Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Don Baylor, 1949-2017

Don Baylor, batting for the Minnesota Twins in the 1987 ALCS.

I was saddened to hear that Don Baylor died yesterday at the age of 68. Baylor was one of the great power hitters of the 1970’s and 1980’s. For Twins fans like me, Baylor will always be well known for his game-tying home run in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series. Baylor played in just 20 regular season games for the Twins in 1987, and ironically enough, didn’t hit a home run in any of those games. But he came through when the chips were down in the postseason. 

Baylor had a 19-year playing career, from 1970 to 1988. His best season came in 1979, when he was the AL MVP, leading the league in both runs scored and RBIs, and slugging a career-high 36 home runs for the California Angels. Baylor wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he was an excellent player for many years, and he put up some pretty awesome career numbers. His 338 home runs are still good enough for 100th on the all-time list. To give you an idea of how the game has changed over the last 23 years, in 1994 he was 50th on the all-time home run list. Baylor also had good speed, as he stole 285 bases over his career, with a high of 52 for the Oakland A’s in 1976. Of course, no summary of Baylor’s career would be complete without mentioning his knack for getting hit with a pitch. Baylor was hit 267 times in his career, setting a modern-day record that Craig Biggio eventually broke. 

I met Don Baylor at a baseball card show when I was a kid, it must have been shortly after he retired, probably 1989 or 1990. I can’t remember a lot about him, but I remember him being nice, and all of the pieces I’ve read about him today reinforced that he was truly a nice guy. The signed picture I have of him is with his second stop with the Oakland A’s, in 1988, when he achieved the unique distinction of playing in the World Series in 3 consecutive years with 3 different teams-1986 Boston Red Sox, 1987 Minnesota Twins, and the 1988 Oakland A’s. 

I read Don Baylor’s autobiography when I was a kid, but I can’t say I remember a lot about it. Autobiographies of baseball players made up a lot of my reading back in those days of my childhood. I’ve always been struck by how Don Baylor’s career is kind of a reverse image of Reggie Jackson’s. Granted, Baylor never climbed the ladder of super-duper stardom the way that Reggie did, but Baylor played for all of the same teams that Reggie did. Jackson and Baylor were part of the blockbuster trade that sent Reggie to the Orioles in April of 1976. Jackson played only one year for the Orioles, while Baylor only played one year for the A’s. While Reggie went to the Yankees and then to the Angels, Baylor went to the Angels and then to the Yankees. Jackson and Baylor were teammates for one year, on the 1982 Angels. Jackson led the AL in home runs that year with 39, while Baylor added 24 home runs of his own. Adding to the symmetry of their careers, both played their last season for the Oakland A’s, Jackson in 1987, Baylor in 1988. 

Don Baylor was a great baseball player, and his memory will continue to live on.

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