It’s Not ‘Hall Of Really Good’: Baines Doesn’t Belong In Cooperstown
This clinical dissection of the admission of Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame begins with our congratulations. He seems to be wonderful man, one who was well-liked and respected during his career. His teammates all loved him, appreciated how normal a guy he was.
It’s easy to tell how important the moment was to him, how grateful he appeared, how understanding he seemed to be about how long he was forced to wait. It was very touching to see his nostalgic tears as he admitted how much he wished his late father could have shared the moment with him. But it still shouldn’t have happened.
Baines Admitted Surprise
“I’m very shocked today,” said Baines. “It was just me and my wife and the dogs. We were very shocked when we got the phone call. Weren’t expecting it, but we were very grateful that it happened. I have four wonderful kids who are very proud of their dad today.”
So this is not personal. It’s strictly business. Let’s refer to it as a plea to reconsider the standards that qualify one for admission, standards we believe have been compromised over the years by haste and sentimentality. We do not believe Baines should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Game Era Offers Invitation
On Sunday, MLB’s Today’s Game Era Committee, the reincarnation of the old Veterans Committee that made these decisions in the past, invited Baines and Lee Smith for enshrinement to Cooperstown. For both, it represented the end of long roads neither expected would end.
Since its inception in 1953, a veterans committee of some form, has met yearly to consider the inclusion of players passed over by vote of the Baseball Writers of America, historically the lone arbiter in terms of who gets in and who doesn’t. Many of their decisions have proven to be very controversial, counter to the original goals and intent.
First Time No Charm
Five years after his retirement, which is the case for all Hall candidates, Baines appeared on the ballot for the first time in 2007. His candidacy was not viewed auspiciously. He was named on just 5.3 percent of the submissions, just surpassing the 5 percent minimum required to be included on the following year’s ballot.
Over the next four years, Baines barely managed to hang on, his popularity waning exponentially. At its high point, his candidature attracted only 6.1; percent. And finally in 2011, Baines received only 28 votes (4.8 percent). Let’s look at that ballot just for some perspective:
The Class of 2011
That class consisted for Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven with Pat Gillick voted in by the veterans committee. Alomar and Blyleven had fallen short of induction the year before by fewer than 10 votes – the first time in history that had happened to two candidates in the same year.
Among the new candidates that season were pitcher Kevin Brown, a six-time All-Star and Larry Walker and Benito Santiago, both five-time All-Stars. Santiago, Jeff Bagwell and Raul Mondesi were former rookies of the year. Walker won seven gold gloves in right field and Juan Gonzalez won six Silver Slugger awards. Great players.
Bagwell Waited, Walker Still Waiting
Bagwell, Walker and Gonzalez were MVPs. In fact, Gonzalez was a two-time winner (1996 and 1998). It was also the first season on the ballot for Rafael Palmeiro, who had over 3,000 hits and 500 homers, but whose candidacy would be circumvented due of his testing positive for steroids.
Ironically, the candidacies of Bagwell, Walker and Gonzalez were also adversely impacted by the assumption they all used PEDs. Bagwell finally fought that off to earn induction two years ago. Walker, perhaps the greatest player in Colorado Rockies history, is still trying. Gonzalez, a Texas Rangers legend was long ago eliminated.
If Not Now, Then Certainly Later
Also on the ballot were Bernie Williams, Ruben Sierra, Vinny Castilla, Eric Young, Tim Salmon, Brad Radke and Danny Graves. Alomar earned 90.0 percent in his second year on the ballot. Blyleven got 79.7 percent in his first try. But what’s more interesting is who lie below.
Barry Larkin (62.1), Jack Morris (53.5), Lee Smith (45.3), Bagwell (41.7), Tim Raines (37.5), Edgar Martinez (32.9) and Alan Trammell (24.3). Only Martinez is not in the Hall, but his election is expected this year, his final year of eligibility. He was named on 75 percent of the ballots last year. Sure bet.
The election of Blyleven turned out to be especially controversial and, perhaps, a precursor to what ultimately made Baines’ road so tough to travel. As good as he was, Blyleven was considered a compiler – usually the kiss of death for a Hall of Fame candidate. He pitched for 22 seasons.
