Baylor Is Back Where He Belongs

By Phil Rogers
Updated: December 28, 2008

CHICAGO — The holiday season is usually a slow one around baseball, but the trickle of transactions contained some really good news.

Don Baylor, the former Cubs manager who battled cancer in an inspirational way — hardly surprising for anyone who knows him — is returning to the majors as Clint Hurdle’s hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies.

Baylor, 59, had been out of uniform since spending 2005 as a coach with the Seattle Mariners. He was Colorado’s first manager, beginning with the expansion team in 1993 and ending in ’98. He managed the Cubs in 2000-02.

Though Baylor failed to make the playoffs with the team he inherited from Jim Riggleman, he helped raise the standards throughout the organization. His hiring ended a period when the Cubs often hired inexperienced managers and has been followed by the Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella eras, which have produced three playoff teams in six years.

“The last three years I was looking for a situation that fit, but nothing fit like this one,” Baylor said. “I was (the first) one hired to wear the uniform, and now to be going back is pretty special.”

Baylor was working as a coach for the New York Mets when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003. He underwent stem-cell-replacement treatment, which affected him for parts of two years, but he long ago considered himself healthy enough to go back to work.

Hurdle followed Baylor’s situation through mutual friends, knowing he was eager to get back on the field, and extended him an unusual invitation last summer. He offered Baylor a chance to coach the National League All-Stars at Yankee Stadium, where Baylor played in 1983-85.

“It came out of left field,” Baylor said of the chance to serve as an honorary coach. “It was a tremendous honor. It was an indication of our relationship.”

Baylor’s hiring was part of a coaching staff overhaul. After going to the World Series in 2007, the Rockies slipped to 74-88, and Hurdle responded by replacing four of his dugout coaches and the strength and conditioning coach.

“It is funny how life works out,” Hurdle told the Rocky Mountain News. “… As (I talked with Don) it became evident to me his passion for the game is in place.”

Hurdle was a minor-league instructor for the Rockies when Baylor was the manager. Baylor saw him as a resource in those days, and now the roles have changed.

“It will be different, coming back as a coach, but with the relationship we have I know I can tell Clint things and not worry about repercussions,” Baylor said. “Clint knows I am coming back to be his coach and help him be successful.”

Todd Helton is the lone Rockies hitter who played for Baylor when he was Colorado’s manager. He considered the hiring an early Christmas present.

“I am excited about this for selfish reasons,” Helton said. “I have a lot of respect for him. Hopefully he can help me like he helped Chipper (Jones with Atlanta) and Cat (Andres Galarraga in St. Louis). When ‘Groove’ talks, people listen. It’s a tribute to Clint that he is willing to make a move like this.”