Don Baylor operated in an era before managers obsessed over the feelings of their players.

He didn't coddle. He wasn't Zen.


He called out Sammy Sosa by saying he needed to be a more "complete" player, and he insisted it was a "big deal" that Sosa showed up late for spring training in 2000. That might sound tame, but for a slugger who demanded superstar treatment, those were practically fighting words.

Sosa shot back that Baylor had "no class."

Baylor's view? If you don't like being criticized in the media, do something about it. Come see me. Or, better yet, get it done on the field.

The baseball community learned Monday morning that Baylor had died from cancer of the bone marrow at 68. Cancer might be the only thing that could have taken down a man that big, that strong and that tough.

Baylor could be gruff. After his team blew a late lead in Colorado in 2001, a young radio reporter asked flippantly, "Are you looking forward to leaving Coors Field?"

"No," Baylor replied. "Why would I be?"

Baylor paused, let out a sigh, asked if there were any other questions and then walked back to his office.

But he was also personable. I covered his 21/2 seasons managing the Cubs and grew to admire a man whose autobiography was titled, "Nothing But the Truth."

Baylor was reared in baseball by Earl Weaver, who didn't give a bleep what you thought of him. Only your performance mattered. And winning.

Baylor's style reflected that.

He once rankled closer Tom "Flash" Gordon by saying he had to have another arm ready in the bullpen in case Gordon "walked the ballpark."

Baylor warned Corey Patterson that if the Cubs' top prospect didn't emphasize speed over power, he wouldn't have much of a big-league career.

He clashed at times with Eric Young, who played for him with the Rockies and Cubs. Young didn't appreciate reading in a newspaper that Baylor said he reported to camp out of shape in 1995.

"Don and I had our little disagreements," Young said in 2000, "and at the time I was a little teed off. But it's all in how you respond to it. I took the attitude of 'I'll show you' rather than taking it personally. I had my best years in '95 and '96."


Though he ended up having a productive relationship with Sosa, Baylor vowed never to change his style, calling it "constructive criticism."

Said Mark Grace in 2000: "He tells it like it is. He came out the other day and said I wasn't hitting the ball out of the infield. I have no problem with that because he was right."

Baylor took the Rockies to the playoffs in their third season in 1995 but got bounced after six seasons (440-469). His 2001 Cubs finished 88-74, but President Andy MacPhail fired him after the 2002 team slumped to a 34-49 record.

At the time, left fielder Moises Alou was one of the few who spoke up for Baylor, saying: "I feel so bad because Don was so supportive of me. This team hasn't played the way it should be playing. It's not his fault. It's our fault."

Baylor's in-game strategy reflected the times. He favored sacrifice bunts even when his bottom-of-the-lineup hitters repeatedly failed to drive in runners.

As a player, Baylor once told a reporter: "Once I get in a groove, I really don't care who the (other) outfielders are out there."

His teammates nicknamed him "Groove," and it stuck. The 1979 American League MVP with the Angels, Baylor hit .260 for his career with 338 home runs and 1,276 RBIs and was hit by a pitch 267 times, the fourth-highest all-time total.

Regarding his push to have Sosa improve his defense and baserunning, Baylor explained it like this: "I've been a Laker fan all my life. When Phil (Jackson) came in and told Shaq (O'Neal), 'You're going to improve your free-throw shooting,' Shaq accepted it and said, 'I'm going to work on my game.' And he ends up being the MVP."

Part of Baylor's charm was that he did not sound like a politician. He left behind some memorable, albeit awkward, sayings in the mold of Casey Stengel.

He called a player's return from injury a "50-50 long shot."

He said of one of his teams: "We haven't found our gel yet."

And of its bullpen: "It's an improvement that we have to upgrade."

"A lot of guys will be self-evaluating themselves," he said.

"This year," he said early in the 2001 season, "all the puzzles fit."

Baylor had his own way. He will be missed.


Twitter @TeddyGreenstein