First Rockies manager Don Baylor dies of cancer at 68

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Don Baylor, the first manager in Colorado Rockies history, a man respected throughout baseball for his dignity, courage

Don Baylor, the first manager in Colorado Rockies history, a man respected throughout baseball for his dignity, courage and intensity, died Monday after a long struggle with multiple myeloma. He was 68.

“Don Baylor, like no other man I ever knew, had this aura about him,” said Walt Weiss, the former Rockies manager and shortstop who played for Baylor in Colorado. “Hearing about his death today was a punch in the gut.”

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    David Zalubowski, AP Photo

    Colorado Rockies manager Don Baylor, front right, waves to the crowd as the Rockies take their traditional walk around Denver's Coors Field to mark the end of the regular season on Sunday, Sept. 27, 1998. Baylor, who managed the National League expansion team from its inception in 1993, was fired at the close of the 1998 season and replaced by Jim Leyland. Broadcast and newspaper members of The Associated Press selected the story of Baylor's dismissal as one of the top sports stories of 1998 in Colorado.

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    Getty Historical Collection

    Colorado Rockies manager Don Baylor leads the team around the field after the final 1993 home game.

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    Brian Bahr, Allsport

    Left fielder Dante Bichette of the Colorado Rockies high fives manager Don Baylor during a game against the New York Mets at Coors Field in Denver, May 6, 1997. The Rockies won the game 12-11.

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    Todd Warshaw, Getty Images

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies sits in the dugout during the Rockies 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres on June 19, 1997, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, Calif.

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    Stephen Dunn, Allsport

    Coach Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies Surveys the field before a 3-2 loss against the San Diego Padres at the Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, Calif. June 22, 1995.

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    Getty Images

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies looks on during the their interleague game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., June 14, 1997. The Rockies won 7-1.

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    Todd Warshaw, Allsport

    Manager Don Baylor #25 of the Colorado Rockies looks on during a game against the San Diego Padres at the Qualcomm Park in San Diego, Calif., July 5, 1998. The Padres defeated the Rockies 7-2.

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    Brian Bahr, Getty Images

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies stands on the field during a spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers on March 5, 1998 at the Maryvale Baseball Park in Maryvale, Ariz. The Rockies defeated the Brewers 2-1.

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    Brian Bahr, Allsport

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies talks with manager Buck Showalter of the Arizona Diamondbacks March 10, 1998, during a spring training game at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz. The Rockies won the game 6-5.

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    Brian Bahr, Allsport

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies stands on the field during a spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers at the Maryvale Baseball Park in Maryvale, Ariz. March 5, 1998. The Rockies defeated the Brewers 2-1.

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    Brian Bahr, Allsport

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies (right) stands with his team prior to a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Coors Field in Denver on April 7, 1998. The Cardinals defeated the Rockies 12-10.

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    Brian Brainerd, The Denver Post

    Rockies manager Don Baylor walks off the field after the come-from-behind win against the Giants in the last game of the year for the 1998 team.

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    Andy Cross, The Denver Post

    Clint Hurdle, left, a trainer, and Rockies coach Don Baylor take a look at Mike Lansing after contact with the Cubs, Manny Alexander, or contact with the ground at second base in the 9th inning Sunday afternoon at Coors Field.

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    Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post

    Colorado Rockies workout at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009. Hitting coach Don Baylor talks with player Ian Stewart as the players warm up.

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    Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

    Coach Don Baylor #25 and manager Jim Tracy #4 of the Colorado Rockies watch the action against the San Diego Padres during MLB action at Coors Field on May 31, 2009 in Denver. The Padres defeated the Rockies 5-2.

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    Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

    Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies poses during photo day at the Rockies spring training complex on Feb. 22, 2009 in Tuscon, Arizona.

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    Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

    Colorado Rockies hitting instructor Don Baylor, left, talked with team president Keli S. McGregor prior to batting practice Friday afternoon. The Colorado Rockies hosted the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field Friday night, July 24, 2009.

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    Christian Petersen, Getty Images

    Coach Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies looks on during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 8, 2009 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Rockies defeated the Diamondbacks 9-2.

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    Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

    Batting coach Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies looks out from the dugout during their game against the San Francisco Giants during their game on July 25, 2009 at Coors Field in Denver.

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    Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy, right, holds the arm of batting coach Don Baylor in the first day of full squad practice of 2010 spring training in Tucson, Ariz.

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    Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

    Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor watched from the dugout as the Colorado Rockies hosted the San Diego Padres at Coors Field Friday night, July 9, 2010.

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Todd Helton, the Rockies’ first baseman who began his career under Baylor, said: “He was the first guy who ever give me a chance in the big leagues. He was a class act. I never, ever, heard a bad word about him.

“I was very impressionable as a rookie, and every time he had to sit me down, not play me, he would explain why. He didn’t have to do that. And what really set him apart was that he genuinely cared about his players. He talked to you about a lot of stuff, not just baseball.”

Baylor was a stoic manager, but he had an intense fire burning below the surface. He was that way as a player, too.

Over a productive 19-year, big-league career Baylor played for the Orioles, Athletics, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins. He was an all-star and won the AL MVP with the Angels in 1979, when he led the majors in RBIs (139) and runs (120).

“Don passed from this earth with the same fierce dignity with which he played the game and lived his life,” his wife, Rebecca, said in statement.

Baylor, affectionately known as “Groove,” managed the Rockies for six seasons, compiling a 440-469 record. He was at the helm in their inaugural season of 1993, going 67-95. He also guided the Rockies to their first playoff appearance in 1995 when they won the NL wild card with a 77-67 record. That season, he was named the NL manager of the year.

