How Don Baylor nearly replaced Joe Maddon as manager: The untold story

SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Maddon followed Don Baylor by more than a decade as Cubs manager.

But the far-less-known connection is that long before that, Baylor was close to replacing Maddon as the Angels’ manager.

It was the Angels’ delay in naming Bill Stoneman their general manager after the 1999 season that cost them the chance to hire Baylor, allowing the Cubs to hire him out from under their heavy pursuit.

Maddon had finished that season as the Angels’ interim manager and was interviewed for the long-term job. Then-Angels president Tony Tavares blamed himself at the time for missing out on Baylor after making a ‘‘very substantial offer.’’

Baylor as Cubs manager in 2001.

Baylor said he needed to know whom the GM was going to be before making a decision. He also said: ‘‘The Cubs [interview] was done in a first-class way, and I have a relationship with [then-president] Andy MacPhail. He traded for me and brought me to a World Series team [1987 Twins].’’

Whether the fortunes of either franchise might have changed with a different decision by Baylor that fall, the moment offers a glimpse into how well-regarded and widely respected the 1979 American League most valuable player was throughout a five-decade life in baseball. He died Monday after a long struggle with multiple myeloma.

‘‘That’s a big loss for baseball; that really hit hard today,’’ said Darrell Miller, a former spring-training teammate and a member of the Angels’ scouting department that fall. ‘‘Incredible, incredible player. Incredible man. A kind guy. They’re just not on every street corner like him.’’

Baylor was the first manager in Rockies history. He took them to the playoffs in their third season and won a National League Manager of the Year award.

He was the first black Cubs manager, directing a 23-game improvement from his first season in 2000 to his second in 2001. And he was universally respected and often revered in the game.

‘‘Everybody loved playing for him,’’ Miller said. ‘‘And he’s the kind of guy who would treat the batboy and the clubhouse kid like the president of the United States.’’

Baylor continued to work for more than a decade after his 2004 diagnosis, keeping the severity of his condition out of the public light.

‘‘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 managed the Cubs in 2000-02, compiling a 187-220 record before being fired midway through his third season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred praised Baylor’s on-field accomplishments but also remembered him away from the game.

‘‘Don’s reputation as a gentleman always preceded him,’’ Manfred said.

Baylor played for six teams (Orioles, Athletics, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins) in 19 big-league seasons. He was hit by a pitch 267 times, which ranks fourth in history.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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