.
Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker Jr., was born in Riverside, and moved to Sacramento with his family at age 14. A multisport athlete at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, he excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track and field.
It was not the best of times at Del Campo High School for Baker and his siblings, said TC Martin, the founder of the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame.
Baker and his “siblings were the only Black students at Del Campo and faced many difficult times, but utilized sports as an outlet,” Martin said of Baker during the hall’s 2013 induction ceremony.
Baker touched on his experiences attending the Fair Oaks school. He explained that the racism didn’t all come from one race; he had trouble with inner-city athletes, too.
“Our family was the only Black family out there. I was fighting like every day,” Baker said. “I had problems with inner-city ball clubs because they thought I wanted to be White, not knowing I was fighting them too. I was the man in the middle.”
After Del Campo, Baker played baseball at American River College (ARC). He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1967 — where he was mentored by baseball legend Hank Aaron — and played 19 years in the majors.
World Series Title Is A Career Capstone
Now 73, Baker is a two-time World Series champion and three-time National League Manager of the Year (1993, 1997 and 2000). He has been an MLB manager for 25 seasons with, in addition to Houston, the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.
He has been the Astros’ skipper since 2020 and signed a one-year deal to return in 2023. The Astros won 106 games in 2022, the second-best record in franchise history.
“I should have won five, six or seven of them,” Baker said of the award. “I know when I did a good job. Nobody had to tell me. I know when I did a bad job because I never did no bad job.”
In honor of Baker, ARC dedicated the Dusty Baker Center on campus in 2011. The center supports student-athletes academically, as well as their intercollegiate sport goals while enrolled at the community college. Baker provided funding to build the center.
He still lives in the Sacramento area during the offseason as a valuable member of the community. Baker has contributed numerous scholarships to high school students and is active in many service organizations.
He has done tremendous work in the community and that work was recognized by the city of Sacramento. Newly elected Councilwoman Caity Maple presented Baker with an award of recognition at the event.
Norman Blackwell, 89, recalled when Baker was playing for Del Campo and umpiring one of his games. Blackwell, who shares the title of Crump/Blackwell baseball diamond in McClatchy Park with Harrison Crump, said he remembers Baker well.
“He would hit the ball so hard … line drives,” Blackwell said. “His [home run] balls over the fence were line drives.”
Crump’s son Kirk Crump also shared the time when Baker met his father’s Oak Park R.B.I. team in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of Little League International. Baker wanted to meet Kirk Crump’s daughter Cheyenne “C.C.” Crump, who played first base for the Oak Park team.
With two outs, Baker saw Cheyenne hit a walkoff grand slam in the seventh inning that helped beat a competitive team from Connecticut, Kirk said.
Baker also provided scholarships for players in Oak Park to participate in his baseball academy, Carter said. A few of the players went on to play in college. Kirk Crump said he will never forget what Baker did for his community.
“I just wanted to thank you for helping the underserved community in Oak Park and inviting [the] youth to those Dusty Baker camps,” Kirk Crump told Baker. “From those camps, you brought in professional baseball players to teach the kids. We also had a couple of the players in those camps that went on to play in college and got a good education. It wasn’t all about learning on the baseball field … it was about learning in the classroom.”