Harold Baines with the White Sox in 2001.

Otto Greule/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

Spiegel: Harold Baines Shouldn't Be A Punch Line

The committee did a disservice not just to the Hall of Fame but Baines too.

Matt Spiegel
December 10, 2018 - 3:40 pm
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(670 The Score) We’ve all begrudgingly come to terms with 75 percent representing an acceptable majority when it comes to declaring baseball excellence.

There are almost 600 members of the Baseball Writers Association Of America, and every year their ballots for the baseball Hall of Fame come under tremendous deserved scrutiny. That 75-percent threshold calls for roughly 450 votes, so it creates a big enough sample that genuine injustice is rare. Beyond that, the spread of analytical wisdom and logical groupthink has lowered the margin for error further still.

But when that same 75-percent mark is applied to the 16 members of what's now called the Today’s Game Era Committee, the potential for disaster is enormous.

Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony La Russa are two of those 16 members, and they must have argued convincingly for Harold Baines, who had a 22-year career, 14 of those with the White Sox. On Sunday, 12 votes were needed for Baines to gain election into the Hall of Fame, and 12 is what he received.

These 12 individuals have done a massive disservice to several different entities, including their friend Baines, on multiple levels.

The credibility of the Hall of Fame itself took a huge hit with Baines' entry, as there are dozens and dozens of eligible players more deserving than him. Fears of a severely lowered bar are uncomfortable and unfortunate.

This election has damaged the integrity of our future annual conversations on the candidates and their merits. The caveat of "if your player doesn’t get in, just make sure he has pals on the Today’s Game Era Committee" now could tag every discussion.

And in an ironic unintended consequence that should embarrass the committee, it has turned Baines himself into a derisive punch line. 

Look, we’ve had the Baines conversation previously and chose to move on. He was an absolutely terrific baseball player. He was one of the best hitters for the 20 years between 1980 and 1999 -- second in RBIs in that span, third in total bases and fifth in hits. He had a hell of a career. 

Baines stopped playing defense and was a designated hitter more than any other position as his career went on, and that limited his actual value. The 22 years he played led to an accumulation that inflated his actual value. 

Baines made it onto the traditional Hall of Fame ballot. For the final five years that he was on the ballot, he received less than 10 percent of the vote. The 4.8 percent he receive in 2011 was enough to knock him off. 

Asked, voted upon and answered: Baines had terrific career, just not the best of the best.

Two years ago, Baines found out he was one of 10 candidates for consideration by the Today's Game Era Committee. He was surprised and flattered.

"I wasn’t expecting it," Baines said. "I’m grateful they included me." 

Baines is a class man who probably understands his place in history. Now he’s in. But he’s also the ancillary butt of endless angry jokes today.

Reinsdorf should be reminded that Harold Baines doesn't deserve to be laughed at. In 2008, Reinsdorf gave Baines a statue at the ballpark at 35th and Shields. Reinsdorf and Baines, via collateral damage, took plenty of jokes then from writers and radio jamokes. But hey, that's Reinsdorf's call to make, and the love he has for White Sox stars is both admirable and fully entitled. He can do what he likes.

But this is the Hall of Fame. Myself and others have been out here for decades now trying to defend the honor and legacy of the museum. We know the process of election is flawed, but we argue for tradition, context and experience. We try to remind people that the museum is there to tell the story of the game. It’s why some of us believe the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens ought to be there, indiscretions and all. You can’t tell that story without those players or Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson.

I’m sorry, but you can tell the story of the game without Harold Baines.

A huge volume of tweets and articles about his Hall of Fame election start with variants of "Look, I loved Harold Baines, but ..." or "With all due respect to Baines..." or "Hey, that swing was cool but..."

Those 12 measly voters, under the nudging guidance of Papa Jerry and the smartest manager of all time (just ask La Russa himself) have forced people who really liked a terrific ball player to denigrate him. 

This is the short-term ugliness: a proud man and great player like Baines as a laughingstock. The long-term ugliness could be devaluing what it even means to be a Hall Of Famer.

Cronyism is a menace. Fix this broken system, baseball.       

Follow Matt Spiegel on Twitter @MattSpiegel670. For more from and about Matt, visit www.mattspiegel.com.​​