Baylor, Don 1949–
Don Baylor 1949–
Professional baseball manager
Managing an expansion team in major league baseball is a challenging proposition to say the least. Such a challenge has fallen to Don Baylor, an experienced baseball professional with years of playing and coaching to his credit. When Baylor was named the first manager of the new Colorado Rockies franchise in 1992, he joined one of the sporting world’s most elite groups: black baseball managers. Baylor’s choice as skipper of the Rockies raised to four the number of blacks managing major league teams. Still, no other black manager faces the hurdles of building a team from scratch and making it a winner against formidable odds, all in a city where fans have spent decades waiting feverishly for their own big-league club.
Baylor was chosen, according to the Rockies’ front office, because he exhibited leadership qualities and maturity during his years as a player. He had earned a reputation for personal integrity and toughness, coupled with an ability to teach, even before he retired from the playing field. Asked about his plans for the fledgling Rockies franchise, Baylor told Sports Illustrated: “I don’t hold these guys to any higher standard than I held myself to as a player.” That is a high standard, indeed. During his years with a series of American League teams, Baylor appeared in the League Championship Series seven times and the World Series three times. He holds the record for being hit by pitches during games—a testament to his intimidating stance in the batter’s box. Sports Illustrated correspondent Steve Rushin called Baylor a “clubhouse Buddha” who “often just sits there, oozing baseball knowledge.”
Don Baylor was born in Austin, Texas, in 1949. His father was a baggage clerk for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and was thus away from home most of the time. The three Baylor children were nonetheless influenced by their demanding father, who challenged them to pursue excellence, and by their levelheaded mother, who saw to their religious training.
It was not an easy time to be young and black in the deep South. Segregated schools were still the rule even in the 1960s when Baylor was ready to attend junior high. The enterprising youngster decided he wanted the best education he could possibly get, so in 1962 he asked to be one of the first three black students to attend all-white O. Henry Middle School.
At a Glance…
Born Donald Edward Baylor, June 28, 1949, in Austin, TX; son of George (a baggage clerk on the Missouri Pacific Railroad) and Lillian (a cashier) Baylor; married Jo Cash, 1970 (divorced, 1981); married Rebecca Ciles, December 12, 1987; children: Don, Jr. Education: Attended junior colleges in Miami, Dallas, and Houston.
Professional baseball player, 1967-88; drafted by Baltimore Orioles organization in 1967; played in Orioles’ farm system, 1967-71. Member of Baltimore Orioles, 1971-75; Oakland Athletics, 1976; California Angels, 1977-82; New York Yankees, 1983-85; Boston Red Sox, 1986-87; Minnesota Twins, 1987; and Oakland Athletics, 1988. Special assistant to general manager of Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; coach of Brewers, 1989-91; coach of St. Louis Cardinals, 1992. Named manager of Colorado Rockies, 1992; manager of Rockies, 1993—. Writer.
Selected awards: Named minor league player of the year by the Sporting News, 1970; named American League player of the year by the Sporting News, 1979; named American League Most Valuable Player by Baseball Writers’ Association of America, 1979; member of All-Star Team, 1979; named designated hitter on the Sporting News American League Silver Slugger Team, 1983, 1985, and 1986.
Addresses: Office —Colorado Rockies, 1700 Broadway, Suite 2100, Denver, CO 80290.
Each day Baylor faced taunts to his face and slurs whispered behind his back. He knew he was not welcome in the school, but he stayed anyway. “A lot of times we [black students] were put in separate classes,” he recalled in Sports Illustrated. “Those were tough years.” The prejudice bothered him, but he never shared his distress with his mother, who worked full time in addition to running the Baylor household. Craig Neff reported in Sports Illustrated: “Baylor didn’t like to fight, but he didn’t back down. He became a three-sport star, a good student, a low-key and popular figure in a difficult situation. Later, at Stephen F. Austin High, bused-in blacks ridiculed him for playing baseball, a white man’s sport, but Baylor shrugged it off. The school has since inducted him into its Hall of Fame.”
