Published Dec. 16, 2018
Harold Baines didn’t ask for this.
He didn’t campaign. He didn’t wax wistfully. He didn’t recruit friends in the media through back channels to stump on his behalf.
Yet here Baines is, controversy swirling around him, all about a Hall of Fame honor that has been overwhelmingly panned and derided.
Baines, he of the fine yet not great, 22-year MLB career, was elected to the Baseball HOF last weekend by the Today’s Game Era Committee, whose name sounds like the baseball version of an obscure football bowl game.
Baines was minding his own business when the word was shotgunned across the Internet, causing heads to spin and neck veins to pop out.
There have been no winners here. Baseball didn’t win. The Hall of Fame didn’t win.
And worse, Harold Baines didn’t win.
Oh, I’m sure he is honored by his inclusion. And I’m sure that when the ceremony comes around next summer, he’ll stand before the gathered throng in cozy Cooperstown and deliver a heartfelt speech.
Baines: poster child
But for now, Baines is the white elephant in the room—except that no one is afraid to talk about him. At all. And very little of the discussion, save from his former manager, Tony LaRussa, has been complimentary.
Check that—Baines has been complimented. Only, it’s been in a backhanded manner. All of the praise for his career has been followed with, “But…”
As in, but, he’s not a Hall of Famer. But, the committee screwed up. But, this has stained the Hall forever. But now, the standards have been lowered beyond repair.
All of that is true.
What the committee did, wasn’t just elect a player whose body of work simply doesn’t merit election—it made Harold Baines a poster child in the process.
And that, above all, is the worst part of this whole thing.
This isn’t fair—to Harold Baines.
Before last Sunday, Baines was known as a reliable, solid hitter whose swing from the left side could be, at times, powerful; mostly it was simply good. Certainly, productive enough to hit third or fourth in most lineups he was in.
Bartman, Buckner and now…Baines
Baines forever represents, in many eyes, the worst of Hall of Fame election processes, especially when performed by these ad hoc committees whose charge, it seems, is to overcompensate for prior snubs.
Baines is no longer that fine, 22-year big leaguer whose exploits were mainly performed for the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. He’s now a cautionary tale—a name to be trotted out whenever HOF debates rage.
I can hear it now.
“Oh for goodness sakes, they’d better not put so-and-so in the Hall. We don’t need another Harold Baines.”
Baines is going to join the likes of Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman in terms of name recognition.
That’s a shame.
The other arguments against Baines’ election are less about him and more about others—and those arguments are no less salient.
With Baines in the Hall, a can of worms of epic proportions has been popped open.
I’m not going to list the names, because you have already read them—and have come up with some of your own.
Players who, thanks to the committee’s egregious act, are now in play—or should be, because how do you put Baines in the Hall and not them?
LaRussa, who’s on the committee, was pressed by MLB Network’s Chris Russo about the Baines election. When Russo demanded numbers to support, LaRussa offered up game winning RBI—which is ironic because GWRBI in and of itself is a dubious statistic.
Yet this isn’t about whether Harold Baines should be in the Hall of Fame. We can overwhelmingly agree that he shouldn’t.
This is about turning Baines from a player and a man, into a name that will forever live in infamy.
It’s not fair. And that, by far, is the worst—and saddest—part of what’s happening here.