Angels' Don Baylor is back from freak injury

Angels' Don Baylor is back from freak injury
Angels batting coach Don Baylor broke his leg while catching the ceremonial first pitch during the team's home opener on March 31. Baylor was back in the Angels' dugout Tuesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Don Baylor returned to the Angels as their full-time hitting coach Tuesday, 12 weeks after the freak mishap in which he broke his right thigh bone while catching the ceremonial first pitch before the March 31 season opener.

No restrictions were placed on Baylor, who was on the bench for Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Twins, and he will begin traveling with the team this weekend. But doctors did ask him to take one measure to protect his surgically repaired femur.

"They told me to stay out of fights — the doctor said don't be charging anyone," said Baylor, who turns 65 on Saturday. "I told him, 'I can't really promise you that.' "

Typical Baylor. During a 19-year playing career in which he won the 1979 American League most-valuable-player award, Baylor was hit by pitches 267 times, fourth-most in major league history, and he never backed away from the plate.

In 2003, in the middle of a 22-year coaching and managing career, Baylor was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that weakens the bones, but that hardly slowed him.

So those who saw Baylor's right knee twist gruesomely as he lunged for Vladimir Guerrero's opening-night pitch — and saw that leg buckle and bend as Baylor tried to put weight on it — were not surprised by his return.

"He's a tough guy," Angels catcher Hank Conger said.

Asked if, in light of his health issues, broken leg and age, he felt any more vulnerable or fragile, Baylor simply replied, "No."


All Baylor wanted was to come to the park every day, work with hitters in the cage, provide feedback on the bench, do his job. That's what kept Baylor going during those grueling, three-times-a-week physical therapy sessions.

"You miss all that stuff, being around the guys, the competition between the pitcher and the hitter," Baylor said. "You can watch games on television, but there's nothing like being here."

Baylor, in his first season with the Angels, worked with hitters for six weeks in spring training, and he kept in touch with them during his absence.

"I never really used text messaging until this year," Baylor said. "It came in handy."

The Angels were in good hands, with assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen, who missed Tuesday's game to attend his daughter's high school graduation, filling in for Baylor and roving hitting coordinator Paul Sorrento assisting Hansen.

The Angels entered Tuesday ranked third in the AL in runs (350) and extra-base hits (237), fourth in on-base-plus-slugging (.743) and fifth in home runs (79).

"It's great having a guy of Don's stature, but the guys filling in have done a real good job," right fielder Kole Calhoun said. "I don't think we were lacking in the hitting department when it came to coaching. We're swinging the bats well, scoring a good amount of runs. Hopefully we can keep rolling."

One problem has been hitting in the clutch. The Angels ranked 10th in average with runners in scoring position (.246) and 14th in average with the bases loaded (.185), though Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick hit bases-loaded, two-run singles in the first inning Tuesday night.

"We talk about getting good pitches to hit in hitting situations, let the pitcher make a mistake," Baylor said. "So many times, we put pressure on ourselves to hit the pitcher's pitch. When we start chasing pitches out of the zone with guys on base, things pile up as a team."