A man of few words, Don Baylor’s message was never lost

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Jun. 6, 2010; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies batting coach Don Baylor against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Former Rockies manager Don Baylor wasn’t a politician, nor did he bother himself much with foreign policy. But few philosophies embody Baylor so succinctly as Teddy Roosevelt’s famous borrowed African ideology of “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Speaking softly and swinging a big (baseball) stick did indeed take Baylor far. From Austin, Texas to seven different Major League clubs across America. From Blinn Junior College to three consecutive World Series appearances with three different clubs. From a $7,500 signing bonus as a second-round draft pick to a playing an managerial career that spanned parts of five decades, Baylor went the distance in baseball.

Baylor first earned his reputation as a player, when he hit 338 home runs and was hit by a pitch 267 times (No. 4 all time) over a 19-year career. He codified that notion as a Major League coach and manager over the next 20-plus years.

One of his former players also known for swinging a big stick, Dante Bichette, joined Danny Williams and Ryan Edwards on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 on Monday, the morning of Baylor’s passing, to share his thoughts on the quiet but impactful way Baylor coached and managed.

“He was soft-spoken. He didn’t say much,” Bichette said of Baylor. “Everybody says how intense he was and how fiery he was. He really wasn’t a man of a lot of words, but when he spoke, everybody heard. I’m talking everybody in the league, man. When he talked, and when people came up to him, he was a very revered, respected man and it was just neat to be around him. He’s one of the really neat guys.”

Bichette played for Baylor first with the Brewers, where Bichette was a bench player and Baylor was the hitting coach. The 1979 AL MVP later gave Bichette his first chance to be a starter when he was part of the group that selected Bichette in the 1992 MLB Expansion Draft. Bichette’s career took off from there, much to Baylor’s credit.

“I owe him so much because this guy was the first guy who really believed in me,” Bichette said. “To not just sign me and bring me and bring me over to the Rockies, but put me in the three hole [in the lineup] and play me every day and say ‘You’re my guy.’ I love the guy for that. I really love the guy, personally, but I loved him and I owed him so much for that.”

In the clubhouse, Bichette says Baylor was a man of few words, but those words carried great meaning.

“He wasn’t a big team meeting guy, but when he had a team meeting it was simple and to the point and you got it.”

It’s something Bichette will never forget about the man who put his career on an upward trajectory, and something Bichette made sure to acknowledge when he too joined the coaching ranks.

“I remember four years ago, when I was a hitting coach, I finally had a chance to pull him aside and just tell him ‘thank you,'” Bichette told Danny and Ryan. “I’m so glad I did, because he wasn’t a guy who wanted a ‘thank you,’ and kind of blew it off, but he needed it. Colorado really should have loved him and thanked him. And I think they did. They treated him well.”

The Rockies will honor Baylor by placing a jersey with his name on it in the dugout beginning with Tuesday’s game in Cleveland. The club will pay tribute to its first manager on Monday, Aug. 14 when they return from their current road trip.

As for how Baylor will be remembered outside the walls of Coors Field, Bichette says that it is up to the media to continue to tell the story of one of the great men in baseball over the last half-century.

“It’ll be up to you guys in the media to keep [Baylor’s legacy] alive,” he said. “Because people get older and they move on. But I think people that remember that time will definitely revere him. I know the players will talk very highly of him, that played for him and with him, until their days are done. So it will be up to you guys to push that legend on. He definitely as a player, as a manager and as a person probably deserves that.”

Listen to the full interview with Bichette, including some touching personal stories about how Baylor turned around Bichette’s career, in the podcast below.

Catch Danny and Ryan every weekday from 9a-11a on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup.

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