By the time he retired in 1988, he had been hit 267 times, a modern-day record at the time. (It was surpassed by Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros.)
Baylor’s major league career began in 1970 with the Orioles, who had won the World Series in 1966 and would win it again in 1970. His mentor was the future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, an aggressive, intimidating player who later managed Baylor on the Santurce team in the winter league in Puerto Rico after the 1970 season.
“Mostly, he taught me to think while hitting,” Baylor was quoted as saying in the book about the 1986 Red Sox. “He would say, ‘A guy pitches inside, hit that ball right down the line.’ Frank also wanted me to start using my strength more. Frank knew there was a pull hitter buried somewhere inside me.”
But just as Baylor was starting to demonstrate the full scope of his talents, the Orioles sent him to the Oakland Athletics in a six-player deal before the 1976 season that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Baylor was shocked at the trade and wept when he was told about it by Manager Earl Weaver during an exhibition game. He did not want to leave the Orioles.
After a mediocre season with Oakland — his major highlight was stealing 52 bases — he signed a free-agent contract with the California Angels. But in his first season with the Angels he was slumping badly, and the team hired Robinson, who had been fired as manager of the Cleveland Indians, as batting coach. “Don is so fouled up now that he needs a lot of work,” Robinson told Sports Illustrated.
Baylor recovered to have a good season. He blossomed in 1978 and 1979, when he hit 36 home runs, drove in 139 runs, batted .296 and easily won the M.V.P. Award.
By then, Baylor had established himself as a leader both on and off the field.
“There was no one more feared in the league coming into second base,” Bobby Grich, who played second base as a teammate of Baylor’s on the Orioles and Angels, told The Los Angeles Times in 2002. “He came in like a locomotive. And he had no weaknesses. He led through quiet example. He never let up. He played hurt. He could take a beating.”
Baylor never wanted to admit that being hit by pitches hurt him. But when the fireballing Nolan Ryan nailed him in the wrist, he called the Orioles’ trainer to freeze the injured area, which stayed numb for a year.
Bert Blyleven, a Hall of Fame pitcher who played with and against Baylor, recalled hitting him with a pitch that somehow got stuck under Baylor’s arm.
“He grabbed it and threw it back at me,” Blyleven said in a phone interview on Monday. “I looked at it to see if it was dented.”
Don Edward Baylor was born in Austin on June 28, 1949. His father, George, was a baggage handler for the Missouri Pacific Railroad; his mother, Lillian, was a school cook and cafeteria supervisor. He was one of the three African-American students to integrate O. Henry Junior High School.
He played basketball, football and baseball at Austin High School and was recruited to play football at several colleges, including the University of Texas. But he chose baseball and was drafted by the Orioles in 1967.
Baylor had to wait until late in his career to play in the World Series — in 1986, with the Boston Red Sox.
He had played three seasons with the Yankees, from 1983 to 1985, but the team did not make the postseason, and he was traded to Boston in late March 1986. (He had not gotten along with George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ tempestuous owner.)
Although he batted only .238 that year with Boston, he hit 31 home runs, had 94 runs batted in and was hit by pitches a career-high 35 times.
The Red Sox faced the Mets in the World Series and were tantalizing close to winning it in Game 6 until Mookie Wilson’s grounder went through the Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs. The Mets won that game and went on to win the World Series in Game 7.
But 1987 was different. Baylor struggled through most of the season until the Red Sox traded him to Minnesota, where he hit .286 in the final month. More important, he hit .385 in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and tied Game 6 with a two-run home run. The Twins won that game, 11-5, and also won Game 7.
Blyleven said that Baylor’s arrival on the team had brought an injection of veteran guidance. “Leadership is what he came to us with,” he said. “We had a lot of young guys, and he brought his past, as a great ballplayer, and the way he went about his business. He was all about character and dignity.”
Baylor played one more season, back in Oakland, before starting a career as a manager (with the Rockies, where he was the National League manager of the year in 1995, and the Cubs) and a coach for many teams, most recently the Angels.
Baylor is survived by his wife, the former Rebecca Giles; his son, Don Jr.; his brother, Doug; his sister, Connie; and two granddaughters. His marriage to Jo Cash ended in divorce.
Baylor’s early years with the Orioles introduced him to the kangaroo court, where teammates were fined for infractions of baseball etiquette. With the Red Sox, he was chairman of the court. When Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in late April 1986, he fined Clemens $5 for surrendering a single to the light-hitting Spike Owen.
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