LAS VEGAS — The Today’s Game Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — which used to be known as the Veterans Committee — met here at the Winter Meetings today and voted on the ten candidates for this year’s induction class.
The results: Harold Baines and Lee Smith have been elected. They’re Cooperstown bound.
Candidates needed 12 of 16 possible votes from the Today’s Game committee. Smith reportedly got 16 out of 16. Baines received 12 out of 16. Lou Piniella, also on the ballot, fell one short at 11. No one else got as many as five votes.
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.
Smith was one of the first of the single-inning closers, setting the standard for what we now think of as the best relievers in the game. He was big and intimidating. He threw hard. And when it was all said and done he held the all-time record for saves with 478 upon his 1998 retirement. He’s now third behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman in that category. He led the league in saves four times and led the league in games finished three times. He had six seasons in which he averaged more than ten strikeouts per nine innings which was a much greater feat in his day than it is today.
Baines and Smith certainly have had their supporters over the years, but it’s not unfair to say that their election is at least something of a surprise.
For all of the pros in Baines’ column as listed above, it has to be said that Baines will be one of the weaker inductees in some time. 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. His failure to rank highly in hitting categories is especially notable given that over 1,600 of his 2,830 career games came at DH. He was certainly not thought of as a Hall of Famer by the men and women who covered him during his day: he was on the BBWAA ballot five times and never received more than 6.1% of the vote. He fell off the ballot in 2011 when he received 4.8%.
Smith was a stronger candidate by most measures. In addition to helping transform the role of relief pitchers in the game, he did end his career as the all-time leader in the statistic that, for better or worse, defines closers. The BBWAA likewise thought more highly of him, leaving him on the ballot for a full 15 years, at times gaining over 50% of the vote.
No matter what one may say about their cases now, however, the vote is in and each of them will be Hall of Famers come next July.
Not making the cut were the other eight nominees: Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershisher, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, and George Steinbrenner. The Today’s Game Committee consisted of 16 voters: Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre, Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, Jerry Reinsdorf and media members Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian, and Claire Smith.
Hall of Fame Weekend 2019 will be held July 19-22, with the Induction Ceremony on Sunday, July 21. Inductees voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of American will be revealed on January 22, 2019.