Wednesday, April 4, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Don Baylor

For the first entry in my All-Time Bluefield to the Bigs Team, I'm writing about Don Baylor, my starting left fielder. I cheated a bit here because he was a DH for about 60% of his career, but I’m putting him in the outfield, where he spent most of the first decade of his career.

He was selected by Baltimore in the second round of the 1967 draft with the 39th overall pick. Going in the same round were Vida Blue (OAK, 27th overall), Dave Kingman (CAL, 29) and Jerry Reuss (STL, 30).

He saw his first professional action in Bluefield and if there was an Appy League MVP Award back in 1967, he would’ve won it. He led the circuit in batting average (.346), hits (85), triples (8) and steals (26) as the Baby Birds won the league championship.*

*He was one of six future big leaguers on that team, including Bobby Grich and Johnny Oates. Grich had a very under-appreciated career and played with Baylor in two cities. Oates spent a decade as a backup catcher, but you probably know him from his time as manager of the Texas Rangers. He led the team to their first three playoff appearances in 1996, 1998 and 1999, but they went 1-9 in ALDS losses to the Yankees. Oates had 506 wins in Texas, the second most in team history. Ron Washington is 79 behind him and should pass him this year. Bobby Valentine tops the list for now with 581, although Wash will likely pass him next season.

Baylor was named Minor League Player of the Year with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in 1970 and earned a call-up to the O’s that season. He started playing regularly in Earl Weaver's outfield in 1972. Right before the 1976 season, he was traded to Oakland in a deal that sent Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Like Mr. October, Baylor only spent one year with his new team as he moved to the Angels in 1977.

Over his first three years as a Halo, his 95 homers were the fifth-highest total in baseball (behind Jim Rice, George Foster, Mike Schmidt and Dave Kingman).

His best year was 1979. He slugged 36 home runs and led the AL with 139 RBIs and 120 runs scored. The Angels edged the Royals by three games and took the West Division crown to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth.

Baylor won the Most Valuable Player Award by a healthy margin with 347 points as Ken Singleton was second at 241. It was an interesting vote, as Baylor’s 4.4 bWAR ranked eighth among the top ten vote getters.

In hindsight, the 1979 AL MVP probably should have gone to George Brett. His 8.7 bWAR was nearly double Baylor’s total. His .329/.376/.563 slash line far outpaced Baylor’s .296/.371/.530 line and he did this while adding value at third base.

*Brett achieved a remarkable feat in 1979, tallying 23 home runs, 42 doubles, and a league-leading 20 triples. It’s one of only seven 20-20-20 seasons since 1901:

Player Team Year 2B 3B HR
Frank Schulte CHN 1911 30 20 21
Jim Bottomley STL 1928 42 20 31
Jeff Heath CLE 1941 32 20 24
Willie Mays NYG 1957 26 20 35
George Brett KC 1979 42 20 23
Jimmy Rollins PHI 2007 38 20 30
Curtis Granderson DET 2007 38 23 23

But the Angels won three more games than KC and went to the postseason so Baylor’s gaudy RBI total snagged the award (some things never change). 

The Angels had finally seen October in their 19th season, but the 88-win club was knocked out by a 102-win Orioles team 3-1 in the ALCS.

Baylor transitioned to DH full time and played three more seasons in Anaheim. He ended his tenure with a bitter ALCS defeat at the hands of the Brewers in 1982. The Angels led the best-of-five series 2-0 before dropping three straight in Milwaukee. Baylor drove home ten runs in five games.

It was on to the New York Yankees for the next three years, where Baylor posted a solid 126 OPS+ from 1983-85.

Baylor bounced around for the final three seasons of his career and made history in doing so. He became the first player to reach the World Series in three straight seasons with three different teams.

With the Red Sox in 1986, he cracked 31 home runs and helped Boston reach the Fall Classic, where they suffered their epic loss to the Mets. He played a big but unheralded part in Boston’s ALCS comeback against his old team, the Angels. Everyone remembers Dave Henderson’s homer off Donnie Moore in Game Five of that series, but Baylor hit a two-run shot earlier in that ninth inning to cut the lead to 5-4 and set up Henderson’s heroics.

In September 1987, the Red Sox dealt him to the Twins. He hit .333 in the postseason and his game-tying homer in Game Six of the World Series keyed a comeback victory against the Cardinals. Minnesota won Game Seven the next night and the 18-year-vet Baylor earned his first championship ring.

He finished his career in 1988 with the A’s, who were stunned in the World Series by Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers.*

*Eric Hinske became the second player to reach the Fall Classic in three straight years with three different teams (2007 BOS, 2008 TB, 2009 NYY).

Baylor retired with 338 home runs, a total that was 17th in American League history at the time. He set a painful mark by being hit by a pitch 267 times, the most in major league history until Craig Biggio passed him in 2005. Baylor still ranks second on the all-time list, which I’ve included below. I use the top 12 so I could get Fernando Vina (!) in there:

Player         HBP
Craig Biggio 285
Don Baylor 267
Jason Kendall 254
Ron Hunt 243
Frank Robinson 198
Minnie Minoso 192
Andres Galarraga 178
Jason Giambi 173
Carlos Delgado 172
Derek Jeter 158
Alex Rodriguez 157
Fernando Vina 157

Baylor had a unique combo of power and speed as he had four seasons of 20 homers and 20 steals. Using Bill James’s Power-Speed stat, which is 2x (HR x SB)/(SB+HR), Baylor ranks 18th on the all-time list. With 338 homers and 285 steals, he is one of only five players to reach those career totals (Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez).

The two closest players to Baylor in similarity scores are two of my old favorites, Ruben Sierra and Chili Davis.

Baylor has batted fifth in the order more often than all but two players in the expansion era (since 1961):

Rk Player #Matching
1 Ernie Banks 930
2 Robin Ventura 929
3 Don Baylor 821
4 Moises Alou 817
5 Gary Gaetti 802
6 John Olerud 777
7 Ron Cey 757
8 Carlton Fisk 755
9 Tony Perez 745
10 Tino Martinez 703
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/8/2012.

Wow, never would've thought Robin Ventura would be up there.

Upon retiring, Baylor went into coaching. After two seasons as hitting coach in Milwaukee and one more in the same role with St. Louis, Baylor became the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993. He piloted the Blake Street Bombers for six seasons and led the team to its first postseason appearance in 1995. He also skippered the Cubs from 2000-2002. He is entering his second season as hitting coach for the Diamondbacks, serving under his ’88 World Series nemesis, Kirk Gibson.

Don Baylor has enjoyed an accomplished career and it all started at Bowen Field.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
Setup TBA
Setup TBA
Closer TBA

C Gregg Zaun

SS Cal Ripken

LF Don Baylor

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