Baylor earned good grades at Austin High and served as student council sergeant-at-arms. His talent for sports did not go unheeded by scouts. Football, basketball, and baseball scholarships poured in from top universities, including Stanford and the University of Texas. Baylor wanted to go to college, but he was tendered another offer that he could not refuse—a chance to sign with the Baltimore Orioles, then one of baseball’s best teams. Right out of high school in 1967 Baylor joined the Orioles organization and began his career as a professional ballplayer in tiny Bluefield, West Virginia. Reluctant to neglect his formal education, he attended junior college in the offseason wherever he happened to be living at the time.
It is customary for baseball players to hone their skills in the minor leagues, and Baylor was no exception to that rule. His minor league training took him from West Virginia to California, then to Elmira and Rochester in New York, and in 1969 to Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth. The Sporting News named him minor league player of the year in 1970 after he batted .327 with 22 home runs and 107 runs batted in for the Rochester Red Wings. That same year he made a late-season debut with the Baltimore Orioles, a team that went on to win the 1970 World Series. Baylor became a permanent member of the Orioles’ roster in 1971.
Neff described the Oriole team Baylor joined as “rich beyond belief in young talent, smart managers, noted instructors and positive attitudes.…At every level, Baylor learned teamwork, sacrifice, success.” This was a club that made World Series appearances in 1966, 1970, and 1971 and represented the American League East in the Championship Series in those years and in 1973 and 1974. Baylor told Sports Illustrated: “Even at the lowest level of the minor leagues, when you walked onto that field, there was no doubt that you would win. None whatsoever.” Baylor benefited from the management techniques of the surly but successful Earl Weaver and from playing tips offered by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who would himself someday manage in the big leagues. From fellow Orioles Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger, Baylor learned the intricacies of negotiating benefits through the Players Association.
Baylor was thus schooled in all aspects of the baseball business, from the mechanics of hitting to the diplomacy of the boardroom. He became a well-rounded player as well as a dependable hitter. Then, after five solid years with the Orioles, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1976. He was crushed by the news. “We’re talking about leaving the team that had taught me to play baseball,” he said in Sports Illustrated. “I don’t think I’ll ever be part of another organization quite like [the Orioles].” To make matters worse, the Athletics’ owner, Charles Finley, cut Baylor’s salary 20 percent upon the player’s arrival in Oakland.
After one year in Oakland—and a season in which he stole 52 bases despite knee and finger injuries—Baylor moved on to the California Angels. He signed a $1.6 million, six-year contract with California, making him one of the earliest of the million-dollar free agents in baseball. Neff noted that Baylor’s decision to play for the Angels was an early indication of his maturity. “Baylor could have gone elsewhere for more money—to the Yankees or Rangers, for example—but he liked the stability and familiar management of the Angels.” The decision was a sound one. By 1979 Baylor was the Angels’ player representative, as well as a .296 hitter with 36 homers and 139 runs batted in. Baylor helped to lead the Angels to an American League West division title, the team’s first. He was also named American League Most Valuable Player at the season’s end.
Baylor stayed in California through 1982 and led the Angels to another League Championship Series that year. In December of 1982 he signed with the New York Yankees. Like so many other baseball superstars who found themselves in New York, he had his share of quarrels with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. In one of the most highly publicized, Baylor commented on the firing of Billy Martin by telling the press: “The manager changes, but the owner remains the same.” Baylor had a no-trade clause in his Yankees contract, meaning that he could veto any trade the club planned for him. In this manner he declined to go to the Chicago White Sox, but he agreed to a move to the Boston Red Sox in 1986.
It was in Boston that Baylor established himself as potential management material. He instituted a kangaroo court amongst his teammates and helped to foster a seriousness of purpose and a camaraderie that had been lacking in previous Red Sox seasons. According to Neff, Baylor became known as “a physically imposing, established leader who could eat up the [outfield wall] with his dead-pull swing and change the whole character of the team just by walking into the clubhouse.” Baylor hit 31 home runs and drove in 94 for the 1986 Red Sox as designated hitter, and the team advanced to the World Series—only to lose to the Mets in one of the most memorable sudden-death losses in the history of the fall classic.
