Harold Baines debuts on Today’s Game Era ballot

The line has to be somewhere, but the inevitability of the numbers doesn’t make Harold Baines’ accomplishments any less impressive.

Of all the players currently eligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Harold Baines has more hits than anyone but Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.

“The guy could flat-out hit,” said Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

Baines is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Today’s Game Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 4 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Md.

“The guy could flat-out hit,”

Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson

The 10 candidates on the Today’s Game Era Committee ballot are: Albert Belle, Will Clark, Davey Johnson, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner and Baines. Any candidate who receives votes on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017 on July 30.

Baines began his professional baseball career as the No. 1 pick in the 1977 amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox. As the story goes, future Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck first saw Baines at a Little League game when he was 12, then followed his career until he was eligible for the draft.

“I must’ve had a pretty decent day in Little League that day,” Baines said.

Baines quickly worked his way through the White Sox system, surfacing in the majors in 1980 as young manager Tony La Russa was assembling a future division winner. By 1982, Baines – an outfielder – was receiving Most Valuable Player votes after hitting 25 homers and driving in 105 runs during that season.

Over the following five seasons, Baines was named to three All-Star teams while averaging 22 homers and 97 RBI. He led the White Sox to the 1983 American League West title – the Sox’s first postseason appearance since 1959.

As he reached age 30, he quickly became a baseball nomad. Traded to the Rangers in the middle of the 1989 season in the Sammy Sosa deal, Baines developed a reputation as a player who could help any team during the stretch drive – and one of the best designated hitters in the game. Baines appeared in 1,644 of his 2,830 big league games as a DH, making only 64 appearances in the field from 1989 until the end of his career.

“I guess that’s when I realized that it was a business,” said Baines of the trade from the White Sox. “Everybody’s not as fortunate as Cal Ripken to stay in one city his whole career.”

The Rangers sent Baines to the A’s in 1990, where he helped Oakland win the American League pennant. Baines homered in the World Series against the Reds, but Cincinnati swept Oakland.

“I had one goal: to get a World Series ring,” said Baines, who hit .324 in eight Postseason series. “I never got there. On paper, we had a better team (than the Reds in 1990). So that’ll tell you right there that you don’t know.”

Baines moved to the Orioles for two seasons (1994-95), then back to the White Sox, back to the Orioles – then onto Cleveland before more stops with Baltimore and the White Sox – with whom he ended his career in 2001.

The final tally: 2,866 hits (45th all-time) and 1,628 RBI (32nd all-time), to go along with 384 home runs and a .289 batting average and six All-Star Game selections.

Baines has been honored with a statue at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field and a place in Orioles Hall of Fame. His No. 3 was retired by the White Sox in 1989 – just after he was traded to the Rangers.

Only once – according to Baines – was he ever ejected from a game.

“I went nuts,” said Ray Miller, who was managing the Orioles at the time of Baines’ ejection, which came after he flipped his bat following a called third strike. “I screamed at the umpire: ‘You just threw out the classiest guy in the game!’” He (the umpire) got all red in the face and threw me out, too. But I had to do it.

“Harold played the game with such dignity.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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