Harold Baines did not get a lot of consideration for the Hall of Fame after his 22-year Major League Baseball playing career came to an end in 2002, but he got a second chance when he was named as one of the ten candidates for the Today’s Game Era (1988-present) ballot.
Baines’ chances of gaining entry to Cooperstown, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, will depend on the 16-member committee, comprised of members of the Hall, executives, and veteran media members. The election will take place during the MLB Winter Meetings from Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sunday, December 9. A three-fourths vote will determine induction.
Baines spent only two months of his 22 years on the big league scene in the city of Cleveland, but he made quite the impression on the field in his 28-game sample size as an Indian as the team wrapped up the regular season before a first round knockout in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. For Baines, already 20 years into his career, it marked just his fifth postseason trip of his career. He got one more opportunity the following season.
He started his career with big expectations on him when he was taken with the first overall pick in the 1977 draft by the Chicago White Sox. He debuted for the Sox by 1980 and played regularly as the team’s right fielder. By 1982, he put together a 25-homer, 105-RBI season over 161 games. He flirted with 100 RBI in each of the next three seasons before bursting past the century mark (113) during his first of three straight All-Star seasons in 1985.
Baines was an All-Star again in 1989. Hitting a career-best .321 at the time, he was dealt at the trade deadline to the Texas Rangers with Fred Manrique for pitcher Wilson Alvarez, infielder Scott Fletcher, and a young slugger named Sammy Sosa. The Rangers were eight games in back in the AL West at the time and had just fallen out of the third spot in the division, but they would climb no further in the standings while finishing with an 83-79 record at season’s end.
A disastrous May for the Rangers the following season knocked them out of any serious pennant consideration early, but the team climbed back to third place by the start of August. Eleven games back at the beginning of the month, the Rangers still sat in third place in the final days of the month and traded Baines to Oakland, the top club in the AL West. He made his first postseason trip since 1983 that season, helping the A’s win the AL pennant before losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
Baines was an All-Star again in 1991 for the A’s and was back in the playoffs again in 1992, but the team was knocked out in the ALCS by the Toronto Blue Jays. Following the season, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
He spent three seasons in Baltimore before returning to the organization that drafted him 20 years prior. He was a steady contributor to the Sox in 1996, hitting .311 with 29 doubles, 22 homers, and 95 RBI, but the next year he was dealt back to the Orioles for their playoff push. He hit a solo homer in the O’s ALDS win over the Seattle Mariners and did his part against the Indians in the ALCS, hitting .353 in six games, but Cleveland prevailed.
After another .300 season with the O’s in 1998, Baines was an unlikely 40-year-old All-Star in 1999. He went into the break slashing .345/.422/.641 with 19 homers and 63 RBI in 71 games. Entering the final week of August, the Indians swung a deal for the veteran, sending a pair of minor leaguers (Juan Araena and Jimmy Hamilton) to acquire the slugging Baines, who was hitting .322 with 24 homers and 81 RBI through his first 107 games. Manager Mike Hargrove threw him straight into the lineup as the team’s new designated hitter and Baines played 28 times over the final six weeks of the campaign, losing his power stroke (two doubles, one homer) but not his ability to drive in runs (22 RBI in 96 plate appearances).
He proved his worth in the playoffs for the Indians, despite their disappointing results on the field against the Boston Red Sox. He had a single in the 3-2 Game 1 win and reached base three times in Game 2, using a three-run home run to back the Tribe to a 11-1 victory. He added two more hits in Game 3, but it was the first of three straight losses by Cleveland as the Tribe was eliminated from the postseason.
A free agent after the season, he re-signed with the Orioles, returning to Charm City for the third time in his career. He spent a year and a half in Baltimore before he was sent home to Chicago one final time, traded with catcher Charles Johnson for three minor leaguers and backstop Brook Fordyce. He spent the final two months of that season and his 22nd and final campaign back on the southside of Chicago where his big league career began.
He hung it up after that season, ending a career 2,830 games long. He stepped to the plate 11,092 times, hitting 488 doubles, 49 triples, 384 homers, and driving in 1,628 runs while owning a career slash of .289/.356/.465. He was a six-time All-Star and was selected the Silver Slugger at designated hitter in 1989. He topped the .300 mark in eight different seasons. He capitalized on opportunities with the bases loaded, hitting 13 grand slams in his career. Three times he hit three homers in a game and he totaled ten career walk-off homers. He was selected for the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2009 and has been honored by the White Sox with a statue and the retirement of his number three.
Baines found himself on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot in 2007, earning 5.3% of the vote, just enough to hang on the ballot. He earned a high of 6.1% in his fourth year of eligibility in 2010, but he fell off the ballot the next year, earning just 4.8% of the vote.
Much of the resistance to Baines getting into the Hall comes from the amount of his career spent as a designated hitter, the same concern lingering over the Hall candidacy of Edgar Martinez. Knee injuries early on in Baines’ career affected his ability to play right field consistently and led to a decline in his speed, altering the way he could affect the game on a daily basis. Injuries did not slow him down, however, as the DH position allowed him to remain active in the game and he continued to put up numbers. Baines remains the MLB’s all-time leader in games played as a DH and he was the leader in homers until passed by Martinez and hits until passed by David Ortiz. Baines played 1,643 games at DH, slashing .291/.370/.467 with 293 of his doubles and 236 of his home runs.
There are cases to be made for Baines. A total of eight players put up 20 different seasons with ten homers or more. Seven are in the Hall of Fame (Ken Griffey Jr., Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Willie Mccovey, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., and Dave Winfield). The only player not in the Hall on that list is Baines.
Baines’ 2,830 games played rank 20th-most all-time. The only players on that list above him not enshrined in Cooperstown are Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Omar Vizquel, Rusty Staub, the recently retired Adrian Beltre, and Rafael Palmeiro. Only 35 players in the history of Major League Baseball have spent more seasons on the diamond than Baines did in his 22 seasons.
He finished his career 134 hits short of the magic number of 3,000, a mark that almost guarantees a place in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Of the 45 players above him on that list, only Rose, Derek Jeter, Beltre, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Palmeiro, Bonds, and Vizquel are not in. Rose, Rodriguez, Palmeiro, and Bonds may never get in due to the gambling or performance enhancing drug issues tainting their legacies, while Jeter has not reached the ballot yet and Beltre, Suzuki, and Pujols were still active in the 2018 season. Vizquel is on the ballot for the second time this winter.
Among players categorized as designated hitters all-time, Baines is the leader in games played; is second in at bats, hits, homers, and RBI; third in runs scored, triples, intentional walks, sacrifice flies, total bases, and extra base hits; fourth in doubles and OPS; fifth in batting average and slugging percentage; sixth in walks; and eighth in on-base percentage.
As Martinez has yet to overcome the voting discrepancy affecting long-term designated hitters, Baines may continue to suffer the same fate. Martinez played for 18 seasons, slashing .312/.418/.515 with 514 doubles, 15 triples, 309 homers, and 1,261 RBI with 2,247 hits, but is routinely considered the greatest designated hitter in MLB history. He received 70.4% of the votes last year, falling 4.6% short of election on his ninth of ten ballots.
Ortiz may become a rare DH to gain entry through the balloting, given his role in the resurgence of the Boston Red Sox during his playing days. Paul Molitor became the first elected, but he played less than half of his career games at DH (1,172 of 2,688).
Baines will likely have to wait for one of Martinez or Ortiz to crack through the Hall’s DH discomfort before he gets any real consideration, but it should not take away from what was a lengthy and productive career.
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