Baylor: Ferocious competitor, cherished friend
Former Orioles and Angels star Don Baylor was remembered for a huge heart and a ferocious competitive streak during a funeral service Saturday in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Baylor died Monday, at age 68, after a 14-year battle with multiple myeloma.
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, speaking at the service at Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church, recalled coining the nickname “Groove” for his former Orioles teammate, a reference to Baylor’s getting in a groove when he was hitting. Robinson became emotional when he talked about their relationship.
“I wasn’t too friendly with too many people in baseball,” Robinson said, “and I don’t say too many nice things about them. But there’s nothing I can stand here and say bad about our friend Don Baylor.
“This is a tough time for me because I became very close with Donnie, not from when we were seeing each other every day, but in my heart. … I cherished the man’s friendship, and I cherished him as a person.”
Bobby Grich, who broke in with Baylor in the Orioles organization in 1967, talked about Baylor’s prodigious talent, recalling a barehanded catch he once made in a minor league game.
“He brought everyone on the team up to his level of being a ferocious competitor. And at the same time, he was a catalyst in making the team more cohesive and closer than effort really could,” Grich said.
“I would like to ask, on behalf of Donnie Baylor, that we keep his ideals of kindness, color-blindness and being respectful towards everyone close to our hearts and close to our minds.”
Baylor is one of just three major leaguers who have won both an MVP award and a Manager of the Year award. The other two were Robinson and Joe Torre, who attended the service along with Tony La Russa, Clint Hurdle, Rod Carew, Tony Clark, Eric Young and many others who played with or for Baylor.
Grich read messages from several of Baylor’s other teammates, including one from former Orioles outfielder Ken Singleton. He recalled, “Don was always there with advice from where to live in the Baltimore area to what it was going to be like to play for Earl Weaver, if that’s even possible.
“He helped make us all better players, but more importantly, he showed us how we should respect one another and work together towards a common goal.”
Baylor was recalled as a fierce competitor on the field and a great friend off the field. “One of the nicest men I’ve known, unless you were a middle infielder on a DP,” former Baltimore teammate and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer Tweeted after Baylor’s death.
Baylor won the 1979 AL MVP with the California Angels, playing all 162 games and leading the majors with career bests of 139 RBIs and 120 runs. His 36 home runs were also his most.
Baylor later became the first manager of the Colorado Rockies, guiding them to his only playoff appearance as a skipper in the franchise’s third season in 1995 and being honored for that accomplishment.
Baylor also played with the Twins, Athletics and Red Sox, with whom he appeared in the 1986 World Series, losing to the Mets.
In addition to his six years managing the Rockies, Baylor managed the Chicago Cubs for three seasons.