Baylor won the American League MVP as a member of the Angels in 1979. (Aug. 7, 2017)
Don Baylor, who passed away Monday after a long battle with cancer, will be remembered by long-time Orioles fans as one of the "Baby Birds" who came up from the bottom of the minor-league system to play parts of six seasons in Baltimore in the 1970s.
He was a wonderful combination of speed and power who averaged 29 stolen bases in his four full seasons as an Oriole before being traded to Oakland in the multi-player deal that brought back Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson for one season at Memorial Stadium.
I will remember him as the 1979 American League MVP who led the California Angels to the postseason for the first time in franchise history and was the undisputed clubhouse leader during the six seasons he spent in Anaheim.
Fans in Boston, Minnesota and Oakland will remember him as the veteran slugger who accompanied their team to the World Series in three consecutive seasons.
Everybody called him "Groove," a nickname given to him in Baltimore by none other than O's legend Frank Robinson, and God help the pitcher who faced him when he was in one.
He drove the Angels into that playoff series against the Orioles in '79, leading the major leagues in runs (120) and RBI(139) while ranking sixth with 36 home runs.
But those are just numbers. Baylor was one of those players who brought out the best in his teammates and also was usually the guy who straightened them out when they got out of line.
Nobody messed with Groove, which was curious since he was also one of the nicest people in the sport but not surprising since he was a very imposing physical presence.
The Angels at that time were a veteran club with a lot of strong, hard-nosed personalities and I was a very young beat writer in 1979 and '80. There were a few guys in there who could be pretty tough on a kid reporter and manager Jim Fregosi wasn't an easy interview either, so I was quickly advised that the go-to guys in the clubhouse were Baylor and Bobby Grich, the other former Oriole who came to the Angels in the first wave of baseball free agency.
Both were very much as advertised, but Baylor was the man in that clubhouse, even after his 1980 season was derailed in May by a broken wrist and the Angels reeled to a 95-loss encore to their uplifting '79 playoff run.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred pretty much summed him up in a statement released on Monday to acknowledge the passing of both Baylor and Phillies star Darren Daulton.
"Throughout stints with 14 different Major League teams as a player, coach or manager, Don's reputation as a gentleman always preceded him."
He would rebound during the strike-shortened 1981 season and would lead the Angels back to the playoffs the following year. He drove in 10 runs in the five-game American League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, but the Angels blew a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff and would wait 20 more years for their first World Series.
Baylor got his World Series ring with the Twins in 1987, proving that nice guys do finish first on occasion. He would go on to be named the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993 and led them led them to the playoffs in record time, garnering NL Manager of the Year honors after that playoff run in 1995.,
He battled multiple myeloma for 14 years and came back from the disease to serve as Angels hitting coach in 2014 and 2015.