Baker reflects after Baylor’s death
Dusty Baker arrived at his Monday press conference in a solemn mood. He had heard Saturday that his friend, Don Baylor, was not in good health. Monday morning, he received phone calls telling him that Baylor had died overnight. He was 68. The Nationals held a moment of silence before Monday’s game to recognize Baylor and Darren Daulton, the latter of whom died Sunday.
Baker said he was labeled the “next Hank Aaron” and Baylor was expected to be the replacement for Frank Robinson in Baltimore. Baker and Baylor signed the same year, 1967, after each was drafted out of high school. Baylor was a secondround pick. Baker was not selected until the 26th round.
From there, the two moved toward the major leagues on a similar path. Baker debuted first despite his lower draft status, making his way onto a major-league field as a 19 year old in 1968. Baylor made it to the major leagues shortly after his 21st birthday in 1970.
Baker became a two-time All-Star. Baylor was named American League MVP in 1979. Baker finished playing in 1986. Baylor’s career ended in 1988. Following Baylor into retirement was a legacy for power at the plate and being struck by pitches. He hit 338 home runs and led the league in being hit by pitches eight times.
“We fought for batting titles all the way up,” Baker said Monday. “We played in Puerto Rico together. His first wife picked out my first wife’s engagement ring. That was the first time I had ever gone to Baltimore, was when I drove up to see Donny. We both went to LA at approximately the same time. His wife called me on Saturday, and Claire Smith called me. She was there. I spoke to Donny. I learned that when somebody says call me back — a couple times he called me and I was going to wait ‘til tomorrow — but that person died before I called back. So when somebody says call ‘em, somebody’s not doing well, you better call ‘em right then. Because there’s nothing worse than somebody calling and saying somebody’s not doing well and they’ve died already. This is tough.
“His son (Don Jr.) called me today. Claire called me today and said Donny’s gone. I guess he passed around 4 o’clock this morning and I could kind of feel it because I woke up to use the bathroom and knew something was wrong. The last time I had that feeling was when Bobby Welch died. It’s a tough — we all tried to keep up with Donny. We used to play everything. I was a better basketball player, but he was a stronger baseball player. So this week, they say death travels in threes. I just found out Darren Daulton left and David Loewenstein, Al Rosen’s kid, died last week and Lee May. I was just listening to Tupac today, and “Death Around the Corner.” I dont’ know if you all know that song or not, but indeed, you just don’t know how death is to all of us. Just treat each other right and try to do the right thing.”
With that, Baker’s press conference concluded.
Don Baylor, the 1979 AL MVP with the California Angels who went on to become manager of the year with the Colorado Rockies in 1995, died on Monday at a hospital in Austin, Texas. He was 68. “This is tough,” Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.