He won 287 games. He threw 60 shutouts, one fewer than Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez combined. He also struck out 3,701 hitters, had 242 complete games, finished in top five in ERA six times, led in innings pitched twice, tossed a no-hitter and played on two world championship teams.
Mac Had More In 2011
However, he received Cy Young votes only four times in his career, never finishing higher than third. He was just a two-time All-Star. He never led the league in wins. He led in home runs allowed twice. He won 20 games only once. And perhaps most damning of all, he lost 250 games.
But there is more to this: Those who managed to still attract more votes than Baines in 2011 were Mark McGwire (19.8), Fred McGriff (17.9), Dave Parker (15.3), Don Mattingly (13.6), Dale Murphy (12.6), Palmeiro (11.0) and Gonzalez (5.2). That tells an irrefutable story, if look close enough.
Check Your Hall Scorecard
Broken down into pure votes, the scorebook looked like this: Walker (118 votes), McGwire (115), McGriff (104), Parker (84), Mattingly (79), Murphy (73) and Gonzalez (30). So now you know how poorly Baines fared in his final at-bat for the Hall. And knowing that, how can you possibly justify his inclusion? He was finally dropped from the ballot.
Let’s take a look at Lee Smith’s long journey to the Hall. He played 18 years and recorded 478 saves, including 180 in eight seasons with the Cubs (1980-87). He was a seven-time All-Star and had at least 30 saves in 10 different seasons.
Lee Smith In Great Company
Smith is third on the all-time saves list behind Mariano Rivera’s 652 and Trevor Hoffman’s 601 and now the eighth reliever in the Hall of Fame along with Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm. Hoffman was inducted last year, Rivera is expected to be elected by the writers this year in his first year of eligibility.
Even the 16-member committee that ushered in Harold Baines couldn’t reach a general consensus, even though Tony LaRussa, his former manager on the Chicago White Sox, and Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner who loved him, were there for him.
Distinguished Group Of Voters
Also on the veterans committee were former players Alomar, Blyleven, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, manager Joe Torre, general managers Gillick, John Schuerholz and Al Avila, executives Andy McPhail and Paul Beeston and media members/historians Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith.
While the election of Lee Smith, the notable reliever primarily with the Cubs and Red Sox, was unanimous, Baines was on just 12 ballots, enough for the 75 percent minimum required for election. And its quite likely that getting those dozen votes may have been a challenge. “I’m just so excited,” said Reinsdorf. “I’m honored to have been on the voting committee.’
Reinsdorf Unapologetic About His Support
“He (Baines) just deserved it. It was just a shame he didn’t get in sooner than this. Harold is a great player,” said Reinsdorf. “You look at the numbers he put up in the ’80s and the ’90s and played in the majors for 22 years. I don’t think he ever had a bad year. Of course, there’s no finer person than Harold Baines.”
As you might expect, Reinsdorf rejected the theory he used his position as White Sox owner to leverage Baines’ election. “I wouldn’t say lobby. There are 16 people on the committee. We went over each player one by one, each person.”
Once A White Sox, Always A White Sox
LaRussa also offered glowing praise of Baines. His first managing job was in Double-A with the White Sox. Baines was on that club. White Sox’s general manager at the time, Paul Richards was so thrilled he called Baines a future Hall of Famer. “Harold probably dodged the attention, but like Alan Trammell, his record can’t be denied.’
Baines currently works as an advisor to the White Sox. “They (LaRussa and Reinsdorf) know what I feel about them,” said Baines. “They’re very special to me. It probably helped me, to be honest. But our friendship goes further than the game of baseball.”
LaRussa Rips Voters
LaRussa does not appreciate the way Baines has been treated during the voting process by the voters and the critics. In fact, he used every opportunity he had during the recently completed baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas to rip into people.
A lot of his venom was directed at advanced metrics – “weak-ass, superficial BS ” – he said. The he went after voters. “I would love to get into a legitimate confrontation [and] debate where you pull all the stuff that we looked at. … I guarantee you Harold [should be in]. Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer.”
