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Hall of Fame case for Harold Baines

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On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed. 

Next 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:

Yesterday we talked about Albert Belle, and how he had a Hall of Fame-worthy peak, but not enough longevity. Baines has the opposite problem. He played forever but there is no way anyone could ever say he was the best or one of the best players in the game at any given time. He simply had no elite peak to speak of.

Baines 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.

Rob Manfred blames Bryce Harper for going unsigned

Bryce Harper
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with the media today. Naturally, he was asked various questions about the landscape of the sport, given that superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain unsigned as spring training begins. Per The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli, Manfred said that he thinks the free agent market will begin to move once spring training exhibition games begin. Manfred also said that Harper’s camp suggesting that he wants $400 million back in 2016 was “an impediment” to discussions throughout the offseason.

No word on why Machado is also as yet unsigned, as he did not have a reported $400 million ask.

Manfred’s job is to look out for ownership, so it’s not surprising to see him point the finger at Harper. Consider:

Manfred’s comment comes just months after the Red Sox won 108 regular season games and the World Series with baseball’s largest payroll. And ongoing evidence that there is indeed a positive correlation between dollars spent and team success. We often hear justification for tanking/rebuilding because the Cubs and Astros did it and won championships because of it. When the Red Sox use financial muscle to win a championship, it’s crickets.

Manfred didn’t stop there, however.

An easy way to get baseball’s “glow” back would be for two of the game’s best and most popular players to be in uniform playing games. The first spring training exhibition game will be played on February 22, so it’s not looking like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Baseball’s “glow” would also come back if more teams were actively trying to win. Instead, one-third of the league is “rebuilding” or otherwise coasting on revenue-sharing. For fans of the Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Marlins — to name a few — the outcomes of their favorite teams’ seasons have already been decided, so what is there to get excited about?