Bay­lor put the An­gels on the map of the ma­jor leagues

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Bill Shaikin

The An­gels never re­ally be­came a ma­jor league team un­til Don Bay­lor showed up.

They were born in Los An­ge­les, shared Dodger Sta­dium for four years, then moved to Ana­heim and re­named them­selves the Cal­i­for­nia An­gels in try­ing to es­cape the Dodgers’ shadow.

The score­board is what it is, even if you move 30 miles down the 5 Free­way. In their first decade in Ana­heim Sta­dium, they reg­u­larly strug­gled to draw a mil­lion spec­ta­tors, even af­ter Nolan Ryan ar­rived and each one of his starts brought the tan­ta­liz­ing pos­si­bil­ity of a no-hit­ter.

The Dodgers landed in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 1958. From then un­til the time Bay­lor signed with the An­gels af­ter the 1976 sea­son,

the Dodgers had played in the World Se­ries five times. In Bay­lor’s first two years with the An­gels, the Dodgers got to the World Se­ries both times.

“We felt the bur­den of not be­ing the Dodgers,” Bay­lor wrote in his book “Noth­ing but the Truth: A Base­ball Life.”

“Why the An­gels wanted to be Dodger clones was be­yond me, but the em­u­la­tion never ended. With all that Dodger Blue bleed­ing around me, I in­stantly be­gan to hate the mere men­tion of that team.”

Gene Autry, the An­gels’ found­ing owner and Hall of Fame show­man, had got­ten tired of hear­ing about the Dodgers too. In the in­fancy of free agency, Autry struck.

In 1976, Bay­lor had been paid $34,000 by the Oak­land Ath­let­ics. Autry gave him a $580,000 check just to sign with the An­gels, the bonus in a six-year, $1.6-mil­lion con­tract. Autry also signed Bobby Grich and Joe Rudi that off­sea­son, traded for Rod Carew in 1979 and Fred Lynn in 1981, and signed Reg­gie Jack­son in 1982.

By then, the An­gels had won. In 1978, Bay­lor’s sec­ond sea­son in Ana­heim, the An­gels set a fran­chise record by win­ning 87 games. In 1979, the “Yes We Can” An­gels won 88 games and the Amer­i­can League West for the first play­off ap­pear­ance in club his­tory.

The An­gels drew 2.5 mil­lion to Ana­heim Sta­dium. Bay­lor was voted the AL most valu­able player. He drove in 139 runs, a club record that still stands.

The An­gels won the AL West in 1982, this time with 93 vic­to­ries, a mark no An­gels team would top un­til 2002, when the World Se­ries cham­pi­ons won 99.

Ask a long­time An­gels fan about Buzzie Bavasi, then the gen­eral man­ager, and the rec­ol­lec­tion of Bavasi’s in­fa­mous quote that he could af­ford to let Ryan go in free agency be­cause they could re­place him with “two 8-7 pitch­ers.”

Bavasi ac­knowl­edged that was his great­est mis­take. Sec­ond to that might have been his 1981 com­ment, look­ing at a pho­to­graph of Bay­lor stand­ing next to Carew and Lynn: “What’s Don doing in that pic­ture with the two hit­ters?”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bay­lor and Bavasi de­te­ri­o­rated. When his con­tract ex­pired af­ter the 1982 sea­son, the An­gels let him go, and Bay­lor signed with the New York Yan­kees.

“It was bit­ter,” Bay­lor told The Times in 1990. “Not bit­ter, but I had so many ties here. I felt I was part of the build­ing process of the An­gels. It was very, very dif­fi­cult for me to leave and go to New York.

“You can look around and say I had a chance to go play with a World Se­ries team and be a Yan­kee . . . but Mr. Autry was by far the finest owner I played for. I wanted to be here.”

He played three years with the Yan­kees. He spent his fi­nal three sea­sons as a rent-a-leader, be­com­ing the first big league player to get to the World Se­ries with dif­fer­ent teams three years in a row: 1986 Bos­ton, 1987 Min­nesota and 1988 Oak­land.

Bay­lor was the first man­ager of the Colorado Rock­ies, in 1993. He led them to the play­offs in 1995 and was se­lected Na­tional League man­ager of the year.

He man­aged the Chicago Cubs, too, and was a well­re­garded hit­ting coach. His last stop: back home with the An­gels.

In 2014, they cel­e­brated what were then the only MVPs in club his­tory by ask­ing Vladimir Guer­rero to throw out the cer­e­mo­nial first pitch and Bay­lor to catch it. Guer­rero’s throw was low and away, and Bay­lor’s right an­kle gave way.

He caught the ball but could not get up. The ath­letic train­ers rushed to help, and even­tu­ally he walked off the field, try­ing first on his own, then with the help of the train­ers. The An­gels sent him to a hos­pi­tal.

His legs had been weak­ened over a decade of bat­tling the can­cer that took his life Monday. But, with the dig­nity and strength be­fit­ting a player who had been hit by more pitches than all but one in the mod­ern era, Bay­lor will be re­mem­bered for walk­ing off the field with a bro­ken leg.

bill.shaikin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Bil­lShaikin

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