Don’t Feel Bad
Being eliminated from Hall of Fame contention does not necessarily diminish one’s career accomplishments. Many wonderful players since the institution’s first class was admitted in 1936 have not made the cut. And not one Hall of Famer, not even The Babe, has ever been a voted in as a unanimous pick.
“His stroke was so pure and so beautiful in terms of high average, high productivity, extra-base hits. He could run. He really was an outstanding outfielder before he hurt his knee,” said LaRussa . “You knew if he worked at it, it could all come together, and Harold had all those intangibles.”
Who Gave Them Their Hall Pass?
Then again, the Hall of Fame is not designed to be a commemoration of great players. It is supposed to be archive of superlative ones, transcendent athletes with extraordinary accomplishments. Let’s face it. Did anyone outside of Chicago buy a ticket just to see Baines play?
Not likely. Baines was the first overall pick in the 1977 MLB draft by the Chicago White Sox. In his 22 seasons, he was primarily a designated hitter, with 384 home runs and a career batting line (.289/.356/.465) that was quite respectable. But fans around the Majors didn’t rush for his autograph. No way.
In His Day, The Best DH
He had a sweet swing which enhanced any lineup he was in. For 19 straight seasons (1980-2000) he was considered an above-average hitter. He hit .300 or better eight times, hit 20 or more homers 11 times. When he retired, no DH in the game’s history played in more games, had more hits, homers or RBIs.
Did you know he ended his career with a 40.7 offensive WAR, which is 293rd in the game’s history. That’s proven to be a real disparagement. But he was a DH for a very good reason. He was slow and not a dependable outfielder.
Konerko Vouches For Baines
Baines was a six-time All-Star (one at age 40) and his No. 3 was retired by the White Sox, for whom he played 14 seasons. They eventually commissioned a statue of him that stands outside their park. But he never seriously contended for an MVP.
“People understand how pinch hitting is very tough, but DHing is essentially like pinch hitting four times a night,” former White Sox slugger Paul Konerko told the Chicago Tribune. “And if you do it a long time, 10 years, 12 years, I just think people don’t understand how tough and how mentally challenging it is.”
More Hits Than Griffey And Gehrig
What he was, as was the case of Blyleven, was the benefactor of a long career. Playing regularly for 22 years (he debuted in 1980) gave Baines the chance to collect 2,866 hits (46th all-time), more than Ken Griffey, Jr., Lou Gehrig and more than 500 the number 2017 Hall of Famer Jim Thome had.
He played in two-strike shortened seasons (1981 and 1994-95). So you figure that likely cost Baines 125 games and that might have given him the time needed to reach 3,000. From 1980 to 1999, Baines ranked fifth in hits, second in RBIs, ninth in home runs.
Baines WAR Effort Uninspiring
Baines’ best 10-year stretch in WAR was 24.7, which barely cracks the top 1,000 all time. Hence, the controversy: longevity and counting stats versus peak value. Every eligible player who surpassed Baines in hits already has a plaque, except Barry Bonds, Palmeiro (PED guys) and Omar Vizquel, who is in his second year of eligibility.
Baines’ His 1,628 RBIs (34th) were more than Chipper Jones, Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, even Joe DiMaggio. In its story about the Baines, the New York Times presented an eye-opening comparison of his credentials to Don Mattingly, who is not in the Hall of Fame.
“Donny Baseball” More Deserving
Mattingly once scored as high as 28.2 percent on voting ballots. He was the 1985 AL MVP. He career average was 18 points higher. And Mattingly won 12 Gold Gloves. But he only played a 12 seasons, hardly enough time to match Baines’ career numbers.
When compared to others who have played right field, in these days of sabermetrics and analytics, Baines’ numbers also cower. In a category called JAWS, invented to measure a player’s value as the average of his career WAR (wins above replacement) and the sum of his seven best WAR seasons, Baines is an unimpressive 74th.
The President Has Something To Say
Think of it this way: As the Times reported, once during a presidential debate, George W. Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, told a joke when asked what was the greatest disappointment of his life. “I was the guy who signed off on that wonderful transaction – Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines.”
