The 100 Greatest Angels: #11 Don Baylor

#11 Don Baylor, OF, DH

Career Stats

So that was me, 14 years old, and a friend or my younger brother, carrying the sheet with the magic-marker slogan YES DON CAN blocking your site-lines on the concourse of the view section during his every at-bat at the dozen home games I attended during that exciting Summer of '79. I added his RBI total to the sheet before each game and X'd out the number to replae it with the RBI just witnessed if and when he performed his duties that evening - and in 1979, he did it quite a bit.

Like a lot of Angel Fans, Don Baylor was my favorite Angel up until October of 1986, if ya know what I mean. If you don't, Rob'll explain it to you in a minute. It was classy of the Anels to have Don throw out the first pitch before the 2005 ALDS Game 5 - which we then won!. He looked great in red.

And now here's Rob McMillin of the 6-4-2 Angels/Dodgers Double Play Blog for a complete story on the Angels First MVP. Take it away, Rob...

Like Frank Robinson before him, Don Baylor came to the Angels after a long stint with the Orioles. A precocious hitter, he was named The Sporting News' Minor League Player of the Year in 1970, coming up to the big club for good in 1972. Traded to Oakland for Reggie Jackson just days before the season started in 1976, the Angels won a bidding war for Baylor's services, acquiring him to the tune of the then-extravagant sum of $1 million. Ironically, Angel pitcher Dick Drago had hit Baylor on the wrist in the second game of the season that year; Baylor played with a broken hand for six weeks.

In fact, getting plunked was one of Don Baylor's claims to fame. The Baseball Library incorrectly claims that he holds the major league record for hit-by-pitches with 267, when in fact he falls behind Hughie Jennings (287), Craig Biggio (273), and Tommy Tucker (272) on that list, and behind Brian Downing and David Eckstein on the Angels. Nonetheless, he was a proficient plate-crowder, and paid the price for it repeatedly. After his 1976 season with Oakland, where his hand injury clearly hurt his power (he hit only 15 home runs, and had a stretch of 19 consecutive games where he failed to homer), he signed with the Angels, saying "I'm looking forward to playing in Southern California. One factor in my decision was the tremendous potential of the ballclub. It's only two or three players away from being a solid contender... and right now (the Angels) are one less player away."

Baylor came back strong, stronger, and strongest for the Angels, increasing his slugging percentage each of his first three years with California, though he wasn't always happy with the team's choice to make him a part-time DH. It was a trend that started in Oakland, where he wore a first baseman's glove almost as often as he did an outfielder's, but it was clear that his days in the outfield were numbered. In 1978, he asked for a trade to the Rangers, where he could be a full-time fielder, but the deal fell through when Texas demanded Nolan Ryan as well. "Jimmy [Fregosi] told me I could live with that or ask for a trade again," Baylor said later. "I told him I could live with it as long as I felt I was given a fair shot."

His 36 homers in 1979 helped propel the Angels to a division title, their first, also winning an MVP award. In that, Times columnist Jim Murray considered Baylor as "a guy who was asked to lead a charge, and, when he gets up the hill, and looks around, he wonders, 'Where is everybody?!'" The best power hitter on a powerful offensive Angels team that year, Baylor played in every game, was first in runs scored and RBIs in the majors (his 139 RBIs still stands as a club record), and fourth in home runs. The offensive highlight of his season was a 24-2 laugher against Toronto on August 25, in which he tied a club record by collecting eight RBIs; the 24 runs still stand as a club record. His postseason record, though, was simply awful, as the Orioles stormed on, 3-1, to win the ALCS but lose the World Series in seven.

Baylor requested a no-trade clause, a multi-year extension, and a signing bonus on his six-year, $1.6 million contract after his MVP season. He got the $100,000 bonus. Suffering from a wrist sprain incurred during a slide into second base the previous year, and a dislocated toe, he also shouldered the burden of being the player's union representative in a season in which an out-and-out strike was narrowly averted, though spring training and the first few regular season games were delayed.

Baylor limped through 1980 and 1981, but recovered in 1982, his last full season with the Angels, to hit 24 homers and drive in 93. In his last appearances in a California uniform, he had an exceptional postseason against the "Harvey's Wallbangers" brewers, hitting .294/.350/.647 in 17 at bats during the ALCS, but the Angels bullpen couldn't hold up in game 5, and once more the Halos went home before making it to the Fall Classic.

Despite his excellent performance in the postseason, Baylor would also be 34 the next year. The Angels and Baylor tried to reach an agreement before the free-agent draft started in November, but failed; Baylor wanted a five-year, $6 million contract, while the Angels, all too cognizant of the problems of signing older players to long-term deals, declined.

Instead, Baylor signed a $3.7 million, four-year deal with the Yankees, where he joined a Bronx Zoo that was in decline, embodying the faults of the Steinbrenner-era Yankees clubs: packed with aging free agent hitters and good-not-great starting rotations. After three relatively successful but stressful seasons in which he collected a pair of Silver Slugger awards, the Yankees traded Baylor to Boston for Mike Easler in 1986 just days before the start of the regular season.

He made them regret it, hitting .318/.423/.477 against his old club, his second-best average against of any team that year. And he also made the Angels regret their choice to let him go as well in the 1986 postseason, by hitting  .346/.469/.577 against them, including a two-run shot in the top of the ninth that continued a backbreaking rally by the Red Sox. But as good as his ALCS was, he hit poorly in the World Series, one the Boston club infamously lost.

He spent the next two years on postseason-bound teams as well, appearing in Twins (to whom he was traded late in the season) and Athletics uniforms, with his last moment of postseason greatness occuring in the 1987 World Series against the Cardinals. The A's barely used him, spending all his time at DH in only 80 games, and getting only seven at bats in the 1988 postseason.

After retirement, he became a manager, guiding the expansion Rockies to three of the four winning seasons in that club's history and a Wild Card slot in 1995, the only postseason appearance for Colorado, earning him a Manager of the Year award. His teams set a record for most franchise wins by an expansion club, but his relationship with the management soured, and he left after an abysmal 77-85 season in 1998. He went on to the Cubs, where his honesty did him no favors (he publicly criticized Sammy Sosa's defense), and neither did the Cubs' front office, who handed him roster after roster of stars surrounded by mediocrity. Replaced after the 2002 season by Dusty Baker, Baylor became a hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners, but was released from that capacity this offseason, and is out of baseball at the moment.

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