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Wait a minute ... this can’t be right ... Harold Baines ... Hall-of-Famer?

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A downright stunning 75% vote from Today’s Game Era Committee sends The Quiet One to Cooperstown

Harold Baines Chicago
Sunday Stunner: Harold Baines was elected to the Hall of Fame, proving good guys sometimes end up finishing first.

In an utterly stunning development late Sunday, Harold Baines was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yep. Harold Baines.

Hall-of-Famer.

Chicago White Sox fans may be gleeful, but the baseball world is not.

Baines got the minimum 12 of 16 votes (75%) from the Today’s Game Era Committee, which consisted of:

  • White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf
  • Baines’s ex-manager, Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa
  • Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar, who played against Baines
  • Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven, who held Baines to a .624 OPS in 78 career PAs
  • Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick, who acquired Baines for the Baltimore Orioles
  • Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, who Baines slapped a 1.095 OPS on in seven career PAs
  • Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan, played against Baines
  • Hall of Fame executive John Schuerholz
  • Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith
  • Hall-of-Famer Joe Torre, who managed against Baines
  • Executives Al Avila, Paul Beeston and Andy MacPhail
  • Historian/statistician Steve Hirdt
  • Writer/broadcaster Tim Kurkijan
  • Hall of Fame (Spink Award) journalist Claire Smith

It is absolutely head-scratching that Baines received a dozen votes from this panel of voters. Reinsdorf and La Russa are givens, and Gillick is a fair assumption given he traded for Baines in 1997. There’s not a single other absolute-yes vote on the panel. Morgan, whose hardline stances regarding exclusivity of Hall membership border on the kooky? Hirdt, whose every stat grouping and metric surely highlights Baines as a member of the Hall of Very Good, or Hall of Nice Dudes? Kurkijan, who surely has crafted passionate arguments for a number of worthy Hall candidates before even getting to Baines in his Rolodex?

It is worth noting that Baines peaked at 6.1% in the regular BBWAA voting. No, not 61%. Six-point-one percent.

It wasn’t even the first time Baines was on the Today’s Game Era ballot, but the second. Two years ago, he finished with fewer than five votes on the Today’s Game Era ballot, behind Schuerholz, Bud Selig, and Lou Piniella.

Lee Smith, unlike Baines a player who peaked at 50% of the BBWAA vote and lasted all 15 of his eligible years on the writer’s ballot, was a unanimous selection, and will be enshrined alongside Baines this coming July. Smith’s case, perhaps shaky, may at least be justifiable: He was dominant, as much as closers are, for a longer period of time. He also retired as baseball’s all-time saves leader, which apparently was enough to get Trevor Hoffman voted in by the BBWAA.

Otherwise only Piniella (being considered as just a manager) came close to election today, garnering 11 votes. The other figures on the ballot received fewer than five votes: players Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, managers Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel, and owner George Steinbrenner.

The correct call today, at least among the player candidates, should have been Hershiser — a somewhat borderline candidate, but one who clocks in at 54.4 aWAR (WAR average from Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs). Given a profile (as a playoff hero, a scoreless innings record holder, and a broadcaster) that tends to perhaps even overrate him, it’s sort of stunning that Hershiser didn’t get elected, or come particularly close.

Admittedly, it’s not the most compelling ballot. Baines’s and Smith’s reputation as workmanlike, decent guys may have helped them. Among everyone on the ballot members, the only others without a reputation for redassery were Carter and Hershiser.

While I am “big Hall” guy and a devoted White Sox fan, I never saw room in Cooperstown for Baines, so his election leaves me gobsmacked.

I lean heavily on WAR to determine my own big Hall, and a player has to produce a minimum of 50.0 aWAR to even knock on the door. Baines’s 38.9 aWAR falls almost a third short of that (admittedly low) bar.

In anticipation of this Today’s Game Era vote, several writers weighed in to consider/reconsider Baines’s candidacy. Most compelling was Cris Bodig’s take on Baines at Cooperstown Cred. Bodig crafts a mostly-sympathetic take, making special note of the three seasons (1981, 1994, 1995) Baines lost to work stoppages that possibly cost him a shot at 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.

