Don Baylor, baseball's preeminent jurist, is in deep deliberation now, studying the remains of the ham sandwich in question. It was found in the locker of Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans unacceptably close to game time. The customary fine in Boston's kangaroo court for such an offense is $5. But Evans objects. He contends that coach Rene Lachemann, a known pregame nosher, planted the evidence. This, muses Judge Baylor, is a case without precedent.
Baylor seeks the truth. That is what he has always sought, whether as a child volunteering to desegregate an all-white school in Texas or as a 16-year major league veteran trying to find someone in Yankee management man enough to tell him why he was being shunted into a platoon role. He is a member of the Red Sox now, though, and here Baylor weighs the evidence, all but smelling the mustard on Lachemann's fingers, but also hearing the coach's denial. Baylor acts firmly. With the necessary thumbs-up approval of the other Boston players assembled in the Fenway Park clubhouse, he fines Lachemann $5 for a combination of perjury, sabotage and, presumably, having eaten the half of the sandwich that is missing. In kangaroo court, Baylor rules, digestion is nine tenths of the law.
"Every day around here, there's a new law," he says with a smile.
Before every Sunday home game, Boston's newly acquired designated hitter cum chief justice opens his blue spiral notebook and reads off the latest offenses. His teammates laugh, argue and learn the necessity of hitting the cutoff man. Life is different with Don Baylor around. The Red Sox didn't have a kangaroo court until he came over from the Yankees in a March 28 trade for Mike Easier. But they didn't have a man quite like him, either: a physically imposing, established leader who could eat up the Green Monster with his dead-pull swing and change the whole character of the team just by walking into the clubhouse. Boston's reputation for aloofness and apathy, for having 25 players head off alone to dinner in 25 different cabs, suddenly vanished. The Red Sox found that this fellow Baylor could make them into winners, and into a team.
June 15, 1986
And, ah, what a team! As of Sunday, Boston had the best record in the American League, 37-18. Baylor, who got off to a slow start, nevertheless already has 13 homers and 40 RBIs. Nine of those home runs have either tied the game or put the Bosox ahead. And as if to mock the Yankees for having platooned him, 12 of the homers have come off righthanders. Last week he hit two homers as his new club stayed three games ahead of the Orioles.
Wielding his bat or his gavel, Baylor is a formidable presence. He comes from the Frank Robinson school of kangaroo justice—which is to say he learned from the best—and he would sooner hang you than see you strand a runner at third base. Robinson, an MVP in both leagues, was a kind of John Marshall of baseball's kangaroo courts, building their respectability with his strong, high-profile leadership. He ran the court of the mighty Orioles when Baylor made his first appearances for Baltimore in 1970 and '71, and he introduced the intense young outfielder—a Minor League Player of the Year who was already touted as Robinson's successor—to a sharp-edged version of the Socratic method.
"Don was so competitive on the field he would get very upset if he didn't get a hit," recalls former Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger. "In court we would egg him on and get him so mad he'd swear at someone, and then get fined for that." Judge Robinson presented Baylor with his first major league trophy, a toilet seat painted red, for losing his composure and not acting like a big league ballplayer. "I got that a lot," he says.
Baylor smiles at the memory. He is 36 years old now, divorced, a veteran of five teams and nine managers and owners with names like Finley and Steinbrenner and too many nagging injuries that he shouldn't have played through but did for the good of the team. Not acting like a big league ballplayer. Funny, now. His place in baseball history will be as a leader—maybe the foremost of this era—and as a ballplayer managers dreamed of managing and other players hoped to play alongside.
"The minute he retires, he'll have teams beating down his door trying to get him to manage," White Sox skipper Tony La Russa said recently.
"If he retired, I'd hire him as my general manager," says Hawk Harrelson, the White Sox' executive vice-president.
