With Frank Thomas gaining entry and Jim Thome rightfully donning the Cleveland “C,” I figured the next White Sox plaque in the Hall of Fame would appear whenever Minnie Minoso finally gets a veterans committee that understands his worth.
I was wrong.
Harold Baines is going to Cooperstown.
The Hall of Fame announced that Baines and Lee Smith were the first two members of the Class of 2019, gaining entry via the Today’s Game Era Committee. Baines described himself as “very shocked,” and he’s not alone. While Baines was a very good DH for a very long time, this came out of nowhere.
Unlike Smith — who held baseball’s save record for a good long while, if nothing else — or Jack Morris and Alan Trammell the year before, Baines did not receive considerable support while on the ballot.
While the other three hung around for the entirety of their eligibility, Baines fell off the ballot after five years. It’s not like Baines was a backlog victim, either, because he didn’t receive a lot of votes even before the turn-of-the-century stars joined the field, whereas Smith saw his support drop 15 percent or more. Here’s where they topped out in the BBWAA voting:
- Morris: 67.7 percent
- Smith: 50.6 percent
- Trammell: 40.9 percent
- Baines: 6.1 percent
So yeah, Baines sticks out like a sore knee here.
Baines’ case didn’t play well with voters because he really didn’t have anything resembling a true peak. He only topped a leaderboard in one category in one season (slugging percentage in 1984) during his 22-year career, which explains why he only had two top-10 MVP finishes.
He also fell short of the traditional milestones, compiling 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. The Hall of Fame markers on his Baseball-Refererence.com page show he was well short of Hall of Fame standards, especially since he didn’t provide much defensive value to supplement his offensive statistics.
Another way to put it — for his entire career, Baines finished at just 1.8 Wins Above Average. Among the 158 other Hall of Fame position players, only Tommy McCarthy and Lloyd Waner finished with lower totals. McCarthy, a 19th-century infielder, hovered around average for his career, getting swept into the Hall of Fame courtesy of the overgenerous Old Timers Committee in the mid-1940s. Waner actually finished in the red (-2.1 WAA), and gained entry mostly because he was the brother of legitimate Hall of Famer Paul Waner, and both had tremendous nicknames (Little Poison and Big Poison).
The case for Baines was that it’s hard to be as good as he was for as long as he was, DHing or not. He’s 46th all-time in hits, and the 45 above him are, will be or would’ve been Hall of Famers if not for off-field misdeeds and miscalculations. He posted an above-average OPS in every season from 1981 through 1999, and had a reputation for being one of baseball’s clutchest hitters. Perhaps he would have hit a milestone if he didn’t lose time to two different work stoppages:
In his @Patreon review of Harold Baines, @JPosnanski points out that the 1981, ’94 and ’95 work stoppages cost Baines a shot at 3,000 hits.
What other players come to mind who fell short of milestones because of 1970s, ’80s or ’90s labor strife?
— Matt Eddy (@MattEddyBA) December 10, 2018
It wasn’t enough for the writers, and it might not have been enough for a lot of other committees. Fortunately, he had a couple of friends on this particular 16-person panel:
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was very influential to get Harold Baines into the Hall of Fame
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 10, 2018
Looking at the list of voters, Tony La Russa is another obvious ally, and Pat Gillick had Baines on his Baltimore Orioles roster in the mid-1990s, but I don’t see any natural inroads through the rest of the panel. But considering Reinsdorf awkwardly retired Baines’ number after the Sox traded him to Texas in 1989, there’s no doubt he had strong feelings for fuel.
However it happened, Baines will head into Cooperstown next summer, giving the Hall of Fame another plaque with a Sox cap on it. From there, the only question is whether it’ll be S-O-X cap or the Einhorn “E,” and the over/under for the length of his speech.
Baines was the best player on the first baseball team I ever paid attention to…I can still remember listening to an extra-innings game in 1984 on the radio thinking the Sox could win if they could only get Baines another at-bat.
He was an excellent player for a long time and I’ve never heard anything bad about him as a person…reasonable or not, I think it’s awesome that he’s going to be in the hall.
Maximum speech 2 minutes. Congratulations Harold!
Fucking love it! I knew frank was getting in. This is one of the happiest nights of my life! Drinking grey goose for Harold!
You didn’t mention I may or may not have threatened the panel.
If the Hall is going to honor somebody for being Really Good for a Really Long Time (and why not), they couldn’t have chosen a better man for it.
OK, I guess I’ll be the bad guy. Baines is a classy guy and I was a fan, but he doesn’t deserve this. And everyone knows he doesn’t deserve it, which makes it kind of embarrassing.
More hits than Griffey JR. More RBI then Mantle. More total bases than Mike Schmidt. More dingers than Jim Rice. Better OPS and OPS+ than Andre Dawson
Leave it to Ken to assemble Harold’s Hall of Fame case like Voltron.
Also taller than Napoleon
Of course I want to see Minnie Minoso, Marvin Miller, Lou Whitaker, and Dwight Evans in the Hall. I am also delighted that Harold Baines is in, and is alive to enjoy it (and to be as surprised as when he had his number retired while still an active player).
I am also delighted that he got in on a ballot where George Steinbrenner failed to get half the necessary votes for induction. No one ever said a bad word about Harold Baines, and it’s nice to see a good guy get in over a bullying, abusive boss.
It must be tough for Whitaker to see another contemporary he was better than go in ahead of him.
I figured you’d pine for Crime Dog.
Good to see you, Craig.
I’ve certainly rooted for him over the years, and always felt he had a consistency as a power hitter that was never really appreciated as the steroid era made the stats from the second half of his career seem mediocre when similar numbers were what had established him as elite in the first half.
Kinda shocking that Harold is in and Dick Allen is not. Perseverance, I guess.
But if not for those knee issues Harold would have been a no-brainer. Find some full Sox broadcasts from the early 80’s on you tube to see just how great he was then.
Among the interesting elements of Baines’s election: your uncomfortably mixed feelings….
Someone needs to link the commercial to which Jim’s headline alludes. 21 second mark or thereabouts https://www.mlb.com/whitesox/video/white-sox-family-sundays/c-26793781?tid=16598450
Frequently used as a drop on WSCR.
The Sox fan in me loves this. The objective analyst in me says that this devalues the “Hall of Famer” tag.
So, go with the Sox fan in you. Seems easy.
If my favorite all time player is the worst performing and possibly nicest member of the HOF, it’s all right by me.
Now I can stop muttering “Why is Tony Perez in the HOF and not Harold?”
By this standard, Mark Buehrle should go in on the first ballot.
With apologies to a well-regarded fellow, this is embarrassing, even by the HOF’s already embarrassing standards.
Harold is as worthy as Ron Santo, who campaigned for it constantly while he was alive. That was the embarrassment.
Santo is arguably one of the five greatest third basemen of all time. You’d have to argue just to get Harold included in a top-50 right fielders list, FFS.
1. George Brett
2. Mike Schmidt
3. Eddie Matthews
4. Chipper Jones
5. Wade Boggs
I don’t think Santo cracks this list and I’m not even counting guys who only played there part of their careers like Pete Rose, Cal Ripken, A-Rod……..
I don’t mind if you bleed, but don’t bleed Cubby Blue
JAWS has him at 7th behind those five and Adrian Beltre.
That was embarrassing for Santo and his fans, not for me or the HOF. I personally found his ongoing cycle of disappointment highly amusing and richly deserved. But Santo’s playing career towers over Baines’. There is no comparison.