An easy way to measure an athlete’s influence on his or her sport is to consider what they meant to different groups of fans. Don Baylor, who died of cancer today at age 68, was many things to many people.
Say “Don Baylor” to any baseball fan and, depending on their age and allegiances, they will recall a variety of memories. Some might remember him as a youngster on the Earl Weaver-era Orioles. Others will remember him as the MVP of the 1979 season, when he played in all 162 games for the Angels and led the league with 139 RBI. Red Sox fans will remember his resurgent 1986 season, when he hit 31 homers and helped guide Boston to the the World Series. He hit .346 in the ALCS that year, and clubbed one of the more overlooked clutch home runs in Red Sox history:
Someone else might remember him as the old-timer who finished up his career with three straight World Series appearances with three different teams, the last coming as a member of the Bash Brother A’s. Everyone who remembers Baylor’s playing days will remember him as the guy who hung right over the plate menacingly and never saw an inside pitch he felt like turning away from:
Baylor retired after the 1988 season, and five years later would become the first manager of the Colorado Rockies. I, a Rockies fan who was five years old when the team made its debut, will always remember him as the stern and irascible head of the club, a guy whose thick mustache and protruding gut made him the quintessential baseball manager. Even though he won a Manager of the Year award in Colorado, the Rockies were never all that great while Baylor was in charge—the team went 440-469 in six seasons—but nobody in Colorado much cared. The Rockies were a fun, young team and Baylor was our guy.
After the Rockies came a brief stint managing the Cubs, and then Baylor spent the next few years bouncing around the league as a hitting and bench coach. His last gig was as a hitting coach for the Angels in 2015, where he memorably injured himself catching a ceremonial first pitch from Vladimir Guerrero and then got right up, tough guy he always was.
Baylor finished his playing career with 338 home runs and a Moneyballer’s slash line: .260/.342/.436.