Harold Baines tours Hall of Fame during Orientation Visit
Soft-spoken and appreciative, Harold Baines made his first trip to Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer on Tuesday.
The honor may not have changed Baines’ outlook, but the change in surroundings was not lost on the Windy City slugging legend, who spent 14 of his 22 big league seasons calling Chicago’s South Side home as a member of the White Sox.
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Baines was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to experience his Orientation Visit – afforded to all new Hall of Fame electees. After a two-hour midmorning tour of the Museum’s exhibits and collections, Baines, accompanied by his wife, Marla, wound up in the Museum’s Plaque Gallery surrounded by the bronze images of 323 past honorees.
Soon after continuing the tradition of autographing the spot where his plaque will reside come this summer, a calm and collected Baines – seemingly with the same cool demeanor he used to faced down a Nolan Ryan heater – sat himself in a director’s chair and shared with the assembled media his thoughts on both the day and the whirlwind last few months since he received the life-altering telephone call in December.
“This has been exciting,” the 59-year-old Baines said, wearing glasses, black slacks and a dark blue sweater. “Now that I’m going to be a part of what people are going to be looking at it’s very special. It’s really been a great day.
“I was here 30-some years ago for the Hall of Fame Game, but wasn’t fortunate enough to come in the Hall of Fame. It’s a place you need to see if you’ve never seen it before.”
Baines appeared twice in the Hall of Fame Game – playing for the White Sox in both 1980 and ’82. In the 1980 contest, Baines collected a homer and two doubles in Chicago’s 11-8 loss to the Pirates.
Asked what he was feeling on this particular day, the man of few words contemplated the question, then said, “I don’t show emotion, a lot of emotions, but inside it’s very exciting.”
Baines’ stoicism did let up, though, when told his Hall of Fame plaque would reside about 20 feet from Babe Ruth’s…his eyes watering after receiving the news.
“All this hasn’t really sunk in yet, but coming here has helped a lot. Being home I didn’t feel it a lot, but once I got here today I started feeling it,” he said. “I’m very honored, very grateful, for what’s going to be happening.”
On Dec. 9, Baines and longtime closer Lee Smith were elected to the Hall of Fame via the 10-person Today’s Game Era ballot – individuals whose contributions came from 1988 through the present – that was voted upon by a 16-member electorate at Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
“I was just watching TV and Jane (Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark) called and said, ‘Welcome to the Hall of Fame.’ It was a very, very special moment,” Baines said. “All this hasn’t changed Harold; it might have changed more things I have to do. But it hasn’t changed Harold the person.”
Baines, a Maryland native who spent seven seasons with his hometown Orioles in addition to 14 seasons with the White Sox, had a career that also included stops with the Rangers, Athletics and Indians. When he retired after the 2001 season he was the all-time leader among designated hitters in games, runs, hits, homers and RBI. He finished with 2,866 hits and 1,628 RBI, an RBI total that still ranks 34th all-time. A six-time All-Star as an outfielder and DH, Baines was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1977 MLB Draft and was a two-time winner of the Designated Hitter of the Year Award, now named the Edgar Martinez Award.
“I never thought about the Hall of Fame when I was playing,” Baines said. “Baseball to me was a great job to have and to provide for my family, but the other side of it I didn’t really dwell on.”
Along with Baines and Smith, the Hall of Fame Class of 2019 will include BBWAA electees Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina. The six will be inducted on Sunday, July 21.
When a reporter asked about his upcoming induction speech, the reserved Baines first joked, “What is a speech?” before adding, “No, I really haven’t. When things like that happen to you, you’re thinking about your family mostly. My thoughts will be especially about my family.
“There’s the backbone over there,” he added, pointing to his wife, “and we have four beautiful children that she raised that allowed me to do this, get where I am today. You have to have somebody standing behind you to do the hard work and she’s been there for that.”
But Baines has also contemplated standing on stage this summer with dozens of Hall of Famers seated behind him, tens of thousands in the crowd, and a national audience watching on television.
“I’ve played in front of 50,000 fans, but standing in front of a mic trying to speak … I can hit a 100-miles-an-hour fastball, but standing in front of crowd, I have to be honest, is going to be tough,” Baines said. “But like they say, this too shall pass.”
The Museum tour, given by Erik Strohl, the Hall of Fame’s Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections, began in the 19th century baseball exhibit, Taking the Field, where Baines leaned down to check out the three-dimensional images on a stereoscope.
Making sure to examine the exhibit of fellow Maryland native Babe Ruth, Baines also toured Pride and Passion, remarking “Strong man” when passing a Jackie Robinson photo.
Along the way, Baines made a point of looking at artifacts of fellow White Sox Hall of Famers, whether it be a Luis Aparicio jersey or an Al Lopez pair of spikes. Baines also saw a pair of shorts the White Sox players wore for a few games in the 1970s.
A final tour stop was in the collections facility, where Baines could hold Joe Morgan’s cleats, a Roberto Clemente cap and a Willie Mays bat (“Where do you find this stuff?” a surprised Baines said a few times). Shown a Randy Johnson glove, Baines exclaimed, “That was usually my day off when he was pitching.”
Some special artifacts pulled especially for Baines included a Tony La Russa cap (“He taught me how to play the game correctly”), Tom Seaver spikes (“The way he could drive the ball through the zone was very impressive”) and a Carlton Fisk catcher’s mask (“He was an example. I learned from that example”).
Baines was also reunited with a bat he generously donated 35 years ago. The Hall of Famer used it on May 9, 1984, to hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 25th inning in the longest game in American League history, a 7-6 win for the White Sox over Milwaukee.
“That got here first,” Baines recalled, “but now I’m fortunate enough to be here with it.”
The six newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will take their permanent place in Cooperstown on Sunday, July 21, with the ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT – televised live on MLB Network, highlighting four days of celebratory events and programs for baseball fans of all ages, as part of Hall of Fame Weekend 2019, July 19-22.
Hall of Fame Weekend 2019 will also feature the Saturday, July 20, Awards Presentation, when J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Jayson Stark and Ford. C. Frick Award winner Al Helfer will be honored. The Weekend will include family programming for baseball fans of all ages, including the July 20 Parade of Legends and a July 22 Legends of the Game roundtable discussion event with the five living inductees.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum