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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 565

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This is the grave of Don Baylor.

Born in 1949 in Austin, Texas, Baylor grew up in Clarksville, Texas. He was among the first black students to integrate Texas public schools in the early 1960s. He went to high school back in Austin and was a big sports star in both football and baseball. The University of Texas offered him a scholarship to play football. He would have been the first black player for UT, as Darrell Royal routinely acquiesced to segregation until it became impossible to compete without black players. Instead, Baylor went to Blinn Junior College to pursue a baseball career. That was a good call.

In 1967, the Baltimore Orioles selected Baylor in the first round of the draft. He got a cup of coffee with the Orioles in 1970 and 1971 before being called up for good in 1972. He quickly developed into a solid, if not great player; a left fielder with solid but not elite power and a terrible defender. His career is so solid but unspectacular that there’s not all that much to say about it really, except for his 1979 MVP season with the Angels. That was an anomaly, as he had only one other season where he was a top 10 MVP candidate. That was in 1978, when he finished 7th. But even that MVP season wasn’t really deserved. He did lead the league in runs and RBI’s that year, but his WAR, according to Baseball Reference’s numbers, was still only 3.7, surely one of the lowest of any MVP winner ever. He was already mostly a DH by this time. He was a genuine master of getting hit by pitches. He led the league in that category a mere 8 times, including a ridiculous 35 HBPs in 1986 when he was a key player for that great Red Sox team that blew the World Series. As a good but not great player, he played for a bunch of teams over his career: Orioles up through 75, A’s in 1976, Angels from 77-82, Yankees from 83-85, Red Sox in 86 and mostly 87 before a midseason trade to the Twins team that won the World Series and then a last year in 88 with the A’s again. He never played for the NL because that would have required a glove.

When Baylor retired, he became a hitting coach, first for the Brewers and then for the Cardinals. He then got the managerial job for Colorado in 1993. He had initial success, leading them to their first winning record in 1995 and getting him the NL Manager of the Year Award. He was fired after the 1998 season after being unable to replicate that success. It was probably somewhat unfair. Colorado has always been a notoriously difficult place to win and some of that is structural issues on how you construct a team to win at Coors Field. He was the Braves hitting coach for a year before the Cubs hired him as manager. That didn’t go real well and he had three bad seasons before being fired in 2002. For over a decade after that, he bounced around the majors as a hitting coach or bench coach, including with my Seattle Mariners in 2005, another terrible season for that terrible franchise. It was not until 2016 that Baylor left baseball.

By that time, he was sick with cancer, which he had fought since 2003. He died in 2017.

Don Baylor is buried in Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas.

I hope you all enjoyed Yankee Elimination Day yesterday. Remembering a former Yankee seemed like a good way to talk about how great it is when they lose. This was also a grave visit funded by LGM readers, so thanks as always! According to Baseball Reference’s JAWS stat, Baylor is the 81st best left fielder of all time. If you would like this series to cover other left fielders around Baylor’s JAWS standing, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. John Anderson, who ranks 80th on the list and played some good years in the dead ball era, is in Worcester, Massachusetts. Early baseball player Charley Jones, who ranks 86th on that list, in in Queens. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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