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A holiday gift: Baylor back


A holiday gift: Baylor back
Thanksgiving week was a slow one around Baseball, but the trickle of transactions contained some really good news.

Don Baylor, the former Cubs manager who battled cancer in an inspirational way -- hardly surprising for anyone who knows him -- is returning to the majors as Clint Hurdle's hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies .

Baylor, 59, had been out of uniform since spending 2005 as a coach with the Seattle Mariners. He was Colorado's first manager, beginning with the expansion team in 1993 and ending in '98. He managed the Cubs in 2000-02.

Though Baylor failed to make the playoffs with the team he inherited from Jim Riggleman, he helped raise the organization's standards. His hiring ended a period when the Cubs often hired inexperienced managers and has been followed by the Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella eras, which have produced three playoff teams in six years.

"The last three years I was looking for a situation that fit, but nothing fit like this one," Baylor said. "I was [the first] one hired to wear the uniform, and now to be going back is pretty special."

Baylor was working as a coach for the New York Mets when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003. He underwent stem-cell-replacement treatment, which affected him for parts of two years, but he long ago considered himself healthy enough to go back to work.

Hurdle followed Baylor's situation through mutual friends, knowing he was eager to get back on the field, and extended him an unusual invitation last summer. He offered Baylor a chance to coach the National League All-Stars at Yankee Stadium, where Baylor played in 1983-85.

"It came out of left field," Baylor said of the chance to serve as an honorary coach. "It was a tremendous honor. It was an indication of our relationship."

Baylor's hiring was part of a coaching staff overhaul. After going to the World Series in 2007, the Rockies slipped to 74-88, and Hurdle responded by replacing four of his dugout coaches and the strength and conditioning coach.

"It is funny how life works out," Hurdle told the Rocky Mountain News. " ... As [I talked with Don] it became evident to me his passion for the game is in place."

Hurdle was a minor-league instructor for the Rockies when Baylor was the manager. Baylor saw him as a resource in those days, and now the roles have changed.

"It will be different, coming back as a coach, but with the relationship we have, I know I can tell Clint things and not worry about repercussions," Baylor said. "Clint knows I am coming back to be his coach and help him be successful."

Todd Helton is the lone Rockies hitter who played for Baylor when he was Colorado's manager. He considered the hiring an early Christmas present.

"I am excited about this for selfish reasons," Helton said. "I have a lot of respect for him. Hopefully he can help me like he helped Chipper (Jones with Atlanta) and Cat (Andres Galarraga in St. Louis). When 'Groove' talks, people listen."

Free-agent musical chairs: The Angels' interest in CC Sabathia was the biggest development on the free-agent front last week, followed by the remark of Jamie McCourt, the wife of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, that it seems "a little weird" to guarantee huge contracts in the current economy.

It probably will be at least two weeks, maybe a month, before the big-ticket free agents start signing. Here's an updated guess on where the prized players will land:

*Sabathia -- Angels (runners-up: Giants).

*Mark Teixeira -- Red Sox (runners-up: Yankees).

*A.J. Burnett -- Yankees (runners-up: Blue Jays).

*Manny Ramirez -- Yankees (runners-up: Dodgers).

*Derek Lowe -- Braves (runners-up: Yankees).

*Francisco Rodriguez -- Mets (runners-up: Indians).

Doing the little things: The "2009 Bill James Handbook" is recommended reading. There's a fascinating section on baserunning, which points out the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies ran the bases better than any other team -- not because they had the fastest players, but because their players made the most of whatever speed they had.

James assigns a plus-minus number based on how often players went from first to third on singles, second to home on singles and first to home on doubles, among other things. Among the Phillies' ratings were Jimmy Rollins' plus-46, Shane Victorino's plus-34, Jayson Werth's plus-28 and Chase Utley's plus-21.

Compare that to these regulars with the Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome plus-25, Mark DeRosa plus-13, Alfonso Soriano plus-12, Mike Fontenot plus-12, Ryan Theriot plus-7, Aramis Ramirez plus-7, Derrek Lee minus-9 and Geovany Soto minus-9.

And these with the White Sox: Brian Anderson plus-12, Carlos Quentin plus-9, Jermaine Dye plus-1, Alexei Ramirez minus-1, Paul Konerko minus-7, Jim Thome minus-13 and A.J. Pierzynski minus-18.

Pierzynski is on the short list of the worst quantifiably bad baserunners in the game. His rating speaks to his lack of aggressiveness, yet he had eight baserunning outs. The only players who had as low a rating and as many such outs were Prince Fielder (minus-22, nine) and Ramon Hernandez (minus-22, nine).

The last word: "It's a nation of 1.1 billion and the national sport is cricket, which, like Baseball, involves throwing, hitting, catching and running. In a nation of that size, there has to be some young cricket players whose skills would transfer to Baseball. Maybe these guys will be pioneers, or maybe they will be blips on the radar.." -- Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington on Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, whom the Pirates made the first players signed out of India.

progers@tribune.com

Let's play Hardball

For the latest buzz on off-season moves by the White Sox and Cubs, trust our Baseball team at chicagotribune.com/hardball


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 30, 2008

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