Don Baylor

Don Baylor, leader of Red Sox '86 champions, dies at 68

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Don Baylor, leader of Red Sox '86 champions, dies at 68

Don Baylor, whose acquisition just prior to the beginning of the 1986 season was one of the keys to the Red Sox winning the A.L. pennant that year, died Monday in Austin, Tex., after a long battle with cancer. He was 68.

Baylor -- who won the American League MVP Award in 1979 as a member of the Angels -- joined the Red Sox in a straight-up trade with the Yankees for fellow DH Mike Easler on March 28, 1986. Serving as the Sox' full-time designated hitter, he hit 31 home runs and drove in 94 runs in 160 games with a slash line of .238/.344/.439 and helped Boston cruise to the A.L. East crown. He also hit one of the most historic postseason home runs in franchise history, a two-run shot off Mike Witt in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS that cut the Angels' lead from 5-2 to 5-4 and set the stage for a dramatic comeback victory that helped the Sox overcome a 3-1 series deficit and win the American League pennant.

Beyond his on-field contributions, Baylor also served as the clubhouse leader the Sox had long lacked, He instituted a Kangaroo Court that fined players for minor transgressions and kept them focused on the field, helped guide the players through the turbulent waters of the midseason controversy surrounding the suspension of volatile pitcher Oil Can Boyd, and helped unite a team that had been fractured for years. He was credited by many of his teammates, particularly Dwight Evans, as being the glue that held the '86 Sox together.

Baylor was 37 when he played for the Sox and soon became a gun-for-hire, sought by contending teams to help get them over the top. He played in three consecutive World Series -- 1986 with the Red Sox, 1987 with the Twins and 1988 with the A's -- and won a championship with Minnesota in '87.

Baylor played for the Orioles, Angels and Yankees prior to joining the Red Sox. He finished his 19-year career with 338 home runs.

After his playing career, Baylor managed the expansion Rockies for the first seasons of their existence, guiding them to a postseason appearance in 1995. He also managed the Cubs from 2000 to 2002.

Baylor's family said he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 14 years ago. He and former Yankees pitcher Mel Stottlemyre worked togetherto increase awareness and promote research into the disease.

"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 is survived by his wife, son Don Jr. and two granddaughters.