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In memory of Don Baylor, master of the HBP

The former manager and postseason hero was 68.

Baltimore Orioles v California Angels, Game 3 Photo by Getty Images

Don Baylor, former MVP and manager of the Rockies and Cubs, passed away at the age of 68. He was widely respected around the game, and he will be missed.

Baylor was responsible for huge postseason home runs for three different franchises, which was a neat trick. He started in 1982 with the Angels ...

... moved on to this one with the Red Sox ...

... and had one just a year later for the Twins:

For most of the baseball fans who weren’t paying close attention, though, Baylor will be known as the player who set the all-time record for getting hit by a pitch, later broken by Craig Biggio. If you think that was poor luck or that he liked to break unwritten rules, please disabuse yourself of that notion. Getting hit by a pitch is a skill, and Baylor was better at it than any baseball player who ever played.

Also, Biggio wore an elbow guard, which is performance-enhancing armor. I have no problems slapping an asterisk on that one.

While I don’t want to reduce Baylor’s long, varied career down to one unusual record, I can’t stop looking at these stats. Consider that Mark Lemke played in 1,069 games and was never hit by a pitch, for example. Baylor played in one game in 1971, and he was hit by a pitch.

That one happened to be the first HBP of his career, and he would be hit 266 more times in his record-setting career. I would like to share factlets about this record as I come across them, for it is a fascinating record. For example:

  • Baylor led the American League in HBP eight times, which is more than Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron led their leagues in home runs ... combined.
  • Baylor is tied for last all time for HBP thrown by National League pitchers, with zero. Though he did get plunked twice in the World Series, so that should count for something.
  • He was plunked with the bases loaded eight times.
  • He was hit twice in the same game 15 times in his career.
  • He was hit by eight different Hall of Famers (Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage, Catfish Hunter, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, and Bert Blyleven.)
  • No one hit Baylor more than Charlie Hough. Of the 174 batters Hough hit in his career, Baylor was responsible for 4 percent of them.
  • When he was asked which HBP hurt the most, he reportedly replied “none of them.”
  • He charged the mound just twice, though it sounds like this one against Dennis Leonard in 1976 was a doozy.
  • Nolan Ryan hit him with a pitch on the wrist, and it was “numb for a year afterward.''
  • Baylor was hit by more pitches in 1986 than the entire Oakland A’s team was last year.

Along the way, Baylor won the American League MVP, hit 338 home runs, and helped the Twins win a World Series. He managed in nine different seasons, and he has one of the greatest nicknames on Baseball-Reference: The Sneak Thief. Though his more commonly used nickname — Groove — might have been even better.

The baseball world will miss Groove, and I encourage you to read his SABR biography, which is one of the best on the site. I can’t stop thinking about those hit-by-pitches, though. What a fascinating, painful mark to set.