If Baylor never quite became the next Frank Robinson in numbers—he's a .265 lifetime hitter with 297 homers, compared with Robby's .294 and 586 HRs—he was player enough to convince the Orioles to trade away Robinson in December 1971; to be traded himself for Reggie Jackson (1976); to become one of the sport's first millionaire free agents (1977); to win an MVP award (1979); and to help his teams to 13 winning seasons and four division titles in 16 years. "He's the most aggressive player I've ever seen," says former catcher Ray Fosse, now Oakland's p.r. director.
The great teams of the past always seemed to have a few players to show the way. Down through the generations, the Yankees had Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Thurman Munson. The Brooklyn Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges. In more recent years, the players who were talked about as being great leaders included Willie Stargell, Sal Bando, Tony Perez, Frank Howard, Willie McCovey, Tim McCarver and Catfish Hunter. The Orioles' mantle of leadership has been passed from Frank Robinson to Baylor and Lee May down to Eddie Murray.
There is definitely a preponderance of power hitters among the clubhouse leaders, which is natural because they're often the ones who most command respect from opponents as well as from teammates. Besides Murray, Baylor and Perez, the current players often cited for leadership are Keith Hernandez, Hal McRae, George Brett, Andre Dawson, Larry Parrish, Ryne Sandberg, Darrell Evans, Carlton Fisk, Dave Parker and Reggie Jackson. Big as these names are, the leader among leaders is Baylor.
Baylor's reputation for honesty, hard work and stubborn adherence to principle has carried him to the post of league player representative, the highest player position attainable in the baseball union. He also has been hit by more pitches (204) than any other player in American League history. Mostly that's because he crowds the plate, heckles the pitcher and doesn't bother to dodge the ball. He has shown pain just once, on a 1973 fastball from Nolan Ryan that numbed his left wrist for a year. His stoicism otherwise befits a judge.
Baylor is a towering figure in the world of kangaroo law, which is as uncertain in origin as baseball itself. The first kangaroo courts are thought to have begun in prisons, where dominant inmates lorded over weaker ones, sentencing them to beatings and even death in a tyrannical, logic-leaping "kangaroo" system of justice. It has been suggested that such courts may have been held in Australian penal colonies. They may even date to vigilante committees formed during the California gold rush, when Australian miners often fought Americans over claims.
In any case, Baylor upholds the kangaroo tradition of harsh, unsparing justice. On the night Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners, Baylor fined him $5 for giving up a hit to Spike Owen on an 0-and-2 pitch. Hitting into a double play or failing to get a runner home from third with less than two outs also costs you $5. When the team is shut out, everybody in the starting lineup gets fined $1. In Boston's 7-5 loss to Milwaukee last Thursday night, young outfielder Steve Lyons, whose nickname is Psycho, was thrown out stealing third on his own, with the tying run on first and .400-hitting Wade Boggs at the plate. The sin was so egregious, Baylor says, "He'll need to take out a personal loan to pay the fine."
Matters of dress and decorum are also important to Baylor. With the Yankees he would assess his friend and associate justice, Phil Niekro, daily $1 fines for failing to stand on the top step of the dugout during the national anthem. Niekro, who was superstitious about it and preferred to wait in the dugout tunnel, would hand Baylor his fines in advance every week. "Don was a tough judge," says Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph. "In fact, it was impossible to beat him. That shows you what a competitor he was. Even if you thought you had a good case, Don wouldn't listen to reason, because he didn't want to lose."
Tell that to the Red Sox. Baylor has already fined every member of the team at least once, including himself. When Baylor fines himself, he quintuples the amount—hitting into a bases-loaded DP earlier this year cost him $25. He has brought in a total of nearly $1,600, which will go, he says in dead earnest, "towards a championship party." There are no welshers in this court, not with the 6'1", 220-pound Baylor as the chief justice and 6'2", 217-pound Jim Rice as collector. "Not too many people try to appeal," says second baseman Marty Barrett. "If you lose, the fine is doubled. Almost no one wins."
It was once written of Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes that "to see him preside was like witnessing Toscanini lead an orchestra." Baylor, by comparison, is restrained, deliberate, un-moving. "We run things by him—what does he think about this or that—and he tells us," says Evans. The Baylor style is one of quiet strength, of speaking when necessary, or when others fear to.