Baylor is one of just four men, along with Frank Robinson, Joe Torre and Kirk Gibson, to win both an MVP and manager-of-the-year award. Baylor also managed the Cubs from 2000 to 2002. In all, Baylor wore the uniforms of 14 major-league teams as either a player, coach or manager.

“Don used power and speed to earn American League MVP honors with the Angels in 1979 and contributed to three straight pennant winners in a great 19-year major-league career,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “He then became the first manager in Rockies history, guiding them to their first postseason in just their third year of play.  Throughout stints with 14 different major-league teams as a player, coach or manager, Don’s reputation as a gentleman always preceded him.”

Bob Gebhard, the Rockies’ first general manager, knew he needed someone special to captain an expansion franchise. He found that man in Baylor, even though Baylor had never managed.

“Don was the hitting coach in St. Louis when I interviewed him,” Gebhard recalled. “I talked to him in the lobby of a hotel in St. Louis and he went right to the top of my list. I could tell, instantly, that there was a lot of fire there. The longer we talked, the more I knew he was the guy.”

Former Rockies slugger Dante Bichette said Baylor was the best manager he ever played for, adding, “he’s a man I owe a lot to.”

“Don was my guy, the guy who gave me an opportunity, and I loved him for it,” Bichette said. “In 2015, when we had our 20th anniversary celebration of the ’95 playoff team, I wanted him to make sure that I really, really, cared about the guy. I made sure and told him.”

As a player, Baylor reached World Series three consecutive times at the end of his career from 1986 to 1988, winning a title with the Twins in 1987.

He had an impressive big-league career, batting .260 with 338 home runs and 1,276 RBIs. His toughness became legendary.  He was hit by pitches 267 times and led the majors seven times in that category.

Baylor was one of the first children to integrate the public schools of Austin, Texas, in the late 1950s. An excellent all-around athlete he turned down a football scholarship from the University of Texas to play professional baseball. Had he accepted the scholarship, he would have been the first African-American athlete to play football at the university.

Growing up Baylor encountered overt racism at O. Henry Junior High in Austin, and he stood up for himself in an era when that was challenging for a black youth in Texas.

“One guy said the ‘N’ word to me,” Baylor recalled in a recent MLB.com story. “I ran through the gymnasium and tackled him on the auditorium stage. A bunch of kids ended up breaking it up, but that was the last time that guy called me that. And they all knew I was not going to take anything like that.”

Baylor was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 14 years ago, according to his family. He partnered with former Yankees pitcher Mel Stottlemyre to increase awareness and promote research into the disease.


Photos: Don Baylor through the years

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    John G. White, The Denver Post

    Rochester's Don Baylor scores standing up for Red Wings first run against Denver Bears Rich Donnelly on Sept. 23, 1971.

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    Getty Images

    Don Baylor, 25 of the California Angels, bats against the Baltimore Orioles during Game Three of the 1979 ALCS at Anaheim Stadium on Oct. 5, 1979 in Anaheim, Calif.

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    Rick Stewart, Getty Images

    Don Baylor of the New York Yankees makes contact with a pitch during a game against the Anaheim Angels on May 25, 1985 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.

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    Damian Strohmeyer, The Denver Post

    Don Baylor and others talking in the "War Room" at the Baseball Expansion Draft in New York in 1992.

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    Denver Post file

    Don Baylor talks to the press at the Baseball Expansion Draft in New York in 1992.

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    Todd Warshaw, Getty Images

    Manager Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies sits in the dugout during the Rockies 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres on June 19, 1997, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, Calif.

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    Manager Don Baylor of the Chicago Cubs argues with Umpire Bruce Froemming on the field during the game against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill., on Sept 28, 2001. The Cubs defeated the Astros 6-2.

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    Christian Petersen, Getty Images

    Coach Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies looks on during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 8, 2009 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Rockies defeated the Diamondbacks 9-2.

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    Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

    Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies poses during photo day at the Rockies spring training complex on Feb. 22, 2009 in Tuscon, Arizona.

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    Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

    Batting coach Don Baylor of the Colorado Rockies looks out from the dugout during their game against the San Francisco Giants during their game on July 25, 2009 at Coors Field in Denver.

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    Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

    Coach Don Baylor #25 and manager Jim Tracy #4 of the Colorado Rockies watch the action against the San Diego Padres during MLB action at Coors Field on May 31, 2009 in Denver. The Padres defeated the Rockies 5-2.

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    Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

    Colorado Rockies hitting instructor Don Baylor, left, talked with team president Keli S. McGregor prior to batting practice Friday afternoon. The Colorado Rockies hosted the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field Friday night, July 24, 2009.

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    Karl Gehring, The Denver Post

    Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor watched from the dugout as the Colorado Rockies hosted the San Diego Padres at Coors Field Friday night, July 9, 2010.

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    Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

    Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy, right, holds the arm of batting coach Don Baylor in the first day of full squad practice of 2010 spring training in Tucson, Ariz.

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    Jonathan Daniel, Allsport

    Manager Don Baylor of the Chicago Cubs looks on during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Ill. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 4-3.

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    Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

    Mike Piazza of the New York Mets and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants greet each other during batting practice before their game on May 6, 2004, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. Mets Bench coach Don Baylor is seen in the between the two All-Stars.

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    Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

    Coach Don Baylor #25 of the Arizona Diamondbacks oversees batting practice prior to facing the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Sept. 6, 2011 in Denver.

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    Christian Petersen, Getty Images

    Ryan Roberts #14 and Don Baylor #25 of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the Major League Baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Chase Field on June 3, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals 4-0.

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