Don Baylor has had quite a distinguished career in baseball that is still running. As a player, Baylor was a solid hitter with speed and was noted for his leadership. His clubhouse standing made him a perfect fit to manage the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993 and he piloted the club for their first six seasons. A couple years ago his name found the headlines when Craig Biggio broke his modern record of hit-by-pitches–something that happened to Don 267 times in his career.
Baylor was originally called up to the Orioles in 1970 but the high-flying birds had a stable pasture in Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, Motormouth Paul Blair and Don Buford. Because of their presence, Don didn’t see regular playing time at the Major League level until 1972. He won the right field job in 1973 and paced the league in getting plunked by offerings (he would lead the league in this category eight times) while leading his position peers in stolen bases. The Orioles went to the ALCS and Don hit a modest .273 in a losing cause.
His breakout year came in 1975 when he led American League left fielders with 25 homeruns. Baylor coupled his new power stroke with his speed, not losing anything in the foot department when he made his gains in the arm department. He swiped 52 bases in 1976–his career highwater mark. By 1977, Baylor began seeing regular duty as a designated hitter. Although he wasn’t an extreme liability on the field, he was no Terry Puhl either. He was the lone DH to reach 20 steals in 1977; his first year with the Angels.
In sunny California, Don established himself as an elite power threat. With the Angels in 1978, Baylor ripped 34 homers, drove in 99 runs and scored 103 runs. But he was just getting warmed up. Big Man Baylor won the AL MVP Award in 1979 when he paced the junior circuit with 120 runs scored and 139 runs batted in. He also topped designated hitters in doubles, hits, walks and batting average while leading the Angels to an AL West flag. He socked a homerun in the ALCS but his Angels fell to the Orioles and he was again denied a World Series appearance.
The injury bug bit Baylor in 1980 and he struggled to regain his form in 1981. He found his stroke in 1982 in time to lead the Angels to the postseason by driving in 93 runs during the regular season. Determined to finally make the World Series, Don’s bat was on fire in the ALCS. The designated hitter drove home ten runs in the ALCS but for the fifth time in five tries, his club lost the ALCS and he had to watch the World Series as a spectator.
After the ’82 season, Baylor signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees. In his first year with the Bronx Bombers, Baylor had his only .300 season. He gave the Yankees plenty power in 1984 by drilling 27 homeruns and escorting 89 mates across the plate. In 1985, he tied for the most RBI by a designated hitter while again leading the league in getting hit by pitched balls. But he never made the postseason with the Yankees and was traded to the Red Sox for the 1986 season in a deal of DHs for Mike Easler.
The trade worked for Baylor. He found batting in Fenway to his liking–drilling 31 homeruns and driving in 94 runs. He also paced designated hitters in runs scored. His big bat carried Boston to the postseason and he flourished in the ALCS with a .346 batting average. But the Red Sox were selected by Fate to lose the World Series, evident by a slow-rolling Mookie Wilson ground ball.
The Twins brought in Don as a late season addition in 1987 and he gave the northern city a solid bat for their playoff push. Baylor helped the Twins reach the Playoffs and he hit .385 in the World Series. At the age of 38, Baylor finally got the World Series ring that had eluded him. He played one final year with the Oakland A’s before embarking on a distinguished coaching and managing career.
Named the skipper of the expansion Colorado Rockies, it didn’t take the natural leader long to lead them to the Playoffs. By 1995, the Rockies were postseason bound with their high-flying offense of Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker and the speedy Eric Young. Baylor managed the Rockies for six years and then piloted the Cubs for two and a half. Surely, not too far down the road, Baylor will get another chance to pilot a team to the Promised Land.
G 2,292/R 1,236/H 2,135/2B 366/HR 338/RBI 1,276/BB 805/SO 1,069/BA .260/SA .436