LAS VEGAS — If there were a city where the baseball Hall of Fame was going to get wild and crazy, it’s probably here. The Winter Meetings are in Las Vegas this week and the first order of business Sunday night was announcing the results of the Today’s Game era Hall of Fame ballot, which gave 10 people a second-chance at Cooperstown.
Two players were elected: Lee Smith, the former saves leader who was the best bet on the ballot, and … Harold Baines?!?
Baines was a great player who spent 22 years in the big leagues and logged an impressive 2,866 hits. But if you were sizing up the names on the ballot, there seemed to be a few more with a better chance than Baines — like Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, manager Lou Piniella or even Orel Hershiser or Will Clark, both of whom have comfortably beat if you compare career WAR.
Smith got a perfect 16-for-16 on votes. Piniella fell one vote shy with 11. The committee was made up for Hall of Famers such as Greg Maddux, Bert Blyleven, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre, Joe Morgan as well as executives and longtime media members. There were two on the committee that probably helped Baines a lot: Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who managed Baines from 1980-1986 with the White Sox.
See photos from Baines' career:
Harold Baines' MLB career
Harold Baines' MLB career
UNDATED: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox watches the flight of the ball during a game. Harold Baines played for the Chicago White Sox from 1980-1989. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1982: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox looks on during batting practice prior to playing a Major League Baseball game against the New York Yankees circa 1982 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Baines played for the White Sox from 1980-89 and 1996-97. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
MAY 1983: Harold Baines of the Chicago White Sox poses for a portrait. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - 1983: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox swings at the pitch during an MLB game circa 1983 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - 1986: Outfielder Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox in the batting cage prior to a game in 1986 against the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, MI. Harold Baines played for 22 years with 5 different teams , was a 6-time All-Star. (Photo by: 1986 SPX/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
CANADA - AUGUST 19: Tony ties it up: Blue Jay shortstop Tony Fernandez singled in the first inning; stole second for the 20th time this season; and then roared through third base coach John McLaren's stop sign after Lloyd Moseby had singled to right. But when Chicago rightfielder Harold Baines' throw was up the first base line; Fernandez made it home safely under the tag of White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice to tie the score at 1-1. Jays went on to a 5-1 win behind Dave Stieb. (Photo by Doug Griffin/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - CIRCA 1987: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the California Angels during an Major League Baseball game circa 1987 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Baines played for the White Sox from 1980-89 and 1996-97. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
1989: Harold Baines of the Chicago White Sox leads off base during the 1989 season. (Photo by: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
UNDATED: Harold Baines of the Texas Rangers looks on during a game circa 1989-1990. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - 1989: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox steps into the swing during a 1989 season game against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
TORONTO - 1989: Harold Baines #13 of the Texas Rangers warms up prior to a 1989 season game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - CIRCA 1989: Harold Baines #3 of the Texas Rangers is honored by the Chicago White Sox prior to the start of a Major League Baseball game circa 1989 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Baines played for the Rangers from 1989-90. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - BRONX, NY - APRIL 1989: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox in the dugout during a MLB game in April 1989 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA: ANAHEIM, CA; Harold Baines of the Chicago White Sox circa 1989 bats in the 1989 MLB All Star game at the Big A in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - CIRCA 1990: Harold Baines #3 of the Oakland Athletics looks on from the dugout during an Major League Baseball game circa 1990 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. Baines played for the Athletics from 1990-92. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - 1990: Harold Baines and Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics celebrate during the 1990 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Oakland, Calif.: A's Harold Banes (3) tags elbows with teammate Mark McGuire during the 2nd inning after hitting a home run.
BALTIMORE, MD - CIRCA 1993: Harold Baines #3 of the Baltimore Orioles takes batting practice before an Major League Baseball game circa 1993 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. Baines played for the White Sox from 1993-95, 1997-99 and 2000. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - CIRCA 1993: Harold Baines #3 of the Baltimore Orioles poses for this portrait prior to a Major League Baseball game circa 1993 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. Baines played for the White Sox from 1993-95, 1997-99 and 2000. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - CIRCA 1993: Harold Baines #3 of the Baltimore Orioles bats against the Boston Red Sox during an Major League Baseball game circa 1994 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Baines played for the White Sox from 1993-95, 1997-99 and 2000. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - AUGUST 25: Harold Baines of the Chicago White Sox looks on against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois on August 25, 1996. The White Sox defeated the Blue Jays 10-9. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1997: Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the New York Yankees during an Major League Baseball game circa 1997 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Baines played for the White Sox from 1980-89 and 1996-97. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, : Baltimore Orioles Harold Baines (C) is greeted by teammates Rafael Palmeiro (R) and Geronimo Berroa (L) after hitting a two-run home run in the third inning of game four of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, OH, 12 October. The Indians have a 2-1 lead in the series. AFP PHOTO/Timothy CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
1 Mar 1999: Outfielder Harold Baines #3 of the Baltimore Orioles poses for a studio portrait on Photo Day during Spring Training at the Ft. Lauderdale Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport
