Oct 28, 2022 - Sports

A tale of two World Series managers

Photo illustration of Rob Thomsen and Dusty Baker with red, orange and blue lines radiating from them.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios; Photos: Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Rob Carr/Getty Images

Managers Rob Thomson and Johnnie "Dusty" Baker will face off when the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros meet tonight in Game 1 of the World Series.

Why it matters: Their baseball paths couldn't have been more divergent, but they'll still find themselves sharing the sport's biggest stage.

Catch up quick: The Phillies took the scenic route to get here. After the midseason firing of then manager Joe Girardi, they went 65-46 the rest of the way under Thomson. They're one of the few teams who've made it to the World Series after failing to win at least 90 games in the regular season.

  • The Astros, by contrast, are steeped in recent success. After winning the championship in 2017 and posting the second-best record in MLB this season, they're making their fourth World Series appearance in the last six years.

Their backstories

Thomson, a "baseball lifer" and originally from Canada, was a standout player in college for the University of Kansas and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 32nd round in 1985.

  • He spent four seasons in the minor leagues but never made it higher than single-A ball before turning to coaching in 1988.
  • Thomson spent nearly three decades in various roles with the New York Yankees, earning the nickname "Topper" from Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre because he was on top of everything.
  • Thomson joined the Phillies as bench coach in 2017, after he was passed up for Yankees manager. Following Girardi's exit, he was elevated to interim manager, signing a two-year contract during the Phillies' postseason run.

Baker earned his nickname "Dusty" from his mother because, as a child, he'd camp out in the only part of the family's backyard that wasn't filled with grass. "My mom didn't want to call me 'Dirty,' so she called me 'Dusty,'" Baker told reporters.

  • The two-time All-Star played 19 seasons in the MLB, making three World Series appearances and earning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. His lone championship as a player came in 1981, with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • In 25 seasons roaming the dugout, Baker is the only manger in league history to win division titles with five different ball clubs, but a World Series ring so far remains elusive.
  • A three-time Manager of the Year, Baker is a likely lock for the Hall of Fame after becoming only the 12th MLB manager to win 2,000 games and the first Black manager to reach that feat.
  • Baker is also credited with co-inventing the high-five along with rookie Glenn Burke while playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977.

Their styles

Thomson has exuded a calm that Phillies players have said put them at ease after dealing with a stern tactician in Girardi, who didn't hesitate to bench players for making mistakes.

  • Thomson has a nose for his craft. No one beats him to the stadium, a work ethic developed in college, one of his former teammates told Axios, that has followed him throughout his career.
  • "When it comes to baseball, he was always passionate, serious about the game," said Joe Heeney, who played and roomed with Thomson at Kansas.

The genial Baker still has a "player's sensibility" about him after spending so much time in the major leagues and has talked about the importance of rounding out his staff with coaches who players trust.

  • He's one of the few managers who isn't completely swooned by analytics and has been said to make most of his managerial decisions on gut instinct.
  • "I stay hungry," Baker told MLB.com. "Some people, most people, are rooting for us; some people are rooting against us. It doesn't matter. That motivates you either way."
Go deeper