Don Baylor, the burly slugger who won the 1979 AL MVP and later helped the Twins win the 1987 World Series, died Monday of cancer in his hometown of Austin, Texas, at age 68.
Baylor died after a 14-year battle with multiple myeloma, his family said in a statement.“Don passed from this earth with the same fierce dignity with which he played the game and lived his life,” said his wife, Rebecca.
Baylor hit .260 with 338 home runs over a 19-year playing career that spanned six teams, and he followed that by serving as a manager or coach, most recently serving as Angels hitting coach in 2015. He is one of four men to win both an MVP and Manager of the Year award.
“Don was a friend to so many in this game,” said Twins third base coach Gene Glynn, a coach with the Rockies and Cubs for eight of Baylor’s nine seasons as a manager.
“Anyone who was around him knows what he meant to everybody. He really represented baseball, I think. For decades, he really made an impact on baseball, not only as a player but as a manager and coach.”
Baylor’s time with the Twins was brief: He was acquired Sept. 1, 1987, and played only 20 regular-season games here. But his lone home run with the Twins was a memorable one.
With his team facing elimination against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series, Baylor hit a two-run homer off John Tudor, tying the score at 5-5 in the fifth inning. The Twins eventually prevailed 11-5, and they won their first championship the next day. Baylor was 3-for-4 with three RBI in Game 6, and he hit .388 (7-for-18) over the 1987 postseason.
“It’s a huge loss for the game,” said Roy Smalley on Fox Sports North. He first became friends with Baylor on a 1979 tour in Japan before later playing with him with the Yankees and Twins. “It’s a huge loss for so many of the players and friends that Donnie touched.”
His playing career ended after the following season with Oakland, when he became the first player to play three consecutive World Series with three teams, losing in 1986 with the Red Sox and ’88 with the Athletics.
His best season came in 1979 with the Angels, when he played all 162 games, hit .296 and finished with career highs of 36 home runs, 139 RBI and 120 runs. A base-stealer as a younger player (he had 52 steals with the A’s in 1976), he began his career primarily as an outfielder before eventually becoming a designated hitter.
When Baylor retired, he had been hit by pitches 267 times, a record until Craig Biggio broke it in 2005. Baylor led the majors in that category seven times.
In 1993, Baylor became Colorado’s first manager. He led the Rockies to the playoffs in only their third season, when he was named NL Manager of the Year. He spent six years with Colorado and two-plus managing the Cubs, finishing 627-689.
Staff writer La Velle E. Neal III contributed to this report.