Don Baylor, the burly slugger who once held the Major League Baseball record for being hit a pitch and later guided the expansion Colorado Rockies to the playoffs for the first time as manager of the year, died Monday of cancer. He was 68.
The 1979 American League MVP died in his hometown of Austin, Texas, after a 14-year battle with multiple myeloma, Baylor’s family said in a statement released by the Angels, the franchise for which he played more than 800 games.
“Don passed from this earth with the same fierce dignity with which he played the game and lived his life,” Baylor’s wife, Rebecca, said.
Baylor played in all 162 games for the California Angels in 1979 and led the majors with career bests of 139 RBIs and 120 runs. He also had career highs in homers (36) and hits (186) for the American League West champs, who lost to Baltimore in the AL Championship Series.
When the stocky Baylor retired, he had been hit by pitches a then-record 267 times, and led the majors in that category seven times.
He was also known for speed as a younger player, including a career-high 52 steals with Oakland in 1976, and was a bruising baserunner who loved to break up double plays. He finished with 285 steals.
In his final three seasons, Baylor went to three straight World Series from 1986-88, winning the title and hitting one of his four postseason homers in Minnesota’s seven-game victory against St. Louis in 1987. He was on losing teams with Boston in ’86 and Oakland in ’88.
“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.
Baylor was the first manager for the Rockies, leading them to his only playoff appearance as a manager in the franchise’s third season in 1995. Colorado lost to Atlanta in four games in an NL Division Series.
Baylor spent six years with Colorado and two-plus seasons as manager of the Chicago Cubs, from 2000-02. His career record was 627-689. He was most recently the hitting coach for the Angels and spent nearly 50 years in pro baseball.
“Throughout stints with 14 different major league teams as a player, coach or manager, Don’s reputation as a gentleman always preceded him,” Manfred said.
Born June 28, 1949, in Austin, Baylor 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.
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 homers in three straight seasons for the New York Yankees before hitting 31 for the Red Sox in 1986. He was a career .260 hitter with 338 homers and 1,276 RBIs.
“Don’s commitment to the game and its future also inspired him to play an instrumental role in helping the MLBPA establish itself as a bona fide union,” players’ union executive director Tony Clark said.