Baylor hit managerial summit first in Colorado
Amid few minority contemporaries, skipper earned shot with Rox
DENVER -- It was well before the 1993 season. At that point, the Colorado Rockies weren't much more than a logo, a uniform with purple pinstripes, and a trailblazing manager."We were going everywhere in the region, talking to people, letting people know that baseball was in Denver," said Don Baylor, the Rockies' first skipper. "One time Mike Swanson [then the media relations director] and I had gone up to the Continental Divide to meet people. Then we were driving back and he said, 'Put on your uniform and go out there and stand on this rock.' I'm sure people were wondering what was going on. It turned out to be one of the best pictures we ever had." It was a summit that Baylor was proud to reach. When the Rockies hired him on Oct. 27, 1992, he was one of four minority managers at that point. A Rockies franchise born long after baseball's color barrier had been shattered, and well after the civil rights movement, was able to make a cultural accomplishment. Baylor, now 62 and hitting coach for the D-backs, would go on to manage the Rockies for six seasons. In his third season, 1995, they earned the National League Wild Card, helping Colorado become the quickest expansion team at that time to make the postseason.
Baylor, who also would manage the Cubs (2000-02), returned to the Rockies as hitting coach in 2009 -- another playoff season -- and 2010. Baylor said Colorado holds a special place in his heart. His hiring as manager occurred at a time when baseball was under criticism for a lack of opportunities for minorities in positions of leadership. But then-Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard -- who worked in the Twins' front office when Baylor played for the team late in his career, and who now is a member of the D-backs' front office -- had his eye on Baylor all along. And in case Gebhard's mind wandered, he had plenty of reminders at home."Geb's daughters were really young at the time," Baylor said. "I remember him telling me the story that during the process, he would go to get dressed in the morning and one of the girls -- Angie, the oldest one -- would leave my name in his drawer. Every time he opened the drawer, he'd see my name. I was her No. 1 choice. "I appreciate that Geb went out on the limb for someone who had coached, but hadn't managed. But as he said, I managed players when I was a player. Colorado was a great opportunity for me." Baylor noted that National League presidents Leonard Coleman and Bill White, African-Americans with influence and the ear of owners, pushed hard for minorities to be included in the interview process and be given legitimate chances to compete for leadership positions. Baylor said he would like another opportunity to manage. If he gets it, the managerial landscape likely will be similar to what it was when he was hired. Going into 2012, there are five minority managers -- African-Americans Ron Washington of the Rangers and Dusty Baker of the Reds, Dominican-born Manny Acta of the Indians, Cuban-born Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves and Venezuelan-born Ozzie Guillen of the Marlins. Baylor had no qualms with excelling in difficult racial climates. He and two others were the first African-Americans to attend his junior high school in Austin, Texas, and would have been one of the first to integrate the University of Texas sports programs had he not pursued professional baseball instead. But he said that in Denver, he was simply embraced as the leader of an exciting new team. A region that was cheering a successful Denver Broncos football team enjoyed the high standards he set for the new club. "I remember Martin Luther King talking about experiments and failed experiments, and I didn't want to be a failed experiment, so that pushed me," Baylor said. "And it paid off for me in Colorado. What was so pleasant was that the people supported us every day. I got nothing but support from the fans. They just wanted to see the Rockies play and win. "I know they've been to the World Series and the playoffs since, but I'm proud of what we did there, winning so soon. And that was before the humidor [which keeps the high altitude from shrinking and hardening baseballs, a factor that made pitching in Denver difficult]. You had to hold your breath every single night. But it was fun. "There are still 17 or 18 people who have been with the franchise since the beginning, so that's special. When I see people walking around with that 'CR' on their caps, I think, 'We started that.'"
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.