Don Baylor has been around the block. Several times.
But after two managerial stints and six different stops as a hitting coach, he may have found the place that feels most comfortable – almost like coming home.
Baylor, hired this week to be the Angels’ new hitting coach, already had a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But joining the Angels, where he had some of his best years as a player, was “an opportunity that I just didn’t want to slip through my fingers one more time,” he said. “I didn’t want that to happen.”
OK, so what’s he going to do with Josh Hamilton?
That’s likely to be Baylor’s first and most significant task this offseason and next spring training. Hamilton endured a woeful season in which his power numbers dropped significantly from 2012 and his batting average was a constant work in progress.
Although he finished with a .250 average, Hamilton was hitting as low as .239 in September. He finished with 21 homers, fewer than half his total the previous season, and 79 RBI, 49 fewer than 2012.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Baylor said in a conference call Thursday. “One thing about my style is we try something for a while. If that doesn’t work, we don’t just keep pounding our head. He’s a real key to the offense once he gets going. I’ve seen him do it before. We’ve just got to get him on that path to success.”
Hitting wasn’t the Angels’ problem last season. Their .264 team average ranked third in the American League. They scored 733 runs, sixth in the AL. But manager Mike Scioscia said Baylor will bring a presence he’s looking for.
“Don is a winner, not only his knowledge of hitting, but his presence is going to be very, very important to us,” Scioscia said. “He’s going to be a great sounding board for me, and he’s going to make decisions easier for us moving forward. I just don’t know if there’s a guy that has as much respect as he does walking into a clubhouse or walking into a meeting with hitters to have everyone stand up and take notice of what he’s saying. That’s one of the reasons we’re excited Don’s on board.”
Baylor, who signed a two-year contract, could have returned to Arizona, but when Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto asked to speak with him, his counterpart with the D-Backs, Kevin Towers, gave permission.
Dipoto was the Diamondbacks’ closer in 1997 and ‘98 when Baylor managed the team.
Baylor and Scioscia also have a relationship through a common charity. But this was more about a homecoming for Baylor, who was the league MVP in 1979, his third of six seasons in Anaheim.
“It’s just as exciting as (Bobby) Grich, (Joe) Rudi and myself signing over there as free agents,” Baylor said. “I’ve been there, but I haven’t been there in a while. But I still have the same enthusiasm for the organization.”
Baylor, 64, played 17 full seasons in the major leagues and hit 338 home runs, including 36 in his MVP season. But that isn’t what makes him an effective coach, Scioscia said.
“The presence that Don brings isn’t that he played in the major leagues,” he said. “That’s a small part of it. It’s what he’s done in baseball as a manager, a coach, continuing to gain respect as a teacher. That’s what’s important, and that’s where Don really excels.”
Baylor’s coaching philosophy: “It comes down to putting the ball in play, staying in the middle of the field, and I really don’t believe it’s OK for strikeouts. The ball doesn’t move, it doesn’t do anything. You put the ball in play, things happen. It might take a bad hop or something, you get an error out of it.”
Baylor managed the Colorado Rockies from 1992-98 and the Chicago Cubs from 2000-02 and was National League manager of the year in 1995, but he said he’s not necessarily looking for another managing job.
“I’m not out there campaigning for one,” he said. “When the Angels opportunity came along for me as a coach, that was fine. I’m good with that. Mike will understand once he’s around me that I’m a coach. I’m not trying to be a manager on his club. But if he asks me certain things, I’ll tell him.”