Examining the Trade that Brought Don Baylor to the Twins and a World Series to Minnesota

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Monday, August 7th, 2017
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On the morning of August 7, baseball fans across the country woke up to the news that Don Baylor, one of the most respected baseball figures for the better part of the past four decades, had died of cancer.  This came on the heels of the news that Darren Daulton had lost his battle with cancer just a few hours earlier.

Baylor had battled multiple myeloma for 14 years, so although his battle was known in baseball circles, there were no inklings that things were so bad for the man they called “Groove.”

Both players were immediately revered as tough leaders who were well-liked and were able to lead their teams to World Series titles.  Daulton did so in 1997, when he batted .389 in the World Series for the Florida Marlins in their seven-game series win over the Cleveland Indians before retiring after the series.  Baylor did so a decade earlier when he also batted .385 in the 1987 World Series to lead the Minnesota Twins to a seven-game series win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Baylor is remembered as one of the heroes of the series and is a revered member of the Twins, even though his career in Minnesota lasted just 20 regular season games and seven more in the postseason.  The trade that ended up being so impactful only really happened due to geography and the construction of the schedule.

As the July 31 trade deadline approached, the Twins were improbably in first place, 2.5 games ahead of the California Angels after finishing the 1986 season 20 games under .500.  The Twins made one move at the deadline, picking up the shell of Hall of Famer Stave Carlton, who was 42 at the time  and ineffective to say the least.  In the next month, the race for the American League West title became even tighter.  This was before the Wild Card, so there was one playoff spot up for grabs in the seven-team division.

The Twins not only had to hold off the Angels, who shrunk the lead to just one game by August 30, but now had the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s on their tails too.

Meanwhile, fresh off the disappointment of the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox started to turn the page on that team, as they stood 15.5 games out of first place on that date.  They released Bill Buckner just before the trade deadline and started shopping some expendable veterans, specifically Dave Henderson and Don Baylor. 

The trade deadline came and went without Henderson or Baylor moving, but teams still kept in touch with the Red Sox.  With only one playoff spot up for grabs, post-non-waiver deals could be critical in securing a coveted postseason berth.

Baylor was clearly on the downside of his career, but was one of the more respected veterans in the game.  In addition, he finished 13th in the American League MVP voting in 1986, so he still had some production left in his 38-year-old bat.  Henderson was almost a decade younger and was having an off year, batting just .234 through the end of August.  However, Henderson’s October heroics of 1986 were still fresh in everyone’s minds.

As the month of August came to a close, the deadline to be eligible to be on a postseason roster was approaching with it.  Rules stated at the time, a player had to be physically present with the team before midnight, September 1 in order to be able to play in the postseason.  So if a player was in transit to the team after being called up or traded for and didn’t get there in time, they had to watch the postseason from the outside, unless they were used as an injury replacement.

On Sunday, August 30, the Red Sox were wrapping up a series in Cleveland against the Indians.  The Sox beat the Indians behind Roger Clemens with Henderson and Baylor in the lineup and general manager Lou Gorman still working the phones looking to unload his veterans as the team left Cleveland for it’s next series in Minnesota against the Twins.

As the deadline approached, Gorman struck two deals.  He shipped Baylor to the Twins and Henderson to the Giants, both for players to be named later.  The Angels had remained staunchly interested in a reunion with Baylor, but Gorman chose to send him to Minnesota.  Henderson was needed in San Francisco as Jeffrey Leonard had just injured his hamstring the week before and was going to be out for an undetermined amount of time.

With both deals agreed upon, the race was now on for Baylor and Henderson to physically report to their teams in order to be eligible for the postseason.  Because the Red Sox were already in Minnesota, that was no problem at all for Baylor.  Henderson on the other hand, couldn’t make it to San Francisco in time to join the first-place Giants, and thus missed a chance at his second straight postseason.  Henderson ended up playing in 15 games for the Giants and had just about no impact on the end of the regular season.  He signed as a free agent with the A’s in the offseason where he flourished once again and became a beloved player on those great late 1980’s teams.

Baylor on the other hand fit in perfect with the Twins.

