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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.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”