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Don Baylor, former Red Sox slugger, dead at 68

FILE - In this April 23, 2015, file photo, Los Angeles Angels' Don Baylor poses for a photo before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, in Anaheim, Calif. Don Baylor, the 1979 AL MVP with the California Angels who went on to become manager of the year with the Colorado Rockies in 1995, has died. He was 68. Baylor died Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at a hospital in Austin, Texas, his son, Don Baylor Jr., told the Austin American-Statesman.(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo, File)

Don Baylor, the 1979 AL MVP with the California Angels who went on to become manager of the year with the Colorado Rockies in 1995, died Monday of cancer. He was 68.

Baylor died in his hometown of Austin, Texas, after a 14-year battle with multiple myeloma, his family said in a news release from the Angels.

"Don passed from this earth with the same fierce dignity with which he played the game and lived his life," Baylor's wife, Rebecca, said.

Baylor played in all 162 games in 1979 and led the majors with career bests of 139 RBIs and 120 runs. He also had career highs in homers (36) and hits (186) while helping the Angels to the American League West title before they lost to Baltimore in the AL championship series.

When the stocky Baylor retired, he had been hit by pitches a then-record 267 times, and led the majors in that category seven times. He also had 285 steals, most of them early in his career. That included a career-high 52 with Oakland in 1976.

He was the first manager of the expansion Rockies, leading them to their first playoff appearance in the franchise's third season. Colorado lost to Atlanta in four games in an NL Division Series.

Baylor spent six years with Colorado and two-plus seasons as manager of the Chicago Cubs, from 2000-02. His career record was 627-689. He was most recently the hitting coach for the Angels and spent nearly 50 years in pro baseball.

"Throughout stints with 14 different major league teams as a player, coach or manager, Don's reputation as a gentleman always preceded him," Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

Baylor won a World Series with Minnesota in 1987, hitting one of his four postseason homers in the seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"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," players' union executive director Tony Clark said.

Born June 28, 1949, in Austin, Baylor was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 1967 and chose baseball over a chance to be the first black football player at Texas. Two years later, the Longhorns became the last all-white team to win a national championship.

Baylor went to junior college before joining the Orioles organization, made his big league debut in 1970 and spent six years with Baltimore. After a year in the first of two stints with Oakland, Baylor played six seasons for the Angels.

Mostly a designated hitter but also an outfielder and first baseman, Baylor also had stops with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, as well as the Minnesota Twins, before finishing his career with the A's in 1988. He was a career .260 hitter with 338 homers and 1,276 RBIs.

Former Sox players who shared the field with Baylor, released statements after they learned about his death.

“Don was a dear friend," said Dwight Evans, who played with Baylor on the Red Sox from 1986 to 1987 and later coached under him in Colorado. "In the short time we had, he was probably the best teammate I ever played with. We traveled with Don and his wife Becky in the off-season. To me, he was a great baseball man. The game will definitely miss him. All he cared about was what was right for the game and great for the game. He played the game hard, he played the game well. He’ll be missed, no question, but he’ll be remembered as one of the great ones, not only as a player, but as a person.”

Marty Barrett and Bill Buckner, who also played with Baylor from 86 to 87, shared similar sentiments.

“Don Baylor was one of the most intimidating players to ever play the game. Once he became a teammate I realized he was a gentle giant. He calmly went about his business in a truly professional manner. He was a huge presence in our lineup that everyone benefited from. Baseball will miss him," Barrett said, with Buckner adding, “Don was a great teammate. Glad I had the opportunity to play with and against Don Baylor."

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