Les Shapiro, Radio Host-ESPNDenver, FOX31 Sports Contributor
Coming out of high school, Don Baylor turned down a football scholarship to the University of Texas.
Although he chose a future in baseball, that football toughness served Baylor well throughout his career.
The man nicknamed “Groove” stayed in one throughout his 19 seasons as a major league player. For six different American League teams, he played first base, outfield and designated hitter.
And could he ever hit (and run).
Baylor connected 338 lifetime home runs, 1,276 RBIs and 285 stolen bases. Those numbers helped earn him an MVP Award and an All-Star selection with the California Angels, and a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins. He tied a major league record by going to three consecutive World Series with three different teams. He was also hit by a pitch 267 times in his career but never acknowledged the pain.
It was said, “Baylor never rubbed, even once. Of course, several of the balls had to be hospitalized.”
That toughness also served Baylor well when his playing career ended. In 1993, he accepted the job as the first manager in Colorado Rockies history.
Those were the pre-humidor days. No lead was comfortable. One had to have a strong stomach to manage at altitude. Every day was a struggle to keep the lead and keep some sanity.
Baylor’s calm demeanor served him well. In only his third year on the job — in the strike-shortened 1995 season – Baylor led the Rockies to a 77-67 record and a Wild Card berth. It was the fastest any expansion team had ever made it to the post-season. For his efforts that season, he was named the National League Manager of the Year.
Baylor managed the Rockies for six seasons, finishing with a 440-469 record.
He also helped turn around the flagging career of Andres Galarraga and nurtured Big Cat to a batting title in 1993. He managed Larry Walker to an MVP season and Dante Bichette to a near-MVP season. Many other hitters, like Vinny Castilla and Ellis Burks, flourished with Baylor at their side, lending batting tips.
After leaving the Rockies, Baylor went on to serve as the manager of the Chicago Cubs and as a coach for several other MLB teams. He even had another stint with the Rockies in the 2009 and 2010 seasons as the club’s hitting instructor. But nobody will forget Baylor, sitting stoically in that Rockies dugout in those initial years, watching the Blake St. Bombers take the team and the community to baseball heights it had never experienced. The fans fell in love with those players and their manager.
It’s a love affair that continues today.
Baylor never rubbed, even once. Of course, several of the balls had to be hospitalized.