For my first Rolling Stone story, I wrote a feature on likely the coolest man alive: Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker. As a self-proclaimed young William Miller, this was a major bucket list moment for me. I’m hoping I end up in print one day soon!
Enjoy an excerpt below and read the full feature here.
BY SAMA’AN ASHRAWI OCTOBER 19, 2022
The 54-year MLB veteran’s first love was music, a passion that led him to forge some incredible core memories arguably more impressive than anything he’s been part of on the diamond. On a recent gameday morning, I sat down with Baker, 73, at his modest high-rise apartment in Houston to hear some of those stories.
The origin of this conversation was a last-minute invitation from WNBA champion Sydney Colson to catch an Astros game at the end of the 2021 season. Sitting in some prime seats behind home plate, I was a guest of Sydney, who was a guest of Dusty that night. After the game, we went to a nearby bar to celebrate the Astros’ victory on a rare walk-off walk — and, to my surprise, Baker himself showed up with a tote bag of wine bottles, enough for each of us to go home with one. We talked late into the night about music and life; how he saw one of Bob Marley’s final concerts, what kind of music used to get played at Studio 54, and how he got the nickname “Brave Eagle” (more on that later).
He once smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix — but the moment had a deeper meaning for him.
Baker says he was a bit of a social vagabond as a teenager; his family had just moved from Riverside to Sacramento and he felt like he didn’t really fit in anywhere. When he first heard the alien sounds coming from Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, they scared him — but in being scared, he realized that he and Jimi had something in common: most folks thought they were strange. Soon, Hendrix’s music made more sense to him than most other things in the world. He’d finally found a place to land.
“[Kids at school] used to say, ‘Hey, man, you like [Hendrix’s] music?’” Baker recalls. “I would say, ‘Yeah, man.’ [And they’d say,] ‘Man, you’re weird.’ I liked how he talked. I liked his voice. I know his music was out there, but I was out there myself. There was a time where I tried to fit in, but I could never fit in. So after a while I just accepted: Maybe I’m different, you know?”
He found some grass in the grass the day after a Janis Joplin concert.
In the fall of 1969, during his short stint playing in the Arizona Instructional League, Baker attended a Janis Joplin concert that just so happened to take place on the same field where the minor-league team’s games were played. That show turned out to be the gift that kept on giving.
“They had Janis Joplin playing at our baseball stadium — Tempe Diablo Stadium, they got a big mountain in the back,” he says. “I went to the concert that night, and all the hippies stormed the fence, but it was peaceful, man. I love hippies, by the way, ‘cause I never seen two hippies fight. They stormed the wall, knocked the wall down, and [when] we played there the next day there were roaches all over the field. They were everywhere. And the guys are, like, playing out of position, fillin’ their pockets up with roaches [laughs]. After the game, the coaches were like, ‘What’s wrong with you guys? You [were supposed to] be playing over in right-center, [not] left-center.’”
Read the full feature here.
Imagine the thrill on a young Dusty’s face when, for his eighteenth birthday, his parents got him tickets to the Monterey Pop festival, where Hendrix and the Who were set to headline. He was there on that iconic night in 1967 when Hendrix set his guitar on fire in an effort to upstage Pete Townshend. The following year, Baker saw Jimi two more times, and the second time led to a fortuitous meeting.
Hendrix was in San Francisco to play six shows in three days with the Experience at the Winterland Ballroom, so Baker and his friends, who had just seen the band at Sacramento State a few months prior, drove down to the Bay once again. From across the street outside of their crash pad, he and his buddies saw two young men smoking weed and joked with each other that one of the gentlemen resembled Hendrix. They looked a little harder and realized it was Hendrix himself.
“We were outside Carol Doda’s, which was a strip club we weren’t old enough to go in. Plus, I better not be caught dead in there. Come on,” Baker says. “So we were standing right there and saw Jimi standing outside on funky Broadway. [My friends] said, ‘Hey, man, offer Jimi a joint.’ So I did it, and then my friends came over, and that’s how we met Jimi. I never saw him again after that.”