Former Cubs manager Don Baylor died Monday morning after a long struggle with multiple myeloma. He was 68.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Baylor died at 4:25 a.m. Monday, his son confirmed to his hometown newspaper.
“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 a statement.
Baylor, the 1979 American League MVP, managed the Cubs for three seasons from 2000-2002. He had a 187-220 record with the Cubs and was fired midway through the 2002 season. He was the first black manager in the Cubs’ history.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred praised Baylor’s on-the-field accomplishments but also remembered him away from the game: “Don’s reputation as a gentleman always preceded him.”
He played in the major leagues for six teams (Orioles, Athletics, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins) in 19 seasons and was on a World Series winner with the Twins in 1987. Known for his toughness on the field, he was hit 267 times by a pitch, which ranks fourth all-time.
He was influential in the early days of the MLB players association. “Don’s commitment to the game and its future also inspired him to play an instrumental role in helping the MLBPA establish itself as a bona-fide union,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said.
After retiring from the playing field, he was the first manager for the Rockies in their inaugural 1993 season until he was fired in 1998. He was the NL manager of the year in 1995 and was hired to manage the Cubs in 2000.
When he was hired Baylor said that Cubs officials didn’t have to work hard to persuade him to be their next manager. The mystique of the Cubs’ worldwide following, Wrigley Field, day baseball — along with the challenge of turning around the team’s losing history — already had lured Baylor.
“They called me at 8:30 the next day (after the World Series ended),” Baylor said as at his introductory news conference. “It was something I had to think about, but not for very long. This franchise speaks for itself. It will be a challenge, but it’s Chicago, day baseball, Wrigley Field. They have fans all over the world. I want to be part of that.”
He replaced the fired Jim Riggleman as Cubs manager.
In his first season as Cubs manager, the team went 16-42 from August 1 to the end of the season, finishing with a 65-97 record. It marked the first time the Cubs posted back-to-back 95-plus loss seasons. In 2001, Baylor oversaw a 23-game improvement, the second-best in the majors, as the team finished 88-65 and in third place in the National League Central.
In 2002, the Cubs went 8-16 for April, and the first talk of Baylor’s future was raised. On July 5, Cubs president Andy MacPhail fired Baylor with 1 1/2 years remaining on his contract. In the shakeup, McPhail relinquished general-manager duties to Jim Hendry, who named Class AAA manager Bruce Kimm the team’s interim manager.
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that weakens the bones, in 2003. He became an advocate and fund-raiser to fight the disease.
On March 31, 2014, Baylor suffered a freak accident breaking his right femur while catching a ceremonial first pitch from the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero. He required surgery and returned in June.
“The regular cancers have had so much money thrown into the pot, and like Multiple Myeloma, we still can’t find a cure,” Baylor said in 2013. “This is a specialized cancer. Maybe we can bring up awareness for Multiple Myeloma. Prostate cancer is men. Breast cancer is women. This can strike anybody. It skips one person and gets another. You don’t even have to be a certain age to get this.”