However, I consider work stoppages in my Hall (as I do time “lost” because of racial exclusion in the case of Negro League players, or time put in outside of the States for Japanese or Cuban players). Based on rate and quality of play in those three seasons, Baines lost 101 games to work stoppages, costing him 1.7 WAR. So even factoring in time lost, Baines is just a 40.6 aWAR player — barely crossing 80% of my WAR bar.

That’s Boog Powell territory, Dave Parker output, Aramis Ramirez area.

Ironically, Baines’s election to the Hall puts him on the opposing side of those pushing for fellow (more worthy) White Sox and their Hall cases, including Minnie Miñoso (50.7 aWAR, without even considering his Cuban or Negro League play), Mark Buehrle (51.6), Dick Allen (61.1) or Tommy John (good gosh almighty, 83.6).

Players who are no longer on the regular ballot and may have even been sneezed at and passed over on one or more of the “special committee” ballots (today’s Today Game Era vote, and everchanging others), must see today’s result and wonder what the hell is going on.

Not to go on an It’s the End of the HOF as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) rant, but guys like Dwight Evans (67.1), Jim Edmonds (66.9), Craig Nettles (66.8), Kenny Lofton (66.6), Buddy Bell (66.5), Bobby Grich (65.7), Reggie Smith (65.4), Darrell Evans (63.7), Willie Davis (61.5), Bobby Bonds (61.2), Willie Randolph (60.8), Bobby Abreu (60.4), Chuck Finley (59.7), Ken Boyer (58.4), Rick Reuschel (58.2), Keith Hernandez (58.1), Joe Torre (58.0 as a player alone), Sal Bando (56.3), David Cone (55.3), Ron Guidry (54.3), Norm Cash (54.0), Luis Gonzalez (53.4), Chet Lemon (53.4), Cesar Cedeño (53.4), Jim Kaat (53.2), Frank Tanana (53.0), Dwight Gooden (52.9), Bret Saberhagen (52.9), Ted Simmons (52.9), Luis Tiant (52.9), Tony Phillips (52.7), Brian Giles (52.7), Jack Clark (52.4), Ron Cey (52.3), Dave Stieb (52.2), Gil Hodges (51.8), Julio Franco (51.7), Jamie Moyer (51.5), Brett Butler (50.9), Vada Pinson (50.8), Kevin Appier (50.7), Brian Downing (50.7), Bernie Williams (50.4) and Jerry Koosman (50.3), among many (*cough* Lou Whitaker) others, must be pretty stunned. At least those above who are still alive, are stunned. But I don’t know, this was such a strange result — for two improbable candidates like Baines and Smith to be elected, like a double Mazeroski — perhaps even a few of the worthy but deceased may be spinning in the dirt.

(Tiant, for one, has instructed his family that if he is elected to the Hall posthumously, tell Cooperstown to stick its plaque where the sun don’t shine.)

Perhaps voters just took a look at Baines’s career .800 OPS in 137 PAs against another subpar honoree, Jack Morris, and figured, hey, we let that clown in, let’s just blow the barn doors clear off.

Or — with a nod to what an incredible assclown Morris is — voters just decided to help make the Hall a nicer place.

And that’s one way we can all see Baines as Hall-worthy, in the wings of decency, gentility, sportsmanship. In an era where we must consider the candidacies of the endless PED-scarred, and horse’s hineys like Curt Schilling and Alex Rodriguez, maybe Baines making the Hall isn’t so tragic, after all.

Morning-after postscript:

Jay Jaffe of JAWS fame weighs in on the election, with an accompanying table that points out that no one active after 1960 has ever been elected to the Hall of Fame with a lower peak voting percentage (6.1%, 2010) than Baines. And only 18 players total — nearly all of them 19th or early 20th Century players — peaked with a lower vote percentage.

Poll

Is Harold Baines a Hall-of-Famer?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Yes
    (250 votes)
  • 56%
    No
    (328 votes)
578 votes total Vote Now

Poll

No, seriously, is Harold Baines a Hall-of-Famer?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Yes
    (205 votes)
  • 62%
    No
    (349 votes)
554 votes total Vote Now