I always carry around a little spiral notebook in my back pocket. You never know when you’ll have to leave yourself a reminder message.
Carrying around a notebook didn’t just start once the AARP membership card arrived in the mail. I’ve carried a notebook in my pocket literally for decades. The baseball life – where you’re pulled in multiple directions at the same time – didn’t allow for forgetting things because you were off doing something else.
Those spiral notebooks can get beat up pretty quickly unless they have a little protection. Starting in the summer of 2000, my little spiral notebooks have sat inside a black leather case. My initials – CW – are engraved on the outside.
Don Baylor gave me that leather case as a gift.
Right now, the leather case/spiral notebook isn’t in my back pocket. It’s on the table, next to my laptop.
I’m glancing at it over and over. I’m sad to have learned the news that Mr. Baylor passed away earlier today.
I have to admit that when Don Baylor was named the Cubs’ manager in late 1999, I didn’t know what to expect. He had that intimidating look size-wise, he had a reputation as being hard-nosed, and you couldn’t help but know the success he had as a ballplayer. That, and the fact he got plunked 267 times as a player, and you knew he had to be tough.
During my time in the Cubs’ Media Relations Department, I worked with the club’s managers on a daily basis. And I had a bunch of managers to work with. Don Zimmer. Jim Essian. Jim Lefebvre. Tom Trebelhorn. Jim Riggleman. Don Baylor. Bruce Kimm. Dusty Baker. That list doesn’t include interims nor the managers I worked with when I moved into Baseball Operations.
The manager/media relations relationship is rather unique. I liken it to doctor/patient or lawyer/client or husband/wife in that there’s a lot of privileged, confidential verbiage being shared.
Think about the types of situations where a Media Relations person could be sitting one-on-one with the manager. Right after a game, when the manager only had a few minutes to vent before talking to the media. Right after a media session, when the manager might have just been agitated. Right after the manager met with the player … or the GM … and had less than pleasant news.
I always believed that one of my best traits was that the managers knew they could trust me. If the skipper was unhappy with the GM or a specific player or anything in particular, he could speak to me knowing it wasn’t going anywhere.
As it turned out, Mr. Baylor was soft-spoken. He chose his words, utilizing a “think before you speak” mentality. He was a gentle giant.
Of all the managers I worked with, Don Baylor was the only one to make sure he met my wife – and to make sure his wife met my wife.
It was during spring training, and we all went to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in Scottsdale. Don and Becky insisted that Michelle and I forego beer and have wine instead.
I’m a team player, so arm-twisting wasn’t necessary for me. Somehow, even Michelle went the wine route for the evening.
To this day, thanks to Mr. Baylor, the only wine Michelle will consider drinking is Jordan.
It was during a road trip to Florida and Atlanta prior to the 2002 All-Star break that Don Baylor was replaced as the Cubs’ manager.
He was told early in the morning that his services were no longer needed. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
I waited a couple days, then gave him a call to thank him for everything.
Near the end of our conversation, he said something to the effect of “Whenever you and Michelle have kids, make sure to let us know.”
After my girls were born, the lightbulb in my head reminded me to give him a call. Shockingly, I didn’t need the little spiral notebook as a reminder for that one.
I indeed called him, and we talked. About a week later, a package arrived with embroidered blankets for the girls. Think about it … a former MVP and Manager of the Year and multiple-time Silver Slugger Award winner thought enough to send my newborns a present. While the kids are now closing in on 14, those blankets are housed in a keepsake box.
After my Cubs days, I lost touch with Don Baylor for a while, but when I needed him earlier this year – he was there for me.
I wrote a lengthy series of stories for MLB Trade Rumors about the 1992 baseball expansion draft and the birth of the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins.
I talked to a bunch of people for those stories: The general managers for both teams … the scouting directors for both teams … key players for both teams. I also talked to each team’s first manager.
Rene Lachemann, Florida’s first manager, called me backed about an hour after I left him a message.
Don Baylor, Colorado’s first manager, was a little harder to track down.
After multiple messages, he called me back. We set up a time for an interview, but we had to reschedule a couple times. There was even a brief hospitalization.
I knew he wasn’t doing well. I don’t think the magnitude of it all sunk in for me, though.
We spoke for about half an hour. We talked about his son and grandchildren. We mostly talked about his time with the Rockies. We talked about managerial strategy. We reminisced about old times. I could tell that he was getting tired as the conversation continued.
The plan was to talk later on in time about his life post-baseball. The hope was that his health would return.
Sadly, that day didn’t come.
I’m staring down again at the black leather case. It meant a lot to me before today. It means even more now.
My condolences to Becky, his family, and his many friends. He will be missed.