Monday, August 7, 2017

Post #33 - A Sad Day For Baseball

I haven't read anyone else's blog posts today.  I apologize, but I've been traveling all day.  However, I woke up to the news that Darren Daulton had passed away.  Shortly afterwards, I got an ESPN alert that told me Don Baylor had passed away as well.  While I'm sure that this is not the only "In Memoriam" post today, it does come from my heart.

I never had the opportunity to see Daulton or Baylor play. Regardless, both had an impact on me, in collecting and in life.  Any day that someone passes on to the other side, whether a former ballplayer or just a neighbor down the street, is a sad day, and this is no exception.

Darren Daulton (or Dutch, as many called him) was a 25th round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980, and he made his debut in 1983.  Up through 1988, Dutch saw very little time behind the plate, due to the presence of other Philadelphia catchers Ozzie Virgil and Lance Parrish.  In 1989, Daulton would take over the starting job and hit .268 with 57 RBIs, earning himself a three-year contract extension.  This extension allowed him to catch Terry Mulholland's no-hitter in 1990.

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1992 was a career year for Dutch, as he made his first All-Star game, finished 6th in the NL MVP voting, and won the Silver Slugger Award. He had another banner year in 1993, finishing 7th in the MVP voting as the Phillies won the National League pennant before falling in the World Series to Toronto.  1994 looked to be much of the same before knee injuries caught up to him, although he did manage to make the All-Star team again in 1995. Unfortunately, he only wound up playing in 98 games that season, and missed all but five games in 1996. Midway through the 1997 season, Philadelphia traded Daulton to the Florida Marlins.

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Beginning in 1997 (just like yours truly) Daulton became an outfielder, unable to catch due to lingering knee problems.  He would play a limited role for the Marlins in 1997, seeing time in left field, first base, and as a pinch hitter.  While only hitting .263 during the regular season (still an impressive clip), Dutch shined in the 1997 World Series, going 7-18 as the Fish defeated Cleveland for the ring.  Following the season, Daulton announced his retirement from baseball. In 2010, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame.

Daulton encountered many off-field issues ranging from DUI's to battery of his wife.  These are issues that I do not care to get into on this blog. What I will say about them is this: Darren Daulton was one name that I frequently saw in a negative light, and that was something that I always assured myself that I would avoid as a ballplayer.  Everyone is guilty of mistakes, and Darren Daulton was no different.  In 2013, he underwent surgery to address two brain tumors that he had, and in 2015 he announced he was cancer free  This was not the case, as Darren "Dutch" Daulton passed away this morning at the age of 55. 

I collected Daulton quite a bit as a kid.  I was raised in a junk wax household; by that, I mean my dad gave me all of his old junk wax hand-me-downs, and it was quite apparent due to Daulton's frequent appearance in many sets that he was a successful ballplayer.  My collection never developed any further, but I still to this day can flip through a box of 1990s baseball cards and come across a stack of seven, eight, nine Darren Daulton cards in a row.  He certainly would have been an early PC of mine.  Rest In Peace, Dutch.

Image courtesy of Trading Card Database

Don Baylor is a ballplayer that I feel like is oft forgotten due to the fact that he isn't in the Hall of Fame and only made one All-Star team. Despite these factors, he was a very good player and coach in his day.

Baylor attended Stephen F. Austin High School in Texas, after becoming one of three students to integrate Texas schools as a junior high student.  He starred in baseball and football, and was actually offered a football scholarship to be a Texas Longhorn, which would have made him the first African-American football player in UT history.  However, he declined and took a baseball scholarship to Blinn Junior College.  Baylor was a second round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1967, receiving a signing bonus of $7500.

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Baylor broke into the Bigs in 1970 and played with Baltimore through 1975, when he was traded to Oakland (along with Paul Mitchell and Mike Torrez) in exchange for Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman, and Bill VanBommell.  He would then sign with the California Angels in 1977 as a free agent.

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He lead the American League in runs and RBIs in 1979, and was selected to his first and only All-Star game.  He also won the AL MVP that year while leading the Angels to their first Western Division title.  After 1983, the remainder of Baylor's career became stamps in a passport: New York (Yankees) from 1983-86; traded to Boston in 1986; traded to Minnesota in 1987; and signed as a free agent by Oakland in 1988, his final season.  Baylor won his only World Series in 1987 with the Twins, sandwiched between two losing seasons (1986 with Boston and 1988 with Oakland).  Upon retiring, Baylor had been hit by 267 pitches (good for fourth most all-time), collected 2,135 hits, and walloped 338 home runs.

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After stepping away as a player, Baylor spent time as the hitting coach for both Milwaukee and St. Louis before becoming the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993, a position he held until 1998.  He was the National League Manager of the Year in 1995 when the Rockies made their first post-season appearance as a wild card team.  He was fired in 1998 and spent 1999 as the Atlanta Braves hitting coach before being hired as the manager of the Chicago Cubs for the 2000 season.  He would hold this position until 2002, when he took the job of bench coach for the New York Mets.  Baylor spent the rest of the 2000s bouncing around as a hitting coach for many teams: Seattle, Colorado, Arizona, and the Angels, through the 2015 season.  Unfortunately, Baylor had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, and he would lose his battle this morning at the age of 68.

Despite fantastic power numbers and quite a few hits, Baylor was only a career .260 hitter and was never elected to the Hall of Fame.  Remembered as one of baseball's gentle giants, Don was famous for crowding the plate, as if daring the pitcher to hit him (thus his high number of HBPs). It is hard to say that he never got the credit he deserved during his career, as much like Daulton, I wasn't there for his career.  However, Baylor was always almost a mythological figure to me growing up.  As an avid reader and a lover of baseball history, his name seemed to come up more often than not.  It didn't hurt that Baylor's career was wrapping up as the junk wax era of collecting was beginning; manufacturers began churning out cards of him that ended up in my grubby little hands many years after the fact. 

A hitter that I truly wish I could have seen play, baseball sure lost a good one today.  Rest In Peace, Don.

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  1. I saw Darren play quite a bit when the Phillies would play the Braves. He and John Kruk would always terrorize my team so I never cared for him. I didn't realize all of his off the field troubles, but regardless it was sad to hear of course of his passing today.

    1. To be honest, I didn't realize the extent of his off-the-field issues until I started researching for this post, although I do remember seeing his name crop up on the bottom line on ESPN many times and it never seemed to be good.

      I know what you mean about terrorizing your favorite team. Yadier Molina gives me a sour taste in my mouth because the Cardinals have crushed the Reds over the last 17 years or so it seems.

  2. Having been around for both players' careers and being 10 when Baylor won his MVP award, I did get the chance to see both of them play (growing up just outside of Philly, I saw much more of Daulton). Both were great for a year or so and had solid careers. Baylor probably more so than Daulton. Daulton didn't really come into his own until 1990 or so (he was 28 at that point). I met his first wife (while they were married; work event) and while she was chatting with the other women that were there (including my wife, who wasn't my wife yet at that point), she did mention some things that made it sound like he wasn't the most gracious person. (But nothing about abuse.) About 4 years ago, my son (who is coincidentally also named Darren - we just liked the name) decided to collect Daulton (due to the name and he was a Phillie) because he had only about 500 cards (listed at the trading card database). We got most of them. Glad I did. RIP Dutch.