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Harold Baines and Lee Smith elected to the Hall of Fame

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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.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.