Between 1971 and 1986, the Twins had finished as as high as second place just one time.  In 1986 they finished sixth out of seven teams and 21 games out of first.  To say their status as a postseason contender was a shock was an understatement.  Still, most figured the powerhouse A’s or Angels would supplant them and if they were lucky enough to get to the postseason, they couldn’t get past the Detroit Tigers or anyone the National League offered up in the World Series.

The acquisition of Baylor started to tilt things in favor of the Twins though.

He batted .286 over the final month of the season and although he didn’t have any impactful moments, his veteran leadership helped young stars like Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti learn how to win.  In addition, legendary manager Tom Kelly was in his first full season as manager, having managed just the final 23 games of the putrid 1986 season.  At the time, Kelly was 36 years old, younger than Baylor by three years.  In an interview on MLB Sirius Radio today, Nolan Ryan spoke about Baylor being like a manager when he was a player and was someone everyone knew would be a manager when his career was over.  The importance of his presence in the locker room for Kelly and the players in 1987 could not be overstated.

The Twins pulled away with the division and now Baylor’s leadership was going to be needed even more in the postseason.  The Twins were set to face the Tigers, who were just three years removed from putting together one of the greatest seasons of any team in the modern era.

Baylor had played 28 postseason games to that point in his career but was passed over for Randy Bush in the starting lineup for Game 1.  The game was a back-and-forth offensive affair and after a Puckett double tied the game 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth, and after two walks to load the bases, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson turned to ace closer Willie Hernandez to face Bush with the game on the line.

Tom Kelly had other thoughts though, and sent up the veteran Baylor to pinch hit.  On a 2-2 pitch, Baylor lined a single to left to give the Twins the lead and Tom Brunansky drove in two insurance runs with a double to nail down Game 1 for the Tigers.  The Twins topped the Tigers 3-2 in the ALCS to advance to the World Series, where Baylor would see an increased role.  While Kelly went with Bush as the DH for all but one of the five ALCS games, he started Baylor in three of the four games in the World Series that called for a DH.

The Cardinals had a 3-2 series lead on the Twins with John Tudor on the mound for Game 6.  Tudor had gone 44-17 over the past three seasons and was quite simply, unhittable when he was on, which was frequently during that peak.  The Cardinals took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth, with one of the two Twins runs driven in by Baylor.  The Twins had Puckett, Gaetti, Baylor and Hrbek due up and it felt as if the Twins were going to survive, this was the inning to take care of business.

Puckett led off with a single and Gaetti followed with a double to bring up Baylor with no outs as the tying run.  Tudor’s first pitch was just slightly off target and Baylor was ready.  He launched a shot into the left field stands, sending the Metrodome into a frenzy and completely shifting all of the momentum back to the Twins favor.  The broadcast showed a decibel level that topped 109, louder than a jet engine take off.  As fans called for a curtain call, a graphic posted showed that Baylor’s last home run that year came on August 23 against the Twins.


The Twins rode Baylor’s momentum for the rest of the game as they added six more runs to force a Game 7.  Baylor ended up 2-3 with two runs and three RBIs in the pivotal game.  The Twins ended up winning Game 7, 4-2 with Baylor going 1-3 in his final game as a Twin.

In the offseason, Baylor chose to return for one more season with the Oakland A’s.  He batted .220 over 92 games, but again provided leadership and guidance to a young team as they navigated their way through a tightly contested regular season and on to the World Series.  It was Baylor’s third World Series in three years with three different teams.  He happened to be on the wrong end of two of the iconic moments in World Series history: Bill Buckner’s error and Kirk Gibson’s home run.  However, in between his Game 6 home run stands as one of the best clutch hits in Twins franchise history.

Baylor’s last Major League home run came on September 20, 1988 against the Twins.  Sadly, he is third member of that day’s A’s starting lineup to have passed away, joining Tony Phillips and Dave Henderson.  The same Dave Henderson who was also traded away from the Red Sox on that September 1st Monday in 1987.  Henderson never made it to San Francisco in time to join the postseason roster.  By the luck of the schedule, Baylor was already in the town in which he was traded to, so he had no problem making the deadline.

Minnesota Twins fans are thankful he did, as the postseason, and Twins history would have had a much different history if he wasn’t around for it.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.

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