His is justice with a purpose. In April, Baylor fined Lyons, a favorite target, $5 for smearing black greasepaint under his eyes to protect against glare, even though he wasn't in the starting lineup. Baylor does not give out red toilet seats, but he carefully prods young and talented players, just as he was once prodded. Repeat offenders are fined double, he notes with a smile, "especially if their name is Steve Lyons."
Baylor recently nailed pitcher Bruce Hurst for wishing Angel rookie Wally Joyner good luck before a game. "That cost your friend $5 for sending greetings, one Mormon to another," Joyner was told later by a Boston player. Fraternization is anathema to Baylor, who wants no doubts, no sympathies to enter a player's mind when it's time to take out the second baseman. "When I came into the league," says Barrett, "people warned me about three people who would come at you hard at second: Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson and Hal McRae. That warning proved to be true."
Baylor's lessons have taken hold even with pitcher Bob Stanley, who has been fined 15 times for fraternization. "After $75, he learned," says Baylor.
"The court is all in fun, but it's more than that," says Barrett. "It has brought us together, made us aware of all the little things we do on the field. Little things that win games."
"It's what this is all about," says Rice, the Red Sox captain, sitting in the clubhouse of a team that has suddenly found itself unified, alert—and in first place.
It was 1962, the start of a turbulent era in the South. Seventh-grader Don Baylor would walk home each afternoon from O. Henry Junior High School in Austin, Texas, wondering to himself why it had to be this way.
He had asked to be one of the first three black students to attend O. Henry ("He said he wanted to learn more," says his mother, Lillian), yet each day his ears would burn from the taunts, the whispering behind his back. "A lot of times we [blacks] were put in separate classes," he recalls. "Those were tough years."
He would come home and tell his mother that his school day had been fine. Nope, no problems. Played some ball. Math class went O.K. That was the Baylor way. Lillian Baylor worked full-time as a cashier at the high school Don would eventually attend and, as he saw it, she already had enough to worry about. She had to care for the three Baylor children alone while her husband, George, a baggage clerk for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, was away on trips, which seemed to be most of the time. George Baylor was a strong but peaceful man who demanded punctuality and could reduce Don to tears with a glance. His wife was laconic and resolute, a levelheaded woman who spent her spare hours putting together programs and bulletins for the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church. Don, the oldest child, would help her. "He loved to work that mimeograph machine," she says.
Baylor didn't like to fight, but he didn't back down. He became a three-sport star, a good student, a low-key and popular figure in a difficult situation. Later, at Stephen F. Austin High, bused-in blacks ridiculed him for playing baseball, a white man's sport, but Baylor shrugged it off. The school has since inducted him into its Hall of Fame. "I like to think I laid the groundwork for the generations that followed," he says.
The Orioles drafted Baylor out of high school in 1967 as their second pick behind Bobby Grich, and George Baylor had to sign his son's contract because the boy was only 17. Don was politically informed enough, however, to ask for a college tuition clause. He had turned down football, basketball and baseball scholarships from top universities like Stanford and Texas, but for the next few years he would take heavy course loads at colleges and junior colleges in Miami, Dallas, Houston—wherever his minor league travels took him. He is 20 hours short of graduating and says he intends to return to school to get a degree after his retirement from baseball.
In those days Baylor was a high-average hitter with decent power to the alleys, outstanding speed and a damaged throwing arm. In high school he had dislocated his right shoulder twice in the same game while making tackles. He continued playing. The weak arm eventually led to his reluctant conversion to a designated hitter by the Angels in 1977, which in turn led to squabbles with management. Only now, in fact, does Baylor feel comfortable in his role as a DH, riding his stationary bike in the clubhouse between at bats, riding opposing pitchers, judging the game from the bench.