Baylor’s stay in Boston was short—just one full year, 1986, and part of the following season. In 1987 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins, and he finally earned the opportunity to participate in a winning World Series bid. Baylor earned a series ring for his participation with the Twins as a designated hitter and a pinch hitter. His contributions included batting .400 with two hits and one RBI. The Twins released Baylor after the season ended, and he spent his final year as a player with the Oakland Athletics—and went to yet another World Series in 1988.
At the end of his playing career in 1988 Baylor had earned some significant records. He held a major league record for most clubs played with in League Championship Series, having served in post-season with five different franchises. More significantly, he held a record for most times hit by a pitch, with 267. Baylor claimed in People magazine that nearly every part of his anatomy from head to toe had been hit by a pitch on at least one occasion, but that his willingness to get hit was a terrific “intimidation factor.” He said: “My first goal when I go to the plate is to get a hit. My second goal is to get hit.”
Even before Baylor retired as a player, observers were touting him as a candidate for a team manager. As early as 1986, Tony La Russa—himself a respected manager—told Sports Illustrated: “The minute [Don] retires, he’ll have teams beating down his door trying to get him to manage.” That is not exactly what happened. Baylor’s first non-playing job, in 1989, was as batting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. There Baylor instituted a video instruction system and worked hard to improve the team spirit and dedication. According to Sports Illustrated correspondent Steve Rushin, Baylor brought a “winning aura” to a previously demoralized franchise. From Milwaukee, Baylor moved on in 1992 to the St. Louis Cardinals, also as a coach. By that time he was openly frustrated with his inability to secure a chance to manage a team.
The frustration ended in the autumn of 1992 when Baylor was asked to head the fledgling Colorado Rockies. He signed a three-year contract and went to work with the team in 1993. It was one of the toughest assignments in baseball. Not only were the Rockies planning to hit the major leagues with a thin roster of unseasoned rookies and questionable veterans obtained by expansion draft, but even the location itself presented unique problems. Runners could find themselves winded by the thin mountain air. Hitters could pound easy home runs through the thin atmosphere. The team had no big-name superstars and few illusions that success would be quick or easy. Nevertheless, Baylor announced his resolve to make the Rockies competitive as fast as possible. “We must teach these young kids how to win,” he told Jet magazine. “I don’t know who wrote the rule that you have to lose 100 games if you’re an expansion team. We’re going to change the thinking.”
The Rockies’ first year was just that—rocky. The team finished dead last in the National League West standings. Somehow that fact hardly seemed to matter to the citizens of the Mountain Time Zone. Record numbers of fans flocked to Mile High Stadium to see the team and to cheer Baylor. One million customers crossed the turnstiles in the first seventeen games, and by season’s end the Colorado franchise had broken every regular season attendance record in baseball history. Observers expect the “honeymoon” between Colorado fans and the Rockies to extend well into 1996, so Baylor has ample opportunity to make improvements before being faced with disapproval from the audience. Neff, for one, thinks the Rockies brought in the right man for the job. The reporter concluded: “[Baylor’s] place in baseball history will be as a leader—maybe the foremost of this era—and as a ballplayer managers dreamed of managing and other players hoped to play alongside.”
(With Claire Smith) Nothing But the Truth: A Baseball Life, St. Martin’s, 1989.
(With Smith) Don Baylor: Baseball on the Field and in the Clubhouse, St. Martin’s, 1990.
Ebony, May 1993, p. 114.
Jet, November 16, 1992, p. 46.
People, August 24, 1987, p. 90.
Sports Illustrated, June 16, 1986, pp. 60-72; June 11, 1990, pp. 24-30; March 8, 1993, pp. 29-31; June 14, 1993, pp. 48-51.
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