It is always sad when one of the MLB players that you watched and idolized during your childhood passes away. Within the past three weeks, three All Star players left this world to enjoy life in the next.
On July 29, Lee May, known as the “Big Bopper”, died at the age of 74. The older brother of Carlos May and the grandfather of Jacob May…rookie outfielder of the Chicago White Sox…played 18 years in the major leagues from 1965 through 1982. He played four seasons with Cincinnati, three with Houston, six with Baltimore and two with Kansas City. Of the three, May never won a World Series ring although he did appear in two World Series: with Cincinnati in 1970 and with Baltimore in 1979.
Lee May was a three-time All Star who had a total of 2,031 hits, 354 home runs and 1,244 RBI. His three best seasons were in 1969 when he slugged 38 home runs and drove in 110 runs; 1970 when he hit 34 homers and drove in 94 runs; and 1971 when he hit 39 homers and drove in 98 runs. Five years later, in 1976, May drove in 109 runs…tops in the American League.
This past Sunday, it was revealed that Darren Daulton, a 14-year veteran with the Phillies and other teams, died of brain cancer at the age of 55. What makes that fact interesting is that he is the fifth former Phillies player who died of brain cancer. Others who have died from the same disease were: Tug McGraw (father of Country singer Tim McGraw), John Vukovich, Ken Brett (brother of former Royals’ star George Brett) and Johnny Oates. All five played for the Phillies in the old Veterans’ Stadium. (I will talk more about this in my next blog.)
Daulton, nicknamed “Dutch”, was not highly touted when he was drafted in 1980. In fact, he was the 629th player taken in that draft. He played 14 years in the majors, almost exclusively behind the plate as a catcher. Daulton was with Phillies for all but 52 games that he played for the Florida Marlins in 1997. That worked out well, because Daulton won his only World Series ring that final season.
A three-time All Star, Daulton collected 2,135 hits, slammed 338 home runs and won a Silver Slugger Award in 1992 when he had a .270 average with 27 homers and 109 RBI. He followed that up, in 1993, with 24 homers and 105 RBI. Of the 1,161 games that he played in his big league career, Daulton caught 965 of them.
Less than 24 hours after the news of Daulton’s death, it was announced that Don Baylor, former All Star player and Manager of the Year, had passed away at the age of 68. Nicknamed “Groove”, Baylor played 19 Big League seasons and was considered one of the top hitters in the game. He played for six teams and went to the World Series three consecutive years…with three consecutive teams! He won a World Series ring in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins.
Baylor was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 1967 draft (39th pick overall). He played for the Orioles for six seasons. His best year for the Birds was 1975 when he hit 25 home runs and drove in 76 runs. On April 2, 1976, Baylor was involved in a “blockbuster” trade with the Oakland Athletics, in which he and pitcher Mike Torrez went to the West Coast in exchange for the prodigious slugger, Reggie Jackson and lefty starter Ken Holtzman.
Baylor remained only one year with the A’s as he signed a six-year, $1.283 million contract (his salary the previous season was $35,000) with the then California Angels. He played with the Angels until 1983 and led them to the American League Championship Series in 1979 and 1982.
The call of the “Big Apple” and the New York Yankees was overwhelming and, on December 1, 1982, Baylor signed a three-year, $2,277 million contract to play in Yankee Stadium. He then went from New York to Boston, to Minnesota and, finally, he ended his career with Oakland, in 1988.
In his illustrious career, Baylor banged out 2,135 hits including 338 home runs. He was also a pretty good base stealer. In four separate seasons, Baylor hit at least 25 home runs and stole at least 22 bases.
Just five years after appearing in his last game as a player, Baylor was named manager of the new franchise in Colorado…the Rockies. He was relatively successful…given he was managing a fledgling team…Finishing in fourth place one time, third place three times, and second place once. In 1995, Baylor was named National League Manager of the Year as he guided the Rockies to a 77-67 record (in a shortened, 144-game season).
Baylor then managed the Chicago Cubs from 2000 through 2004. His best record at Wrigley Field as 88-74, good for third place, in 2001.
None of these three players may ever make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown; however, many long-time baseball fans will agree that the game will never be the same again without these three (Hall of Famers in their own right) around the batting cages!