Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Harold Baines

Claim to fame: One of the first longtime designated hitters to build some support for Cooperstown, Baines hit .289 lifetime with 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. He might never have been a superstar, much of a defender, or someone I’d seriously consider voting into the Hall of Fame, but with 150 more hits, he’d probably have been a first ballot inductee.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Baines received 4.8 percent of the vote this year from the Baseball Writers Association of America, which will remove him from future ballots. In his four preceding years on the ballot, Baines never got more than about 6 percent of the writers vote.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Here’s an interesting quirk of baseball history. Baseball-Reference.com includes a Bill James-inspired metric called Similarity Scores which show how players compare based on career batting stats. For reasons I’ll explain momentarily, the player Al Kaline ranks most similar to for this metric is Baines.

Does this mean Baines was as good as Kaline, a first-ballot Hall of Famer? No. Kaline has the better lifetime batting average, a higher OPS+ and nearly three times as much WAR. More than that, Similarity Scores aren’t adjusted for era, meaning if Kaline played the second half of his career in the hitter-friendly 1990s or got to DH a lot like Baines, Kaline might have a .315 career batting average and 500 more hits. This says nothing about Kaline’s superior value in the outfield or as a franchise cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers. He earned his spot in Cooperstown.

But it wouldn’t seem outlandish to call Baines a poor man’s Kaline at the plate, and with 150 more hits, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. Until Rafael Palmeiro this year, no eligible player with 3,000 hits had failed to be a first ballot inductee since 1952. Don’t ask me why the BBWAA assigns such significance to 3,000 hits. It isn’t like this with 300 wins, as Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, or Don Sutton know, nor with 500 home runs, which couldn’t get Harmon Killebrew into the Hall of Fame his first three tries. But 3,000 hits has meant first-round induction for, dare I say, lesser greats like Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, and Carl Yastrzemski.

Meanwhile, Al Oliver, who hit .303 lifetime with 2,743 hits received exactly 20 Hall of Fame votes his only year eligible, 1991. Baines has done markedly better than Oliver in Cooperstown voting for reasons I’m not completely sure of—Oliver has a slightly better WAR, 38.8 and played from 1968 to 1985, with most of his best years in a tougher time for hitters than Baines who played 1980 to 2001. Judging from his hitting stats, Oliver might be one of the more underrated players in baseball history. Neither man was anything less than a liability defensively, though if I had to choose one of them to DH for me, I’d take Oliver, no question.

All of this is not to knock Baines who had many All Star-caliber years, figured in nicely with some playoff teams, and would be a first rate member of a Hall of Very Good. But then, a player or two with 3,000 hits might belong there too.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

16 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Harold Baines

  1. “But it wouldn’t seem outlandish to call Baines a poor man’s Kaline at the plate, and with 150 more hits, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame.”

    I think that comment says it all. “A poor man’s Kaline” that did not even take the field for the most part, let alone could not even compare to Kailine’s amazing skills on the field, does not deserve a birth in the HOF.

    As for stats like 3,000 hits, even there I think that the stature of it has changed with the changes in the game. Stats like 3,000 hits not only come from skill at the plate, but also from longevity. There are a great deal more factors in the modern game since the 80’s that permit a player to last longer in the game. I won’t even address the steroid issue which has kept a 3,000 hit 500 home run player out of the HOF (which I agree with), but also the radical increase in salaries that allow for much improved lifestyle, greater access to superior health care, training, nutrition, etc, improved equipment, alterations in the game since 1968 to increase offense. All of these contribute to a player lasting far longer which now make those stats a little less hallowed.

    In 1969 when the modern game century was more than 2/3’s over, there were only 6 players who had more than 3,000 career hits. This included players from even before the modern era since the NL inception in the 1880’s. Now we have had an explosion of 21 more players joining that club starting with Hank Aaron in 1970 that took place in a mere 40 years.

    The same holds true for career home runs. 300 plus was once considered pretty impressive. As a kid I had a book on the best all-time home run hitters that started with “The 300 Club” and on the the 400 and ended with the 500 plus club which had at that time only 5 players including Willie Mays who had just joined. Lou Gehrig was number six on that list; now he is tied for 26th. Duke
    Snider who retired in 1964 was 8th. Now he is 46th.

