A lot has been written about Harold Baines’ election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era committee. Most analysis has been critical of the selection. I get it, and was scratching my head myself when I saw he was selected; when I thinking about possible new HOF inductees Baines wasn’t even on my radar. He doesn’t seem to have the “peak”, a time when he was amongst the elite in the game, to support his candidacy.
After more examination, I’d like to make the case that the Baines election isn’t the abomination that it has been made out to be. I’m not ready to call Baines an immortal, but I’m thinking the next time I’ll be in Cooperstown I’ll be OK seeing his plaque on the wall. Here’s why:
Elite Company and Work Stoppages
There is a select group of players with 3000 hits and 400 home runs during their careers:
Al Kaline was really close, with 3007 hits and 399 career home runs.
Historically, players that reach the 3000/400 standard have been able to punch their ticket for the Hall of Fame, the only exceptions being Palmeiro (PED suspension) and Rodriguez (not yet eligible but unlikely due to PED suspension).
Baines had 2866 hits and 384 home runs in his career. One thing to remember is that during his playing career, three seasons had games cancelled due to labor work stoppages. I figure he missed 120 games over the course of the 1981, 1994 and 1995 seasons, all of which he was an everyday player. Over the course of his 2830 career games, he just about averaged a hit a game and a home run about every seven games. Adding those 120 games, and assuming comparable performance, he's on the verge of reaching 3000 hits and 400 home runs, and would be the part of a pretty exclusive club.
Does he get any consideration for this in making his HOF case? We can "what if" lots of players for a lots of reasons, but this time of games lost to labor issues is unique to the game's history.
Performance in the Clutch
Baines had a .324/.378/.510 line in 113 postseason at bats, covering eight series.
In 444 career plate appearances against Hall of Fame pitchers, Baines slashed .284/.345/.412. Add in his .303/.397/.385 in 126 plate appearances against Roger Clemens and you get a player who was able to compete at a high level against the best pitchers of his generation.
Baines was a “tough out” for a long time. He played 22 seasons, 20 of them in which he could be considered a “regular” or every close. In nineteen consecutive seasons he had an OPS+ of over 100. Here’s the company he is in with this streak:
I pulled this list together manually from looking at players who had extended (20+ season) careers. There’s the chance I may have missed some players to add to this list, but not many.
Baines was an all-star six times – the first at age 26 and the last at age 40. From age 35 to the end of his career, he averaged .293/.373/.478. His age 40 season is among the best at that age of all time.
As I said before, Harold Baines is not an immortal, and at first glance does not have the look of a Hall of Famer. I’d encourage readers to look a bit into the stats, and I think one will see a long career of very good play. Does that make for a Hall of Famer? Well in Baines’ case it does, and I’m OK with it.