At some point during the 1979 Angels season, a new statistic was born. Though the abbreviation RBI has traditionally stood for “runs batted in,” Angels cleanup hitter Don Baylor redefined it to mean “runs Baylored in.”
The outfielder/DH, acquired as a free agent prior to the 1977 season, was so adept at producing in the clutch during the Angels first division championship season that radio play-by-play man Dick Enberg coined the new phrase. And he used it a lot.
Baylor batted .296 with 36 home runs and a still franchise best 139 RBI, netting him 20 of a possible 28 first place votes for the American League MVP award. For good measure, Baylor also scored 120 runs, which like his RBI total also led the league.
Baylor got off to blazing start, driving in a then league record 28 runs in April, and never cooled off. On April 21, he belted a grand slam during the Angels 13-1 victory over the Athletics. On May 15, Baylor beat the Brewers with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie.
On August 8, Baylor was already sitting at 98 RBI and hit the century mark in style, connecting in the third inning off the Athletics’ Matt Keough for a two-run shot for Nos. 99 and 100. Baylor went 4-for-5 with that home run, a double and later added an RBI-single for RBI No. 101.
But the man they called Groove was hardly satisfied with that. On Aug. 25, Baylor had one of the best single days in Angels history against Toronto, as the Angels blistered the Blue Jays, 24-2. Baylor belted two home runs and drove in a career-high eight runs.
It was simply one of those seasons where everything fell into place.
“Everyday I went to the park, I knew I’d get two or three hits and some RBI,” Baylor recalled. “In mid-December, I started jogging 2 1/2 to 3 miles a day, so I’d be in the best shape ever. In 1978 I hit 34 home runs and 99 RBI, and I was really longing for that 100th. After April, I had (nearly) 30, and I knew I was on a roll.”
In addition to leading the league in RBI and runs scored, Baylor also led (or tied for the lead) the Angels in home runs, triples (5), doubles (33) and stolen bases (22). He played in all 162 games and, perhaps most amazingly, struck out only 51 times in 628 at-bats.
For the Angels in 1979, Baylor was without question their MVP: Most Valuable Producer.