Good Among the Greats: Why Harold Baines Induction Matters

As Induction weekend descends upon us, we take a look at who will be taking their place among the immortals of our sport:

  • Mariano Rivera: The greatest closer of all time
  • Roy Halladay: Two time Cy Young Award winner, 8 time All-Star
  • Edgar Martinez: Gold Standard DH in baseball history, two time batting champion
  • Mike Mussina: 5 Time All-Star selection, 7 Gold Gloves, over 140 postseason innings

… Oh, and of course, Harold Baines.  I know what you’re thinking… Who the hell is Harold Baines? On the surface, he’s an outfielder who played 22 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Chicago White Sox. His resume would lead one to believe that he shouldn’t even be sniffing the hall of fame, but his election to the hall via the Veteran’s committee opens up the deeper question:

What is the Hall of Fame…. Really?”

Keep in mind, this is not to disparage Mr. Baines as a person, or a player. On January 9th in his home town of St. Michaels, Maryland every year is Harold Baines day. He also founded the Harold Baines scholarship fund, to help college bound students at his alma mater, St. Michaels High School. This isn’t about him as a person, and only partly about him as a player.

So What’s the Big Deal?

The issue at hand is that Baines, by virtually any statistical measure, old school or new school, is not a hall of fame player. Here’s a quick overview of his numbers:

  • 22 Seasons
  • 2,866 hits
  • 384 Home Runs
  • 34 Stolen Bases
  • .820 OPS (career)
  • 6 time All-Star selection
  • Worth -19.5dWAR (defensive Wins Above Replacement)
  • 38.7 career overall WAR

The thing about this resume is that it’s…. fine. It tells the story of a player who played for a long time, hit for some power, but was a liability in the field and contributed very little if at all on the base paths. Not exactly a “complete” player, and not exactly so standout in one aspect, that deficiencies in others can be overlooked. It’s a career to be proud of, hall of fame worthy? Let’s put it into context, by looking at players who match Baines’s accomplishment level, just at Right Field alone.

2,866 Hits:

  • Just Ahead of: Rusty Staub
  • Just Behind: Babe Freakin’ Ruth

Ok, so this one one kinda surprised me. He even did it in the same number of seasons as the Bambino, so kudos there. Of course no one is even slightly comparing Ruth to Baines in any other aspect, but this was neat.

384 Home Runs:

  • Just Ahead of: Larry Walker
  • Just Behind: Dwight Evans

This is solid company to be in, but Evans is not a hall of famer, and Walker ghosts Baines in every other measurable form. Power wasn’t as critical a part of the game for Walker as it was the basis of Baines’s accomplishments.

38.7 WAR

  • Just Ahead of: Magglio Ordonez
  • Just Behind: Juan Gonzalez

Wins Above Replacement gives us a more accurate picture of a players overall contributions, at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. It also exposes the fallacy of the Baines’s election based on numbers alone. Despite a couple of strong individual accomplishments, his consistently poor performance in the field and on the bases counteract a lot of what he did at the plate, which in turn, wasn’t enough to outweigh those deficiencies.

 

So Why Does His Induction Matter?

It goes back to the question we asked earlier. What is the Hall of Fame? The popular viewpoint has always been that it is a place to immortalize greatness. To recognize players who’s accomplishments transcended their era, and carved out a place in the games history. The induction of Harold Baines changes that. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. Many would argue that it marks a “moving of the goal posts”, where the unwritten, untested “standards” would invite other, lesser players to be considered. I disagree, and view it rather as a possible shift in narrative. Rather than viewing the hall as a sort of “Mount Olympus” type of place, Baines could signal a shift to more of a “time capsule” type of establishment. Rather than who necessarily was the best, let’s focus more on the enshrinement of those who were important.

Baines is not necessarily an influential player based on his statistical accomplishments, but was elected by a special committee that was able to look past that and induct him based on the intangible impact that he brought to the game. I would not go so far as to say that I agree with this approach, but I think his induction could signal a type of shift where players are deemed worthy based on things that are not measurable.

Enjoy this, Harold, and don’t let the haters get you down. You earned it…. one way or the other, you earned it.

One comment

  1. No issue here with Baines. He was a very good ball player. Carried the white Sox on his back for many years. Hats off to Harold.

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