Don Baylor, a feared, plate-crowding slugger who won an MVP Award and a World Series during a long playing career, and then went on to manage for nine years, died Monday after a struggle with multiple myeloma. He was 68.
“Don passed from this earth with the same fierce dignity with which he played the game and lived his life,” his wife, Rebecca, said in a statement.
Baylor played for the Orioles, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Twins and A’s in a 19-year career. He was the first manager of the Rockies, from 1993-98, and skippered the Cubs from 2000-02. He was most recently hitting coach of the Angels.
Baylor spent nearly 50 years in professional baseball after the Orioles selected him in the second round of the 1967 Draft. Mostly a designated hitter who also played outfield and first base, Baylor had his most productive seasons in the late 1970s with the California Angels, and his most consistent years in the early 1980s with the Yankees. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in ’79, when he led the Major Leagues with 139 RBIs and 120 runs scored.
Nicknamed “Groove,” he was also an All-Star in ’79, his only All-Star selection in a career that included stints with the Red Sox, Twins and A’s. He hit .385 for Minnesota in its World Series victory in ’87. Baylor won three Silver Slugger Awards, and hit 338 home runs in his career.
His two-run home run for the Red Sox in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series set the scene for Dave Henderson’s go-ahead homer later in the inning, and he scored what proved to be the game-winner after being hit by a pitch in the 11th inning.
Baylor was named National League Manager of the Year in 1995 after leading the Rockies to their first-ever playoff birth in only their third year of existence.
Baylor was known for a relentless toughness on and off the field. He was one of the first children to integrate the public schools of Austin, Texas, in the late 1950s. Baylor turned down a football scholarship from the University of Texas, instead choosing to pursue baseball. Had he accepted, he would have been the first African-American athlete to play football at the university.
On the baseball field, Baylor developed a reputation of rarely backing off the plate, no matter how many pitches buzzed his way. He led his league in hit by pitches nine times and was struck by a pitch 267 times in his career.
In all, Baylor wore the uniforms of 14 Major League teams as either a player, coach or manager.