Baylor was always a man drawn to family, and in his minor league years he started his own. In 1970 he married University of Texas student Jo Cash, who bore him a son, Don Jr., in 1972. The marriage ended in divorce in 1981, but Baylor's attachment to his son grew ever stronger. The boy was born with amblyopia, or lazy eye, and Baylor flew him all over the country in search of the finest medical help. "It was not an easy thing for him to go through," says Baylor. "Have you ever tried to patch the eye of a six-year-old boy? Or explain his problem to his classmates?"
His son's experience was one reason Baylor became involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (among other charities), for which he chairs a baseball unit called the 65 Roses Sports Club. "That's how we teach some of the kids to say cystic fibrosis—'sixty-five roses,' " he says. "Some of these kids are so young they can't even pronounce what's wrong with them." The unit, which receives donations for every home run hit in the major leagues, raised $600,000 for the fight against cystic fibrosis last year.
Don Jr. is 13 now, a bright child who expects to graduate from Stephen F. Austin High by the time he's 16. He is quiet and bespectacled, and wears a special contact lens in his left eye, which is otherwise all right. From June to September he lives and travels with his father; the two also make occasional winter forays to Europe to find handmade toy cars for Don Jr.'s sizable collection. "He collects cars, coins, baseball cards—he has 15,000 of those," says Baylor, himself a collector of coins, records, guns ("that's the way of Texans") and real automobiles. There seems to be much of the father in the son.
In the early '70s, Baylor also discovered the Oriole family. It was rich beyond belief in young talent, smart managers, noted instructors and positive attitudes. "Even at the lowest level of the minor leagues, when you walked onto that field, there was no doubt that you would win. None whatsoever," says Baylor.
At every level, Baylor learned teamwork, sacrifice, success. He batted in the mid-.300s for a few years, then got his first taste of a major league spring training camp. Though he didn't have a chance in the world of making the club, he was confident. He told a reporter, "Once I get in the groove, I really don't care who the outfielders are out there." Frank Robinson saw the quote and dubbed Baylor Groove, his nickname ever since. Baylor had a GROOVE vanity license plate made.
Baylor came under the tutelage of Earl Weaver, who (with the winter league managing help of Frank Robinson) transformed him into a pull hitter. Weaver tried to bring him along slowly; after Baylor was named Minor League Player of the Year with Rochester in 1970 (.327, 22 home runs, 107 RBIs), Weaver sent him back for more seasoning.
When Baylor finally made it to Baltimore, he had to convince Weaver not to platoon him with Don Buford. One time in '72 the team came into Boston with Baylor on a 17-for-22 tear, having hit a double and two homers the night before in Milwaukee. Baylor was called in by Weaver before the game and told he wouldn't be starting. "What?" he asked in disbelief. "But I'm hot!"
"Those three balls you hit yesterday were low line drives," rasped Weaver. "Here they'd just bounce off the wall for singles."
"But the bases could be loaded, Earl!" The protests didn't wash. Baylor went out to batting practice and sulked, as he was wont to do in those days. Later, however, as if to make a point, he came up and belted a pinch-hit, three-run homer that won the game. From then on, he was Weaver's starter.
Respect grew on both sides. "There was a way with Earl," says Baylor. "He knew how to get you to win one ball game as well as anybody I've ever seen. That's all you had to do, win one. Lose one and the next day he'd be so mad at us he'd have us all going, 'I'm gonna show you.' But years later, when you were away from him, you could see what he was trying to do."
It was in Baltimore that Baylor was schooled in the intricacies of the Players Association. His mentors were Brooks Robinson, then the league player representative, and Belanger, who is now associate director of the players union. But Baylor felt that Oriole management was fair, trustworthy, even caring. In fact, he was treated so well by general manager Harry Dalton, minor league director Lou Gorman and others that he thought he would be an Oriole forever.
"Donnie was the greatest," recalls Weaver. "When he got hot, you just couldn't get him out. But I still remember the day he was traded as one of the worst I've ever spent in baseball. He came into my office crying, and I was crying. It was terrible. Awful. I tried to explain to him that we needed another lefthanded bat, but it was terrible."
