Don Baylor, first Rockies manager and 1979 AL MVP, dies at 68

Big League Stew

Don Baylor, the first man to ever manage the upstart Colorado Rockies, and a former AL MVP and World Series winner, died early Monday morning at 68. He succumbed to multiple myeloma, a disease he’d lived with for 14 years.

Baylor was a native of Austin, Texas, and broke barriers as a high school athlete. He attended Austin High School, and according to the Austin American-Statesman, was one of the first African-American students to do so. He was also the very first African-American to play baseball and football for the school.

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After he graduated, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1967, which started Baylor’s long career in baseball. He played for six teams over 19 years, starting with his debut with the Orioles in 1970. He didn’t play much in 1970 and 1971, which was understandable: he was blocked by Frank Robinson. Baylor got the chance to play (and come into his own) once Robinson was traded to the Dodgers before the 1972 season.

Baylor hit .274/.349/.431 with 57 home runs over six seasons with the Orioles, then was traded to the Oakland Athletics for the 1976 season. He stole 52 bases that year, and then signed with the Los Angeles Angels (then known as the California Angels) in 1977. It was with the Angels that he’d have his best season. In 1979, Baylor played all 162 games and hit .296/.371/.530 with 36 home runs and 139 RBI. He made the All-Star team and was voted the AL MVP.

After his MVP year, Baylor spent three more seasons with the Angels before signing with the New York Yankees in 1983. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1986 (which was quite the year to become a member of the Red Sox), and was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1987. 1987 was a fateful year: the Twins would go all the way, winning him his only World Series ring.

In this Oct. 28, 1992, file photo, Don Baylor is all smiles as he answers questions after being named the first manager of the Colorado Rockies baseball club, in Denver. (AP Photo)
In this Oct. 28, 1992, file photo, Don Baylor is all smiles as he answers questions after being named the first manager of the Colorado Rockies baseball club, in Denver. (AP Photo)

Baylor’s playing career came to an end after the 1988 season, leaving him with a .260/.342/.436 line over 19 seasons, with 338 homers. He spent a few years post-retirement as the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals, and then he landed his first big league managerial job in 1993: taking the helm of the brand new Colorado Rockies. Baylor managed the Rockies in their first six years of existence, with 1995 being a major highlight. That was the year of the team’s very first winning season, which led them to the postseason for the first time as the wild-card team. The Rockies’ success in 1995 nabbed Baylor NL Manager of the Year honors.

Baylor was released from his Rockies contract in 1998, and after a stint as Atlanta Braves hitting coach, he then managed the Chicago Cubs for three seasons, from 2000 to 2002. He never managed another major league club after the Cubs, but starting in 2003 he served as hitting coach for five different teams over the next 11 years: the New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and finally the Angels.

Baylor spent nearly 50 years in baseball, and touched 14 teams as a player, manager, and coach. That’s an incredible baseball legacy.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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