A durable power hitter, Don Baylor will probably be most noted as the major league record holder for being hit by a pitch. Unafraid to crowd the plate, he was hit a major league-high 28 times in 1987, setting the career record (244) when plunked by Rick Rhoden on June 28. He was fast in the first half of his career, and retired with 285 stolen bases to go with his 338 HR. Known for his leadership as a player, Baylor played for seven first-place teams and made a fine manager after retirement.
Baylor was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1970 while playing for the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. He eventually joined the big-league club in 1972, when he played 102 games behind the O’s everyday outfield of Merv Rettenmund, Paul Blair, and Don Buford. By 1974 Baylor was a steady mainstay in Earl Weaver’s outfield, filling an offensive hole that had existed ever since the Orioles traded Frank Robinson to Los Angeles in 1971.
Sent to the A’s before the 1976 season as part of the blockbuster trade which brought Reggie Jackson to the Orioles, Baylor slumped slightly with a .247 average and only 15 homers but stole a career-high 52 bases. Baylor blossomed after signing with the California Angels after the season as a free agent. In 1979 he won MVP honors after hitting .296 with 36 HR and leading the league with 139 RBI and 120 runs scored, leading California to their first AL West title ever.
Baylor’s production dropped after suffering both a broken wrist and dislocated toe in 1980, but by 1982 he had recovered and returned to form, hitting .263 with 24 homers with 80 RBIs. Now a slugger more than a speedster, he was lured to the Yankees (along with fellow free-agent Steve Kemp) by George Steinbrenner’s millions. After three successful but unhappy seasons in New York, he went to the Red Sox in exchange for Mike Easler.
Voted the AL’s top DH in 1985 and 1986, Baylor reached the 2,000-hit plateau the latter year. Although his offensive skills were declining, Baylor remained a top performer in the clutch and as a result reached the World Series three years in a row for three different teams — Boston in 1986, Minnesota (who traded for him halfway through the season) in 1987, and Oakland (where he had signed as a free agent) in 1988.
After retirement, Baylor worked as a hitting coach for the Brewers and Cardinals until he was named manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies for the 1993 season. By the end of the 162-game season Baylor had used 136 lineups, but after ending the season 31-21 his Rockies had won more games than any previous NL expansion team and even finished ahead of the San Diego Padres. By 1995 the Rockies had not only posted a winning record (77-67) but made the postseason as a wildcard team — as a result, Baylor won his first Manager of the Year award. After two straight 83-79 seasons in 1996 and 1997, Baylor’s team held the best five-year record (363-384) of any expansion club in history.
A deteriorating relationship with Rockies GM Bob Gebhard and a disastrous 1998 campaign ended Baylor’s tenure in Colorado, but solid work in Atlanta as the Braves’ hitting coach in 1999 (especially with emerging star Chipper Jones) prompted the Chicago Cubs to hire him as their new skipper for the 2000 season. Baylor, whose reputation for honesty convinced Cubs GM Ed Lynch that he was the right man to replace Jim Riggleman, beat out former Cub Billy Williams for the job and promptly announced that star right fielder Sammy Sosa needed to work on his defense.