The trade was to Oakland—Baylor, Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell for Jackson, Ken Holtzman and Bill Van Bommel. Baylor was crushed. "We're talking about leaving the team that had taught me to play baseball," he says. "I don't think I'll ever be part of another organization quite like it." He would never again be so trusting of management, either, especially after the A's owner, Charlie Finley, cut his salary 20%, to $36,500, upon his arrival in Oakland.
"He was eligible for the free-agent draft that year, and he hurt his knee [and several fingers] pretty bad," remembers A's pitching coach Wes Stock. "He could have just sat around, played it safe and gone for the big money, but he played it to the hilt every day. We had a chance to win the pennant, and he was out there playing." Baylor stole 52 bases that season, a career high.
Soon thereafter, Baylor signed a $1.6 million, six-year contract with California. Even at that he was the lowest paid of three million-dollar free agents signed by owner Gene Autry for the '77 season, the others being Grich and Joe Rudi. Baylor could have gone elsewhere for more money—to the Yankees or Rangers, for example—but he liked the stability and familiar management of the Angels. He was eager to be reunited with Dalton, now the California G.M., and he appreciated Autry's warmth and sincerity. "Gene loved his players and would do anything for them," says Baylor. "But they'd never finished higher than third. He was trying his best to give something back to the fans."
Unfortunately, the fans in Anaheim expected an instant champion, and when both Grich and Rudi were injured and the team struggled, Baylor was left alone to bear the tremendous booing. He was unhappy and bored as a designated hitter, and the booing aggravated matters. Day after day Baylor worked with Frank Robinson, who had become the team's hitting coach. Finally he broke his slump. By season's end he had hit 25 home runs and won over at least a portion of the fans with his hard-nosed style.
The experience strengthened Baylor. The next year, 1978, he became the team player rep and improved his numbers to 34 homers and 99 RBIs. Full vindication did not come until 1979, however, when he led the Angels to their first division title. He hit .296 with 36 home runs and league-high totals of 139 RBIs and 120 runs scored. He did so despite being hampered by a sore left wrist caused, he discovered only a year later, by a broken bone in his lower palm.
It was back then that Baylor struck up a friendship with Richard Nixon, a frequent clubhouse visitor. When Nixon invited the entire team to his San Clemente compound in late '79, Baylor brought as a gift an exact duplicate of the clock he had received for being the July American League Player of the Month. "I forgot to tell them not to gift wrap it," says Baylor. "The security people at the compound tore everything apart. I told Mr. Nixon, 'This did look nice....' "
But the 79 joy ended swiftly. Autry, in his championship euphoria, had instructed his minions to renegotiate Baylor's contract, but somehow Dalton's successor, Buzzie Bavasi, never got the details worked out with Baylor's agent. Baylor's injured left hand, meanwhile, ruined his season. He played only 90 games, many of them in pain. He opened the next season with a 2-for-27 slump.
"Then one day I stopped and picked up a newspaper and there was this quote from Buzzie in it," Baylor says. "The new score book had just come out with me, Rod [Carew] and Freddie Lynn on the cover. Buzzie had said, 'What's Baylor doing in that picture with two hitters?' Here I am, struggling, and that's the last thing I need to hear. The very last.
"I have never, ever, gone into a general manager's office without an invitation, but I went in without an invitation that day. Buzzie said, 'I was joking at the time I said it.' I said, 'It's no joking matter. If you want to release me, you can. Then you'd have to pay me. If I quit, you won't have to pay me.' I don't think I have ever been so mad." Baylor stormed out, left the stadium and didn't return for hours.
When he did, he sat in the locker room in street clothes while his teammates took the field for a game. He was considering quitting. "Players were coming back every half inning to see me—Grich, Danny Ford, Carew. [Manager] Jim Fregosi came back and asked if I'd put the uniform on for him. Nobody else, just him. In '79 he'd given me a chance to play every day, not just DH, and that meant something to me." When Baylor went to the weight room to think about it, Gene Mauch, then an Angel scout, stopped by. "He left a statement with me that has stayed with me ever since," says Baylor. "He said, 'Little people do little things, big people do big things. You're not a little person.' I put on my uniform and went out."
