More on Harold Baines..
Yesterday, I posted on Facebook my visceral reaction to the news that Harold Baines had been placed among the immortals in Cooperstown. I remarked that this was a travesty, making a mockery of the entire situation. I opined that cronyism was the only conceivable explanation for why a player like Baines—whom I actually liked as a player, a pure hitter with a sweet swing, to be sure—could possibly have been elected to the Hall of Fame. I’ve now had a day to reflect, and I’ve reached a conclusion.
I was too mild in my criticism.
Now, I should disclose that I found an article wherein my favorite all-time baseball writer, Bill James, made the argument a few years back that one could rearrange the actual numbers from Baines’ career, and make the argument that it wouldn’t be crazy to put Baines in. His career batting numbers, on their face, are in fact reasonably similar to Tony Perez, feared first basemen of the Big Red Machine. Perez is himself a rather marginal Hall-of-Famer; though if I were voting, I’d put him in, it’s hard to argue very hard that he’d have been robbed had he not made the cut. But with all due respect to James—who does NOT argue for Baines’ inclusion—Tony Perez played the field, whereas Baines spent the vast majority of his career as a DH. A good DH, without a doubt—but a DH.
To bolster my argument, I thought I would Google “best players not in the MLB Hall of Fame”; one of these articles pops up with regularity. I found a number of different listings on the first page of searching. Did I find Harold Baines mentioned even once? No, I didn’t—and I didn’t expect to (I should mention that there was one site where fans could nominate players and vote on the question; Baines was 39th in the voting). In other words, nobody thought of Baines as a Hall-of-Famer (and, I would argue, with good reason).
So then I went to the stats and looked up Baines’ career. Harold Baines was a really good hitter, and if this were the “Hall of Really Good”, he’d get my vote. But in 22 seasons, Harold Baines once led the American League in one category; he slugged .541 in 1984. Baines was a power hitter, but never once hit 30 in a season. He hit for a good average, but never had 200 hits in a season. The best he ever did in a single season in the MVP voting was in 1985, when he managed to finish…ninth. He was a six-time All-Star, with an impressive appearance in the ASG when he was 40 years old. Six times in the All-Star game is nice, and indicative, as I said, of a very good player—but that’s all. Perhaps most importantly, after he had been retired five years and became eligible for election to the Hall, the highest percentage of votes that he ever garnered—from baseball people who were right there, chronologically “close to the action”, was 6.1%. Well over nine of ten knowledgeable experts on the subject deemed Harold Baines unworthy of the Hall of Fame, in his best season of voting. After falling below 5% in the next year’s voting, Harold Baines fell off the ballot.
But I’m still not done. The aforementioned Bill James developed the sabermetric stat “Wins Above Replacement” (“WAR”), which has become a widely-used metric which asks, “how much better is a given player than a statistically-average ‘replacement’?” This stat has the nice advantage of being able to judge pitchers against batters. So…how did our friend Harold Baines do in WAR?
A short list of some of the luminaries who outshone the “immortal” Harold Baines, who managed a lifetime WAR of 38.7 in 22 seasons (if you’re scoring at home, that means he added less than two wins/year to his team’s total over:
• Tony Perez, mentioned earlier as having similar “normal” stats, had a lifetime WAR of 54.0 (23 seasons); now let’s have some fun:
• Elmer Flick had a 53.2 in 13 seasons;
• Silver King (of whom I’d never heard, but with a name like that…) had a 51.4 in just 10 years;
• Al Orth (who?) had a 51.1 WAR in 15 seasons;
• Theodore Breitenstein (I am a pretty big fan, but I’d never heard of this guy): 50.7 WAR, 11 years;
• Nap Rucker (again, who?): 47.5 in 10 seasons;
• Hippo Vaughn, 46.8 in 13 years;
• Murry Dickson (sounds like a grocer): 46.1 in 18 years;
• Noodles Hahn had a WAR of 44.8, in only 8 years. Harold takes a back seat to the immortal…Noodles;
• Cupid Childs had a 44.3 WAR in 13 seasons;
• Julio Franco, a favorite of mine, had a WAR of 43.5, and he hit .250 for the Braves when he was 48 years old;
• Amos Otis, 42.8 in 17 years; Otis, my man!
• Placido Polanco had a WAR of 41.5 in 16 years. In anyone’s wildest dreams, has anyone ever thought, “yeah, that Placido Polanco,
he’s a Cooperstown man!”
• Mark Belanger hit .228 over the course of his career, but was more valuable in 18 years to his team than was Harold Baines (40.9
• Nig Cuppy had a 40.5 WAR in just 10 years. Yes, that’s his name. Go read it on his tombstone in Elkhart, Indiana.
• Hooks Dauss had a 40.1 WAR in 15 years;
• And yes, the immortal Pink Hawley, in 10 years, had a higher WAR (39.8).
All told, Harold is tied for 545th in WAR (and I can make a good argument that one of the three guys he’s tied with, Juan Gonzalez, is more deserving of the Hall). As judged by WAR, Harold slots in a little below Rico Petrocelli and a little above Lonnie Smith. In fact, Harold Baines WAR is not the lowest among those in the Hall of Fame; relying on my admittedly spotty memory, and looking at the all-time WAR list, I was able to produce one player who, based on WAR, is less deserving of the Hall. Longtime friends and readers of mine will not be surprised to learn that Bill Mazeroski is that player. I won’t bore you with another rant on how bad the choice to elect Maz was, but even he—WAR notwithstanding—could be said to be one of the finest-fielding second basement in history, and he did have this little hit in the World Series that one year…
Now, I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, five hundred things happened today that matter more than whether or not Harold Baines belongs in the Hall of Fame. And yet as a fan—and particularly as a “fan of immortality” (one of my favorite sports discussions involves who does, or doesn’t, belong in the Hall of Fame), I have to weigh in. Harold Baines was a nice one-way player for a long time, and maybe was better than one or two guys in the Hall of Fame. But this vote cannot possibly be justified.