Bay­lor, 68, al­ways took one for team

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - SCHUYLER DIXON

Wher­ever he went, Don Bay­lor left his mark on base­ball. He was an MVP and Man­ager of the Year, re­spected as a pow­er­ful slug­ger, pun­ish­ing run­ner and com­mand­ing pres­ence in any club­house.

And dur­ing nearly a half-cen­tury as a pro, base­ball left its mark on him. Lots of them, in fact. When Bay­lor re­tired, he’d been plunked more than any­one in ma­jor league his­tory.

Bay­lor was hit by fast­balls, slid­ers and a bunch of other pitches 267 times in his ca­reer. Bay­lor set the modern-day record in 1987 while play­ing for Bos­ton, on the day he turned 38. Af­ter the game, the Red Sox gave him the sou­venir ball.

“I can think of other ways to get a birth­day present,” Bay­lor said.

Bay­lor, the bruiser who also held the bruise record for al­most three decades, died Mon­day of can­cer. He was 68.

His fam­ily said in a state­ment that Bay­lor died in his home­town of Austin, Texas, af­ter a 14-year bat­tle with mul­ti­ple myeloma.

“One of the nicest men I’ve known un­less you were a mid­dle in­fielder on a DP,” former Bal­ti­more team­mate and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer tweeted.

Bay­lor won the 1979 AL MVP with the Cal­i­for­nia An­gels, play­ing all 162 games and lead­ing the ma­jors with ca­reer bests of 139 RBI and 120 runs. His 36 home runs were also his most.

Bay­lor later be­came the first man­ager for the Colorado Rock­ies, guid­ing them to his only play­off ap­pear­ance as a skip­per in the fran­chise’s third sea­son in 1995 and be­ing hon­ored for that ac­com­plish­ment.

Just three others have won MVP and Man­ager of the Year awards — Frank Robin­son, Joe Torre and Kirk Gib­son.

It was Robin­son, a Hall of Famer, who helped give Bay­lor a nick­name that stuck for­ever.

Bay­lor was a 20-year-old rookie in 1970 on a team that even­tu­ally won the World Se­ries when he was asked about try­ing to break into the Ori­oles’ loaded out­field. Brash be­yond his years, Bay­lor said he wasn’t too wor­ried, that once he got into one of his grooves, things would be OK.

Robin­son saw that quote in a news­pa­per and, play­fully in his role as judge of the club’s Kan­ga­roo Court, made sure to read it aloud in the Bal­ti­more locker room. With that, “Groove” was born. Years later, as judge of the Kan­ga­roo Court for the New York Yan­kees, Bay­lor once fined coach Don Zim­mer. So why pick on such a beloved fig­ure?

“Just for be­ing Don Zim­mer,” Bay­lor said.

As judge of the Kan­ga­roo Court in Bos­ton, Bay­lor levied a $5 fine on Red Sox ace Roger Cle­mens — right af­ter he had struck out a record 20 bat­ters against Seat­tle — for giv­ing up a hit to former Univer­sity of Texas team­mate Spike Owen on an 0-2 pitch.

Bay­lor had a chance to go to Texas, too. He was a sec­ond-round pick by Bal­ti­more in 1967 and chose base­ball over a chance to be the first black foot­ball player at Texas. Two years later, the Longhorns be­came the last all-white team to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship.

No doubt, Bay­lor was rugged enough for ei­ther spot.

“He was a tough man, and he didn’t have to tell you he was tough,” Mil­wau­kee Man­ager Craig Coun­sell said of his first big league skip­per.

Kan­sas City Man­ager Ned Yost knew that first­hand, hav­ing played be­hind the plate.

“Don was kind of a fear­some guy, es­pe­cially if you were a catcher or a sec­ond base­man,” Yost said. “If he was at sec­ond base, you’re hop­ing this guy hits a dou­ble in­stead of a sin­gle be­cause you’d know you were go­ing to get crushed at home plate. He’s a big guy.”

Burly in later years, Bay­lor was also known for speed as a younger player, in­clud­ing a ca­reer-high 52 steals with Oak­land in 1976. He fin­ished with 285 steals.

In his fi­nal three sea­sons, Bay­lor went to three con­sec­u­tive World Se­ries from 1986-1988, win­ning the ti­tle and hit­ting one of his four post­sea­son home runs in Min­nesota’s seven-game vic­tory against St. Louis in 1987.

Bay­lor’s ty­ing two-run shot in the fifth in­ning of Game 6 with the Twins trail­ing 3-2 in the se­ries fu­eled an 11-5 vic­tory. He was on los­ing teams with Bos­ton in 1986 and Oak­land in 1988.

“Don used power and speed to earn Amer­i­can League MVP hon­ors with the An­gels in 1979 and con­trib­uted to three straight pen­nant win­ners in a great 19-year ma­jor league ca­reer,” Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said.

“Through­out stints with 14 dif­fer­ent ma­jor league teams as a player, coach or man­ager, Don’s rep­u­ta­tion as a gentle­man al­ways pre­ceded him,” he said.

Wash­ing­ton Man­ager Dusty Baker be­came emo­tional talk­ing about Bay­lor. They com­peted on the di­a­mond and were close friends off the field.

“His first wife picked out my first wife’s en­gage­ment ring,” Baker said. “First time I had ever gone to Bal­ti­more was when we drove up to see Don­nie.

“I was a bet­ter bas­ket­ball player but he was a stronger base­ball player.”

Bay­lor spent six years with Colorado and two-plus sea­sons as man­ager of the Chicago Cubs, from 2000-2002. His ca­reer record was 627-689. He was most re­cently the hit­ting coach for the An­gels.

Bay­lor went to ju­nior col­lege be­fore join­ing the Ori­oles or­ga­ni­za­tion, made his big league de­but in 1970 and spent six years with Bal­ti­more. Af­ter a year in the first of two stints with Oak­land, Bay­lor played six sea­sons for the An­gels.

Mostly a des­ig­nated hit­ter but also an out­fielder and first base­man, Bay­lor had at least 20 home runs in three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons for the Yan­kees be­fore hit­ting 31 for the Red Sox in 1986. He was a ca­reer .260 hit­ter with 338 home runs and 1,276 RBI. Bay­lor’s HBP record was later bro­ken by Craig Big­gio.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, Claire Smith paid trib­ute to Bay­lor when she was hon­ored with the J.G. Tay­lor Spink Award for base­ball writ­ing at the Hall of Fame in Coop­er­stown, New York. Bay­lor was among her clos­est friends, and she hon­ored him in her ac­cep­tance speech.

“Thank you, Groove, my gen­tle gi­ant,” she said.


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