The specifics: He was dealt in 1989 to the Rangers with Fred Manrique for Sosa, Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher. The audience laughed. The point made. It was a mistake even a Commander-In-Chief could willingly admit. The Rangers should have kept Sosa and dealt with the coming storm.
Making Up For Perceived Mistakes
Listen, during its history of reversing what it perceived to be oversights by the Hall of Fame voters, veterans committees have enshrined a large number of players, managers and executives you might have thought didn’t need the help. As it turned out, they all needed a real big shove.
Miller Huggins (1964), Casey Stengel (1966), Branch Rickey (1967), Johnny Mize (1981) Pee Wee Reese (1984), Leo Durocher, Phil Rizzuto (1994) and Ron Santo (2012) all got in. And in 2017, former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were inducted. And both of those guys caused their own commotion.
Trammell and Morris Had Doubters
When Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were voted in by the Modern Era wing of the veterans committee last season there also were whispers about their legitimacy. Neither player was a unanimous selection. Morris received 14 and Trammell 13 of the 16 possible votes.
In fact, they were the first living players elected to the Hall by a committee that small since Bill Mazeroski in 2001. “I’ve got to believe, in a crazy sort of way, that this is the sweetest way to go in. To go in with a guy who meant so much to and. … was overlooked.”
Frisch Fried The System
Still, there is reason to believe the veterans committees, in many circumstances over the decades, have done more to lower than standards for Hall induction than match or exceed them. It’s not unusual when you think about it. One hand happily washing the other. One of the most blatant examples of this abuse came in the 1970s.
Frankie Frisch assumed power in 1967. In cahoots with former teammate Bill Terry and a couple of veteran sportswriters who were friends of Frisch, five former teammates were pushed through, Even three years after his death, two more of Frisch’s guys got in.
Hall Of Fame Imposters
So the next time you see the names Freddie Lindstrom, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, George Kelly, Travis Jackson and Dave Bancroft associated with the Hall of Fame, please understand how some self-serving miscreants again figured out how to circumvent the system to their benefit.
There is really no solid reason for the BBWAA and/or veterans committee to vote marginal players into the Hall, certainly if the only reason is to assure that every year’s class is full. There have been seven years the baseball writers selected no one – 1945, 1946, 1950, 1958, 1960, 1971 and 1996. So be it.
An Unnecessary Gesture
You might argue the election of Baines by the veterans committee seemed unnecessary, an act that repaid a kindness to a well-loved athlete or filled a specific selection allocation in a year when some other even less qualified candidates were available for the taking.
You could also say that numbers are numbers, the same argument that justified the elections of guys like pitchers Blyleven, Morris, Robin Roberts and pitcher Phil Niekro, the knuckleball specialist, who played for 24 seasons and threw 5,404 innings, but had only two 20-win seasons (318 wins) and led the Majors just once in strikeouts (3,342).
The Favorite On A Sad List
Look at who was on the veterans committee ballot this season along with Smith and Baines: Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner. Only Piniella (11) received more than five votes.
As dominating as was at times, Hershiser was only a three-time All-Star. Joe Carter won a World Series with a homer but had a career on-base percentage of .309. Belle, a most anti-social player, had 1,726 hits. Clark didn’t hit 300 homers. All of the managers on the ballot won a World Series. Steinbrenner was more about the bluster.
The Sports Illustrated Jinx
After the selection of Baines was announced, a tweet was sent from Sports Illustrated which basically summarized the position of those opposed it to. The stark headline was pretty self-explantory: “Harold Baines’s Stunning Hall of Fame Election Is an Embarrassment.” It railed about Baines beating Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to induction.
After all is said and done, we agree. Our gut tells us Baines was popular, a really nice player, a great teammate and citizen. But the writers got it right. He was not great enough in any measurable category to have earned the right to wall space in Cooperstown.
Down The Road
As disappointing as this has been for Baines, and those who love and support him, the line needs to be drawn somewhere, even though the devices being used to determine the parameters seem to change every day. Metrics, one day. Statistics, another day. What about common sense?
Who do you think of when someone mentions the Hall of Fame? Ruth, Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ty Cobb and Ernie Banks – to name a few. Does Harold Baines belong with that group? Does the admission of Baines somehow lessen your perception of what greatness is? We think it does.