    Bottom line is those hallmarks no longer mean the same thing and even more so if a player has for example only one of those hallmarks to his credit, it may not be enough any more to rate an immediate election as it once did.

  2. Alvy, I’m not saying he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. My point was that with 3,000 hits, Baines would have been elected first ballot, whether that was deserved or not.

  3. I hear ya Graham. Was just responding to two points you made. One that a poor man’s Kaline with no defensive skills shouldn’t make the Hall.
    And was agreeing with you on the 3,000, just sharing my opinions on why it and things like 500 homers alone might not be the once HOF hallowed stats that they were in earlier eras. And certainly not when in Baines’s case they are singular achievements.

    Baines is one more fine player that belongs in the Hall of the Really Good.

  4. NEW YORK—Following Derek Jeter’s 2,722nd career hit Friday, Yankee fans and teammates took a moment to honor the all-star shortstop for having 144 fewer hits than former journeyman designated hitter Harold Baines.

    “I’m glad I can tell my kids that I was at the game when Derek Jeter [didn’t come close to getting as many hits as 22-season veteran Harold Baines, who won his only World Series as a bench coach],” Yankee fan Nick Sullivan said. “[Harold Baines].”

  5. No, I don’t think he should make it. But we don’t need sarcasm here like the person who said he was Harold Baines. Of course that person probbaly makes $30,000/year, while Harold Baines made $3M/year, so I guess he’s entitled to be sarcastic.

  6. Baines would need more that 3000 hits to be in the hall of fame. He just doesn’t seem to me to be HOF caliber. Better than good, short of great. I do however think that Edgar should be in the HOF. He got a late start and doesn’t have huge numbers (2200 hits), but I think if you asked major league pitchers who they would rather pitch against, they would choose Baines. Of course I live south of seattle and may be little biased.

  7. I’d definitely vote in Edgar before Baines, too. While I might also be biased, having family in Seattle and having seen Edgar play at the Kingdome as a kid, I consider him one of the most underrated hitters in baseball history. His lifetime OPS+ of 147 is tied for 39th all-time with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Stargell and a future one, Jim Thome. Edgar might be the best DH in baseball history, certainly one who redefined the position.

  8. You are so wrong about his not being “much of a defender.” He had a great arm in right field–one of the best I have seen–and led the league in putouts. He was a clutch hitter who led the league in game winning hits when they initiated that stat. Very quiet and underrated.

  9. I was born and raised in Chicago and Harold Baines was one of my childhood heroes. I have to agree with John W. Arden. Harold Baines was a very good right fielder with a great arm. Baines played a majority of his career in Comiskey Park which was not a hitters park. Had he played across town at Wrigley Field he probably would have hit over 500 home runs. Harold was very deserving of the Hall of Fame

  10. Hi Billy,

    Thanks for commenting on my piece. I’d agree that Harold Baines lost some home runs playing at both versions of Comiskey Park. I don’t think the National League would’ve been a better fit for him, though, given that he spent 2/3 of his career games as a designated hitter.

    Baines’ HR total would’ve increased in a better hitters park in the American League. He posted one of his best home run rates at the Metrodome, homering once every 23.6875 plate appearances there as opposed to once every 31.88 PAs in Comiskey Parks I & II. If we take the years he played with the White Sox and make his home park the Metrodome instead and treat Comiskey I/II as a road park, Baines would see a bump of about 34 home runs, which would take him to 418 lifetime.

    It’s not 500 home runs, but then, that doesn’t seem to be a golden ticket to Cooperstown anymore. Thanks again for commenting.

    Graham Womack

  11. He was a feared clutch hitter. Definitely belongs in the hall, has over 1600 RBI, 134 hits shy of 3000, almost 400 HRS, 8 20+ HR seasons, a career 289 AVG. With 6 all star appearances and hit in the post season. Didn’t strike out much. Inducted in both the White Sox & Orioles Team Hall of Fame. Was the best DH until David Ortiz broke his records. Was one good season from rounding 400 & 3000. He should be selected by the Hall of Fame fraternity, which is better than being voted in by reporters. Put this class guy in ASAP!

  12. I have always thought Baines was an easy no…but not so sure. I think his numerous teams and DH duties hurt him most. He could certainly hit.

    Does he have the most RBI and total bases of any non HOF player?

    His career stretched so long I think his longevity somehow hurts him…..I don’t know how to explain that rationally but I believe it is true somehow.

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