Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #462, Don Baylor (Article 85)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
I remember being so excited and enthused when the Yankees acquired Don Baylor. Don Baylor! He was great. He was an MVP Award winner!!! He was going to be great as a Yankee.
It just didn’t happen as I hoped.
Baylor was good as a Yankee, but he was never the great player I thought he’d be.
By the time the Yankees acquired Don Baylor (as a free agent) he was getting past his prime. That was too bad. It seemed that Baylor’s very best years were already behind him. After all, he was 34-years-old.
WAR is an interesting stat and tool to use when looking back at players and their careers. When I looked back to Don Baylor’s greatest seasons, as judged by WAR, they are not so overwhelming. With WAR, I see that Don Baylor was, in many ways, the player I remember – good, but not great.
Don Baylor was the A.L. MVP in 1979. That year his WAR was just 3.7. (See what I mean?) The top WAR in the American League that year was Fred Lynn at 8.9. Baylor’s 3.7 wasn’t even in the top ten.
When I was growing up, the big stats that people cared about were batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Those were the big three. And, in 1979, Don Baylor did very well in those categories. He batted .296 with 36 homers and a league-leading 139 rbi’s. Yeah, in 1979, that gets you an MVP, even if modern stats show that you were not as valuable as those numbers might indicate.
In his career, Don Baylor hit over 20 homers in a season nine times.
Don Baylor drove in 90 or more runs in a season five times.
Don Baylor batted over .290 two times.
When he came to the Yankees, I pictured a guy who would hit .290 with 30 homers and 90+ runs batted in. I thought that would be his Yankees profile. I thought the Yankees could get all of Baylor’s best attributes and have them come together.
And they did! But only in Don Baylor’s first year.
Don Baylor’s Yankee career went as such:
1983: .303/21/85 (3.5 WAR)
1984: .262/27/89 (3.0 WAR)
1985: ..231/23/91 (0.7 WAR)
Those were pretty good seasons, but each year, Baylor seemed to get a bit worse, even as the runs batted in kept coming. What is interesting is that the second best season Don Baylor ever had, by WAR, was that 1983 season, his first as a Yankee, at 34-years-old.
As I’m writing this passage, that season was better than I remembered. In my mind. I picture Don Baylor hitting around .250 and just not being the superstar I hoped he’d be.
As I look back, his traditional numbers were better than I remembered, but his impact (as measured by WAR) was what left me underwhelmed.
Don Baylor’s greatest skill might have been in getting hit by pitches. He stood tall, an imposing presence as he was so strong, as he stood right on the plate. As such, he was plunked – a lot.
Don Baylor led the American League in hit by pitches eight times. His 267 times being hit ranks #4 all-time, but for a while he was the all-time leader post-1900. Baylor has since been passed by Craig Biggio (285).
In a rare trade between the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Yankees traded Don Baylor for another DH type in Mike Easler.
Easler was a left-handed slugger. I thought he’d be great as a Yankee. He did well in 1986 (.302/14/78) but was traded to the Phillies in 1987 for Charles Hudson, a hard-throwing right handed pitcher who I thought might be great. (I always had high hopes…)
Hudson was soon traded for Tom Brookens (who I knew wouldn’t be great).
Brookens was released after one season in New York.
Don Baylor played for some good teams over the years, he had come up with the Baltimore Orioles in 1973 and he played for the California Angels when they were division winners, but he never reached the World Series until the end of his career. And then he did it again. And again. All with different teams.
In 1986, Baylor went to the World Series with the Boston Red Sox.
In 1987, Baylor went to the World Series with the Minnesota Twins.
In 1988, his last season, Baylor went to the World Series with the Oakland A’s.
That’s a pretty nice way to finish a long career.
My last memory of Don Baylor is from Ron Guidry’s 18 strikeout game in 1979. Baylor came up with two outs in the ninth. The previous two batters had been strikeouts #17 and #18 for Guidry. I was hoping Baylor would be #19.