They don’t make them like they used to. Angels Don Baylor was more than just a good player. Remembering “Groove”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25: Coach Don Baylor of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sits in the dugout during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2014 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25: Coach Don Baylor of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sits in the dugout during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2014 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) /

Don Baylor was one of the all-time greats to put on an Angel uniform (1977 to 1982) .  However, Baylor was more than just a player, he was a leader, a coach, and a friend to many in the Angels organization. His death Monday was felt throughout the whole Angels organization as well as its fans.

When the California Angels signed outfielder Don Baylor as a free agent before the 1977 season,  Angel fans didn’t have much to cheer about.  Sure we had Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan who is one of the greatest pitchers in not only Angels history but MLB history as well. However, the Angels had not finished over .500 since 1970. Furthermore they had never finished higher than third place and have never made the playoffs.

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While Don Baylor was not the only reason for the Angels climb from mediocrity in 1979 to their first AL West title, he was the catalyst/leader of the pack.  In 1978, Baylor’s second year with the Angels the team recorded the best record in club history at the time (87-75) and finished in second place in the AL West with Baylor leading the charge. “Groove” as he will always be known to many Angel fans hit .255 with 34 homers and 99 RBI’s in the 1978.

However, this was nothing compared to what would happen in the following year of 1979.  Baylor would have a career year in 1979 smashing a team record at the time 39 homers while driving in 139 runs (Angel record that still stands) and hitting .296.  Baylor became the first player in Angel history to be named AL MVP in 1979.

However, more importantly, Baylor helped lead the Angels to the promise-land of sorts, the AL West title.  The Angels beat out Texas and Kansas City to qualify for the playoffs in 1979 and play Baylor’s former team, the Baltimore Orioles.  While the Angels lost the ALCS series in four-games, the foundation for a new era in Angels baseball had been laid.

Baylor played for the Angels for three more years with 1980 and 1981 being injury-riddled seasons that saw Baylor only play 153 games combined.  However, true to form Baylor bounced back in 1982 hitting 24 homers and driving in 93 runs to help the Angels to another AL West title.  Again the Angels played hard in the ALCS but couldn’t against the Milwaukee Brewers but they came up short of the World Series losing three games to two.

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Baylor would then move on via free agency to the New York Yankees in 1983. In 1986 Baylor would join the Boston Red Sox and play a big role in helping break the Angels hearts once again.  Baylor would hit a two-run homer in the 9th inning to keep the Red Sox hopes alive and Dave Henderson would crush his infamous two-run blast that gave the Red Sox the lead. The Red Sox would fight back to win the series in seven games and again crush the Angels World Series aspirations.

Baylor himself would start a string of being a part of three straight  World Series teams from 1986-1988.  He would win his only World Series ring in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins.  After Baylor’s retirement following the 1988 season.  Baylor became a hitting he bounced around being a hitting coach for various teams before becoming the first manager of the Colorado Rockies. He also managed the for three years.

Baylor was also the third player ever elected into the Angels Hall of Fame in 1990.  Bobby Grich and Jim Fregosi proceeded Baylor into the Angels HOF.

In 2014 Baylor was hired as the hitting coach a position he held for two seasons before having his contract not renewed after the 2015 season.

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Looking past the numbers though, Baylor had a big impact on many players in the organization such as Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.  His work ethic was always strong, but yet he had a way with players and fans that made him so beloved by the organization.

Personally I remember my first Angel game when I was only nine years old in 1982.  I watched the Angels play the Kansas City Royals on a Sunday afternoon and I saw Baylor hit career home run #200.

While it wasn’t a major milestone compared to today’s standards, we stood and gave Baylor a standing ovation and he came out for a curtain call.  At that moment I was hooked on Angels baseball and Don Baylor.

It broke my heart when he left after that season, especially when he was a part of knocking us out of the playoffs in 1986.  However, when I heard Baylor was coming back to be the Angels’ hitting coach I knew something special was going to happen and it did.  The Angels had a great season winning 98 games and winning the AL West for the first time since 2009.  Not only that Mike Trout won his first AL MVP under Baylor’s tutelage. Unfortunately the Angels did not fare so well in the playoffs being swept in three games by the Royals.

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The next season the Angels took a turn for the worse as the team batting average dropped 13 points from 2014.  This prompted the Angels to not renew Baylor’s contract at the end of the season. Baylor still always loved the Angels organization will always be a special part of it even now after his death.

To us here in Anaheim Don Baylor will always be known as “Groove” and will a special place in Angels history. You will be missed.