Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RIP, Don Baylor

Whitey Herzog, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals,
congradulates Kent Hrbek in the Twins clubhouse after
Game Seven of the 1987 World Series. Don Baylor is
behind them.
The Associated Press moved nine photos of Don Baylor in the wake of his death Monday. This is the only one from his time with the Twins, and it is easily the worst of the bunch.

I suspect most Twins fans of my age -- meaning old enough that the '87 Twins' implausible World Series title is something we lived through -- have an outsized memory of Baylor's role with that team.

Baylor was 38 when he came to the Twins in a waiver-wire deal just ahead of the postseason roster deadline, in exchange for an A-ball pitcher who never got out of A ball. Baylor played just 20 games for the Twins, 58 at-bats, zero homers.

In the regular season.

Saturday, October 24, 1987, Game Six of the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals lead 5-2 going into the bottom of the fifth, with their supurb veteran lefty John Tudor on the mound. Seated in the Metrodome's Section 232, Row 22, Seat 33 -- nosebleed territory down the left field line -- I'm mentally writing my obit for the Twins.

Kirby Puckett leads off with a single. Gary Gaetti doubles him in. And Don Baylor follows -- if memory serves (and it probably doesn't on that detail) on the first pitch -- with a line drive home run to left. Tie game. Pandenomium. The Twins would take the lead later that inning, and the Cardinals never scored again.

Baylor's blast wasn't the signature moment of that game -- Kent Hrbek's grand slam off lefty reliever Ken Dayley the next inning was -- but it is one moment forever etched behind my eyelids.

I heard Dan Gladden during Monday's game say that Baylor gave the Twins "something we needed -- a big bopper in the middle of the lineup." The 1987 Twins were overflowing with big boppers in the middle of the lineup. Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky all topped 30 homers, and Puckett hit 28.

What they didn't have until Baylor arrived was a reliable designated hitter against lefties. Randy Bush, left-handed hitter, was a straight platoon hitter. Roy Smalley and Gene Larkin were switch hitters, but Tom Kelly let the veteran Smalley have just 26 plate appearances all season against southpaws, and the rookie Larkin slugged just .377 from the right side. Baylor filled a niche role -- right-handed DH -- that has disappeared in today's age of 13-man pitching staffs.

Baylor was a lot of things in his remarkable life, on and off the baseball field. He intregrated Stephen F. Austin High School in the capital city of Texas. He was the 1979 American League MVP. He was the first manager of the Colorado Rockies. He had three seasons of 30 or more homers and three seasons of 30 or more steals. For a while he held the career record for getting hit by pitches.

But this fan will always remember that fifth-inning swing and the moment of that ball clearing the plexiglass atop the leftfield wall in the Metrodome.


  1. The Hrbek grand slam got more press attention that day. But for me the Baylor home run was the biggest hit of that game and probably the biggest hit in Twins history. It turned it around. The moment before Baylor hit his home run, I thought we were going to lose. By the time Hrbek hit his grand slam, I think we all already thought the Twins were going to win.

  2. Ditto, Hugh! Baylor's home run changed the momentum 180 degrees. Hrbek's just kept it going in the same direction. I wasn't at the game like you were Ed. I had to settle for the radio call, but Baylor's HR is etched in my memory also - right up there with Puckett's Game 6 shot (for which I was in attendance)!