Baines' totals fall short

December, 3, 2008
Harold Baines a Hall of Famer? Well, no. But he certainly has his supporters:

    Those in the know with the White Sox believe Baines deserves a better Hall of Fame fate. Along with Baines' tremendous RBI total, placing him 28th all-time, the left-handed slugger finished with a .289 average, 384 home runs, 488 doubles, 1,299 runs scored, 1,062 walks against just 1,441 strikeouts and a most impressive 2,830 games played. Baines also checks in at 2,866 career hits, ranking him 40th, but also leaving him 134 short of what has been considered the magic number for enshrinement.

    This particular number bothers [White Sox owner Jerry] Reinsdorf more so than Baines. [Reinsdorf], who counts Baines as one of his favorite people, feels somewhat personally responsible for Baines coming up short of 3,000.

    "What really has bothered me for a long time is that if we hadn't traded him, he would have his 3,000 hits and he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame," said Reinsdorf, who oversaw Baines' trade to Texas on July 29, 1989 and to Baltimore on July 29, 1997. "We traded him twice and into bad situations where he was a platoon player.

    "If he stayed with us, he would have gone over 3,000 hits. If he doesn't get in, it would really bug me. I talk to him about it, and he just shrugs it off."

By all accounts, Harold Baines is a classy sort of fellow, and I enjoyed watching him play (which meant watching him hit, mostly). I don't think you need me to tell you that he wasn't really a Hall of Fame sort of player. He was slow -- he stole 34 bases in 22 years -- and was a full-time outfielder for only seven seasons before shifting to a less demanding role (DH). I have questioned Gil Hodges' Hall of Fame credentials based, in part, on the fact that he never finished better than seventh in MVP voting. Well, Baines never did better than ninth. Quite frankly, for the great majority of his career of his career he was considered a good player rather than a great one.

Oh, and while Baines' clutch hitting is repeatedly held up as perhaps his greatest credential, when you actually look at Baines' clutch stats you find exactly what you would expect to find in a player with a career as long as Baines': His clutch stats look almost exactly like his overall stats.

Anyway, I'm not so interested in Baines' Hall of Fame credentials (or not). What's interesting to me is the notion that if Baines had reached 3,000 hits, he'd be a Hall of Famer. In 2007, Baines' first year of eligibility, he got 29 votes; to be elected, he needed 409.

Is it really reasonable to think that if Baines had just been able to cobble together another 134 hits over 22 years, he'd have picked up the support of another 380 Hall of Fame voters?

I've got a pretty lousy track record when it comes to reading the minds of the voting BBWAA members. But I have to say no. Baines certainly would have gained a great deal of support, with hundreds of writers and many thousands of White Sox fans getting exceptionally emotional about their 3,000-hits guy. I'm not at all sure he'd have fared as well as Reinsdorf seems to think. While it might seem unimaginable to see a non-steroids-tainted 3,000-hits guy left out of the Coop, I'll bet it becomes a lot more imaginable Edgar Renteria or Johnny Damon becomes one of those guys.

(Tip of the bowler to BTF's Newsstand.)



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