On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. First up: Harold Baines.
The case for his induction:
Harold Baines played for 22 seasons, amassed 2,866 hits and made the All-Star Game six times. He was a fantastically consistent hitter, posting an OPS+ of 108 or greater every single season between the ages of 22 and 40. He was also a durable player, not missing a whole heck of a lot of time to either injury or ineffectiveness until his late 30s. Even then he managed to hang around until he was 42-years-old. In the early part of his career, with the Chicago White Sox, he was the star of the team and the face of the organization
The case against his induction:
One can’t criticize Baines as a ballplayer in an absolute sense, but there are a couple of hallmarks of Hall of Fame induction missing from his resume. While durability and consistency are necessary, they are usually not sufficient, and most inductees have a peak period of performance where they were considered the best or at least one of the best players in the game. Baines never had that, either by the numbers or by acclamation.
He led the league in exactly one offensive category in his long career: slugging percentage in 1984. He was rarely a top-10 finisher in the most important offensive categories. His highest finish in MVP balloting came in 1985 when he came in ninth. While Baines may have meant a lot to the White Sox in the first part of his career there is no way one can honestly argue that he was ever the best player in the game or even one of the best five, six or, usually, ten.
Beyond that there are some softer factors which make him seem like less of a Hall of Famer than many. Over 1,600 of his 2,830 career games came at DH, which many voters discount, even if they shouldn’t. That said, if one is going to DH and one is still not among the league leaders in most offensive categories, it’s a knock. When he did play in the field he was a subpar defender.
He appeared in the postseason in six different seasons but most of those came after his prime or when he was not the primary focus of his team’s offense. Only one of those appearances came in the World Series, with the Athletics in 1990. You don’t remember that? Well, there’s another knock against him: while Baines springs to mind as a member of the White Sox, he spent the final 13 years of his career bouncing back and forth around the league, making stops in Baltimore, Texas, Oakland, Cleveland and multiple return engagements with the Sox. We’re in a day and age when a player playing for lots of teams should not be considered a demerit, but it is often harder to get Hall of Fame traction when one did not star with one team for the majority of one’s career.
Would I vote for him?
No, can’t say that I would. Baines was a good, solid player for a very long time, but he was never truly great. Inner circle Hall-of-Very-Gooder, though.
Will the Committee vote for him?
Nope. Not a chance, I don’t think. But those of us who watched a lot of baseball in the 1980s still love ya, Harold.