The above link of an article, penned by the recently enshrined Hall of Fame writer, Claire Smith, will break your heart as you reflect on the life of a man who stands among the giants of the game as measured by character in addition to baseball skills and ability.
I met Don Baylor briefly at Camelback Ranch, after the conclusion of a spring training game between the White Sox and the Angels, when he graciously acceded to my Dad’s request to take the photo attached above, as he prepared to depart the ballpark.
A few years back, when I visited Coors Field one Sunday during Baylor’s tenure as the Rockies hitting coach, I was hoping that Baylor would sign a baseball for me, but the opportunity never arose. I was only eleven years old at the time, but I was already aware of just how important a figure Don Baylor was in the history of the Angels franchise, and the game itself.
I first heard of Baylor when my Dad introduced me to the song Talkin’ Baseball, from which writer/performer Terry Cashman adapted the Angels version that appears at the bottom of the Angels-Across-America website. Somewhere, in the middle of that song is a short but wonderful line: “Don Baylor, he was an MVP.” Somehow, I knew that those few words mattered to my dad, a Yankee fan growing up, who saw Baylor play in New York during the early eighties. I also felt a special connection to Baylor because he shares an obvious connection to my all-time favorite Angel, Vladimir Guerrero.
Much has been written about Don Baylor in the last several days, and the tributes paid him orally on TV, on-line, in newspapers, and via Twitter, are all painfully touching. Here’s a tweet from Vlad: “My heartfelt condolences to Don Baylor’s family. A great man full of integrity and compassion, thank you for guiding me.”
I never quite realized just how many ball clubs Baylor played for or coached, but it is now totally clear to me that wherever Baylor laid down roots, he made everlasting connections, and left indelible impressions.
Perhaps what touched me most was the honor paid to Baylor by the Rochester Red Wings, a team I’d never before heard of. It seems that in the early 70’s, this Triple A team was affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, the organization that Don Baylor grew up in nearly 50 years ago. Imagine that– a small city team that is currently a Twins affiliate — trying to associate itself with a man who left his biggest mark in Maryland, California, New York, Colorado, and Illinois. Turns out that they have a Hall of Fame in Rochester, and of course, Don Baylor is a long-time member.
Tributes continue to come in from across the nation to honor a man that may not have the requisite Hall of Fame stats, but who was clearly a Hall of Famer, in baseball and in life, — in ways not quite capable of exact measure. Perhaps one day, Don Baylor will find his way to Cooperstown, but it matters little. Don Baylor was a Most Valuable Person who clearly made the world of baseball, and the world at large, a far better place.
You might grasp more about Baylor, the man, and the ballplayer, from the below piece which appears on the Halo’s Heaven website.
For now, the Angels will wear a patch with Baylor’s number 25 at heart level on their jersey’s. No doubt, many of the other teams that Baylor played for or managed will follow suit. Perhaps it is time that Baylor’s number 25, be retired by the Halo’s forever. It would be a fitting tribute to someone uniquely special, and beloved by all whom he touched with his grace.