Early this morning, the Rockies first manager in franchise history, Don Baylor, passed away, due to complications from multiple myeloma, at the age of 68 at his home in Austin, Texas
We were informed this morning of the loss of the first manager in Rockies franchise history, Don Baylor, this morning due to a long bout with multiple myeloma. In honor of him, let’s go over the highlights of his career.
His playing career
Don Baylor spent parts of 19 seasons as a player in the major leagues from 1970-1988. In his tenure as a major leaguer, he was an All-Star in 1979, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and he ranked in the Most Valuable Player balloting four times. The pinnacle of his playing career was in 1979 when he was an All-Star and won the American League Most Valuable Player award. His team, the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), also won the American League West.
In that 1979 season, he played 162 games and had 120 runs (which led the league), 186 hits, 33 doubles, 36 home runs, 139 RBIs (which also led the league), 22 stolen bases, a .296 batting average, a .371 on-base percentage, a .530 slugging percentage, and an OPS+ of 145.
He had nine seasons in which he had 70 or more RBIs, nine seasons in which he had 20 or more home runs, and eight seasons of 20 or more stolen bases. He played for the California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and the Minnesota Twins.
In his final three seasons as a player, he became the first player ever to get to three straight World Series on three different teams (1986 Boston Red Sox, 1987 Minnesota Twins (they won the World Series), and the 1988 Oakland Athletics).
His coaching career
He became a coach quickly after his playing career as by 1990, he had become the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers under Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn. He spent the 1990 and 1991 seasons there and for the 1992 season, he became the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, who, at the time, were managed by the current Chief Baseball Officer of MLB, Joe Torre. There was one player on the team that the Cardinals who was to become a free agent at the end of the season who struggled mightily in 1992 by only hitting 10 homer runs, 39 RBIS, and a .243 batting average. After the season, that player decided to sign with the Colorado Rockies because Baylor was becoming the Rockies manager. That player? Andres Galarraga.
Baylor and the Rockies in 1993
Don Baylor became the first manager in Rockies franchise history. The expansion team wasn’t very good as they went 67-95 but they did break the all-time MLB attendance record as 4,483,350 people piled into Mile High Stadium that season (or an average of 55,350 per game).
At the home opener against the Montreal Expos on Friday, April 9, 1993, Mile High Stadium held the largest crowd in regular season baseball history at 80,227 (the only games higher in MLB history are Games 3-5 of the 1959 World Series and Games 4-5 of the 1948 World Series). The Rockies won by a score of 11-4 behind a shutout seven innings behind Rockies starter Bryn Smith. Eric Young had four hits and Galarraga and Jerald Clark each had three.
By the end of the 1993 season, Galarraga had turned his career around thanks to the help of Don Baylor and hitting coach Amos Otis. In 120 games, Galarraga had 22 HRs, 98 RBIs, and .370 batting average. He was also an All-Star and came in 10th in the MVP voting.
Baylor and the Rockies 1995 season
The Rockies did not play well in the strike-shortened season of 1994 as the Rockies were 53-64 when play was halted on August 11. However, when the strike ended in 1995, the Rockies came out of the gates well and they won the National League Wild Card as they went 77-67 on the shoulders of the Blake Street Bombers in their first season at Coors Field (believe it or not, Coors Field is now the third oldest stadium in the National League behind Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium).
However in the 1995 ALDS, they lost to the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves three games to one.
The rest of his managerial tenure in Denver
Baylor remained as the Rockies manager for another three seasons after 1995 but the Rockies never accumulated more than 83 wins in a season (both in 1996 and 1997) and they did not make the playoffs again under his managerial tenure. He was fired from his managerial duties after the 1998 season. He was offered a job as the team’s Vice President but he decided to leave the team to become the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves.
His career after being fired as Rockies manager
Baylor was the hitting coach for the Braves in 1999 before accepting the managerial job for the Chicago Cubs before the 2000 season. He spent the next two and half seasons managing the team before being fired part way into the 2002. In Chicago, he managed many former or future Rockies players, coaches, broadcasters including current Rockies TV broadcaster Jeff Huson, former coach and current manager of the Rockies Triple-A team Glenallen Hill, Joe Girardi, Jeff Reed, coach Rene Lachemann, coach Sandy Alomar Sr., coach Gene Glynn, and Eric Young.
After he was fired in Chicago, he became the bench coach for the New York Mets in 2003. He became the team’s hitting coach in 2004 before being let go after manager Art Howe was let go.
In 2005, he was hired as the hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners under newly minted manager Mike Hargrove. He did not return for the 2006, though. In 2007, he became a fill-in broadcaster for the Washington Nationals on TV broadcasts.
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His return to Denver
In 2009, he returned to the Rockies as their hitting coach under Clint Hurdle. However, Hurdle was fired 46 games into the season and was replaced by Jim Tracy. However, Tracy led the team to a 74-42 record the rest of the way and they clinched the National League Wild Card. They were led by excellent seasons by Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, and Todd Helton. They lost to the eventual National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS in four games.
Baylor was also the hitting coach in 2010 before leaving for three seasons as the Arizona Diamondbacks hitting coach and two as the Angels hitting coach.
Baylor as a person
Many people who were influenced by Baylor or spent significant time with him took to Twitter to express their feelings about him and his passing.
USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale:
AT&T Rocky Mountain and MLB.com insider Tracy Ringolsby
Former teammate, Twins broadcaster, and Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven:
Former pitcher Dontrelle Willis:
Former Rockies pitcher Huston Street who was a player on the Rockies and Angels when Baylor was a coach with each team:
Former Angel Jim Abbott:
Baltimore Orioles beat reporter Dan Connolly:
Former Oriole teammate and current Yankees broadcaster Ken Singleton:
Former teammate and Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield:
Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun:
Twins TV play-by-play broadcaster Dick Bremer, who was a broadcasting for Twins back when Baylor played for the team in 1987:
Former Rockie Dexter Fowler:
Former player under Baylor when he was the Rockies hitting coach and current Rockies broadcaster Ryan Spilborghs:
Former Rockies manager and player under Baylor, Walt Weiss, was on MLB Network this afternoon to talk about Baylor.