For some reason, a lot of experts are bagging on the selection of outfielder Harold Baines to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and those criticisms do not make sense. After all, if Tony Pérez is in Cooperstown, then Baines should be, too.
Yet even on his own, Baines deserves this. He was a six-time All-Star selection who toiled in anonymity on bad teams for years: That is what life was like if you were a Chicago White Sox player in the 1980s. Sure, they made the postseason once, but otherwise, the ChiSox were mediocre throughout the decade.
Three times in nine seasons, Chicago finished at least 20 games out of first place in the old American League West—including a whopping 32.5 games out in 1988, Baines’ last full season with the club. Even someone like Derek Jeter would have been overlooked in the 1980s on a team like that.
Straight stats, though, Baines was a lifetime .289 hitter with a 121 OPS+, and he almost hit 400 home runs and almost collected 3,000 hits. If he had done both, would anyone really be complaining? No. The fact he finished with just 384 HRs and 2,866 hits doesn’t change the fact he was a very good player for a very long time, playing 22 seasons, without using PEDs, no less.
Yes, he was pretty much a designated hitter for most of his career, but that argument against good hitters is getting stale—especially since every level of organized baseball from college to the majors uses the DH (except the crusty, ol’ National League, of course).
Baines made his last All-Star team in 1999 at the age of 40 years old, when he hit .312 with 25 HRs and 103 RBI for Baltimore and Cleveland combined. It was the 11th time in his career he hit at least 20 HRs in a single season, and it was the eighth time he finished a full season with a .300-plus batting average.
He never won a World Series ring, but that wasn’t his fault. His postseason batting slash line—.324/.378/.510—also included an .888 OPS, five HRs, and 16 RBI in six postseasons covering 31 games between 1983 and 2000. Baines rose to the October occasion, clearly.
His longevity helped his career totals, for sure, and Baines only led the AL once in a major offensive category (.541 slugging percentage in 1984). After 1985, he never earned a single MVP vote, although he did win a Silver Slugger award in 1989. Baines wasn’t dominant, although his seven years with the Orioles (1993-1995, 1997-2000) produced the best numbers of his career (.881 OPS).
Considering Baines spent parts of 17 seasons playing in some pretty crappy ballparks for hitters (Chicago’s old Comiskey and Oakland’s Mausoleum, for example), his numbers are pretty good. That’s why the OPS+ demonstrates he was way above the average player at his positions (right field, DH), and the career totals are just shy of some serious benchmarks.
So why do people complain that the “old-timers” committee voted him in? These are people who knew Baines best: They played with him, and they managed him. Perhaps they know a little bit more about the game of baseball than a bunch of non-athletic writers in the press box that never played a sport in their lives.