Harold Baines, designated hitter and rightfielder for the Baltimore Orioles during the Major League Baseball American League East game against the Texas Rangers on 30 July 1997 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Orioles won 3 - 1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Allsport/Getty Images)
6 Mar 1999: Harold Baines of the Baltimore Orioles autographs ball for the fans before the Spring Training game against the Minnesota Twins at the Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida. The Twins defeated the Orioles 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
BOSTON, MA - JULY 13: B.J. Surhoff and Harold Baines of the Baltimore Orioles during the All-Star Game on July 13, 1999 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEBER 1: Harold Baines #33 of the Cleveland indians during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 1, 1999 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, : Cleveland Indians designated hitter Harold Baines (L) is congratulated at home plate by Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar after Baines' three-run home run off of Boston Red Sox pitcher Bret Saberhagen in the third inning in game two of the American League Division Series playoff game on 07 October, 1999 at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio. Baines, Roberto Alomar, and Jim Thome scored on the play. AFP photo/David MAXWELL (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
7 Oct 1999: Harold Baines #33 of the Cleveland Indians hits is third home run during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Red Sox 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
HOUSTON - OCTOBER 26: Bench coach Harold Baines #3 and manager Ozzie Guillen #13 of the Chicago White Sox celebrate with the Championship trophy after winning Game Four of the 2005 Major League Baseball World Series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2005 in Houston, Texas. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Houston Astros 1-0 to win the World Series 4 games to 0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: First Base Coach Harold Baines poses for a portrait during the Chicago White Sox Photo Day on February 26, 2006 at Tuscon Electric Park in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 28, 2008: Coach Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox watches the action from the dugout during a game with the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. Chicago won 6-5. Harold Baines08-1220597 (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: First base coach Harold Baines #3 of the Chicago White Sox looks on from the dugout prior to the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on February 28, 2011 at The Ballpark at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. The Dodgers defeated the White Sox 6-5. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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Baseball Twitter was baffled
The Baines election was a shocker — and not because Baines was a bad player or anything, but because the Hall of Fame carries so much baggage about the players who are or aren’t getting elected.
Keep this in mind: Baines spent more of his time as a DH, something that hurt his candidacy on the writers’ ballot (he peaked at 6.1 percent and fell off the ballot in 2011 after not getting the necessary 5 percent to stay on). Meanwhile, Edgar Martinez is in his 10th year on the writers’ ballot, where he’s often knocked for being a DH.
When someone like Baines gets the nod, it leads to quite a bit of whataboutism. And, in this case, plenty of people on Twitter who were either baffled or outraged.
Reactions to Harold Baines' Hall of Fame election
Reactions to Harold Baines' Hall of Fame election
Let's be frank: The elections of Jack Morris, Lee Smith, and (especially) Harold Baines are fully intended by voter… https://t.co/d0ut7WqSoH
Harold Baines was on the ballot as recently as 2011 and received 4.8% of the vote. It was his fifth straight year w… https://t.co/ax7i0A8gdr
I mean I loved Harold Baines and imitated that swing quite a bit as a kid but the hall of fame?
I mean, I’m happy for anyone who reaches the ultimate summit of their careers. But did anyone on even one day of hi… https://t.co/PWcTntVQ1K
Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Hall of Fame while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can't get close. https://t.co/1oRDBPGAHt
Legit did a double take at Harold Baines getting in because what WHAT WHAT did he do to deserve enshrinement? https://t.co/zNNYjogLx3
With all due respect: If Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer, Edgar Martinez should get 95 percent of the vote.
Imagine if we now had to put every player better than Harold Baines in Cooperstown. Well, not Cooperstown... they w… https://t.co/b6935BucmO
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I could keep going with tweets about this, but you get the picture.
How does Harold Baines compare to other Hall of Fame hopefuls?
The reasons the Baines news has people bent out of shape is — again — nothing against him. Rather, it’s about players who have better numbers than Baines and aren’t in.
For this, let’s just look at Wins Above Replacements, which isn’t a perfect stat by any means, but it does a good enough job of boiling down a player’s overall value into one number for comparison.
Baines’ career WAR is 38.7. Let’s compare that to some of the names on the writers’ ballot. For this exercise, I’ll keep it just to hitters:
• Larry Walker: 72.7
• Scott Rolen: 70.2 • Edgar Martinez: 68.4
• Andruw Jones: 62.8 • Gary Sheffield: 60.7
• Jeff Kent: 55.4
• Fred McGriff: 52.6
• Lance Berkman: 52.1
Martinez will most likely get in this year, but none of the these players are close right now. Walker’s 34.1 percent in 2018 was the best of them, and it’s not even halfway to the 75-percent threshold.
Now let’s compare that to some of the people who aren’t even on a ballot but many fans think should be in:
Notice, I didn’t even include anybody connected to PEDs. It’s quite easy to name dozens of players with better WAR than Baines.
What does this mean for Cooperstown going forward?
After everything above, there’s no doubt that Baines getting into the Hall of Fame lowers the Cooperstown bar. Does this mean that this January when writers’ ballots results are announced in January, that the Sheffields and McGriffs of the world are getting in?
Probably not. The BBWAA will likely keep its high standards for inclusion in the short term.
But Baines’ getting in might slowly change that, especially with an electorate that is evolving itself. Maybe it starts with more votes for Edgar Martinez this year, since the anti-DH argument doesn’t hold a ton of weight anymore. Maybe others follow that by voting for Larry Walker.
Floodgates won’t open, though, that’s for sure.
While some people may look at Baines as one of the more baffling Hall of Famers in a while, in time his legacy could be quite different. Maybe he’s the guy who slowly opens up Cooperstown to more players.
He could also wind up as a cautionary tale. There are quite a few people out there who believe that players, coaches and executives, not writers, should be the ones voting for Hall of Famers. Maybe so.
For better or worse, we just got a glimpse of what that could look like.