Baylor's last seasons with the Angels gave him a chance to play under Mauch, whose honest leadership he says he admired. "Gene lived with his decisions, because he made them. No one else was going to make them for him."
The feeling was mutual. "I had guys—Reggie, when he first joined us—say how helpful it was to have Baylor around," says Mauch. "Some people are a pleasure, others a privilege to have on your team. I put Don Baylor in the privilege category."
Baylor helped get the Angels into the AL championship series that year, which they narrowly lost to Milwaukee. Tommy John, then with the Angels, remembers the first game of the playoffs: "I gave up three runs in the second inning, and everyone was kind of quiet. Baylor came over to me and said, 'Just hold them from here and we'll win. I guarantee—personally guarantee—I'll drive in at least three myself.' Well, he drove in five that game, and we won."
Baylor, a free agent again, signed with the Yankees in December of '82, and though he tried mightily—he averaged 88 RBIs in his three years in New York—he couldn't bring them a title. By spring training of this year he and George Steinbrenner were not even speaking. Certain owners, it seems, view Baylor much as Sir Francis Bacon viewed judges as a class: "Let them be lions, but yet lions under the throne." Baylor roared too often, whether about being platooned or about Steinbrenner's methods of operation. He figures he doomed his chances of starting every day with a comment he made after Billy Martin was not rehired as manager. "I said, 'The manager changes, but the owner remains the same.' George took that in a derogatory sense." Which, to be sure, is how it was intended.
Baylor had a no-trade clause in his contract, and he vetoed a trade to the White Sox, who would not guarantee the final year of his contract, for catcher Carlton Fisk. But he never imagined he would then be sent to the Red Sox—"They're in the same division." The decision to go was an easy one. Before this season Baylor had hit .350 with 18 homers and a .555 slugging percentage in 82 career games at Fenway. He was friends with Gorman, now the Red Sox G.M., and with manager John McNamara, who had been an Angel third base coach in 1978. "When Don came over," says Evans, "he said, 'I've been praying for this for 15 years.' "
Last week in Boston, Baylor ran into Cleveland's Phil Niekro, another Yankee reject. Over the winter Baylor had a special crystal baseball made for Niekro to commemorate his 300th victory. Niekro was so touched by the gesture that before his start on Wednesday, he sent a baseball over to Baylor with the following inscription: "Don—Special friends are God-sent. I thank him for you. I wish nothing but the best for you." A few hours later Baylor took another baseball from Niekro and put it over the wall. It was his 13th homer, and it beat the Indians 6-4.
Baylor's contributions have been manifold. Besides leading the team in homers and RBIs, he has taken the leadership burden off Rice, who was never really comfortable with it. He has struck a little fear into opposing pitchers, too. "He's what you call an intimidating factor," says third baseman Wade Boggs.
He also single-handedly prevented a war in Texas recently. Oil Can Boyd, the high-strung, sometimes erratic righthander of whom Baylor has become protective, was pitching for the Red Sox. This was the week after Boyd had beaned Ranger catcher Don Slaught, so the atmosphere was tense to begin with. Texas third base coach Tim Foli was riding Boyd mercilessly early in the game. Baylor went up to Foli, tapped him on the shoulder and said something to the effect of "Shut your mouth or I'll knock your head off." End of conversation.
Later in the game, Boyd was about to go after some Texas fans who were verbally abusing him when Baylor again interceded, this time by pushing Boyd into the dugout.
Baylor says he would like to be remembered "as a guy who played his hardest from day one to the end and was honest with every guy I played with." He would like to try managing someday, "but I don't know if anybody would have any interest in me managing." Before that day comes he would like to lead the Red Sox to a world championship. It would be his first, and the Red Sox' first in 68 years.
"There's kind of been a missing link here somehow," says Baylor. "If I can provide that, I'd like to. I think I can make a difference coming down the stretch. I just want to stay close. If you're close, the winners will step forward."
And by October, there could be quite a kitty from Judge Baylor's court for a championship party.