BOSTON (WEEI.com) -- Harold Baines did nothing to deserve this. The outfielder-desginated hitter spent 22 years in the big leagues, made six All-Star teams, and recorded more than 2,800 hits. Prior to Sunday, you’d probably have summarized his career with, “Really good player. Too bad he’ll be forgotten.”
On Sunday night, whatever they’re calling the Veteran’s Committee made the truly shocking decision to put Baines in Cooperstown. If he’s not the least-talented Hall of Famer ever, he might be the worst selection. His support from the writers peaked at 6.1 percent. No one clamored to enshrine him, not at the expense of traditionally overlooked candidates like Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker.
It only took 12 votes from a 16-person panel to enshrine Baines and former Boston Red Sox closer Lee Smith.
Baines voters were ill-informed. What fascinates me is the impact it could have on other cases. I can name five Red Sox outfielders better than Baines off the top of my head: Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, J.D. Drew, Mookie Betts, and Manny Ramirez.
I talked to Evans about the Hall of Fame a couple of springs ago, especially with his lifetime WAR of 67.1 comparing favorably to any number of Hall of Fame right fielders (and dwarfing Baines’ 38.7, which ranks 545th all-time!). He said that the Steroid Era killed his candidacy, because the 370-foot outs he hit in 1989 were 400-foot homers for players of similar ability a decade later.
Evans rates only a couple of wins behind Ramirez (69.4) on the WAR leaderboard, a testament to his fine all-around play (and Manny’s defensive issues). And they’re only a little ahead of Smith (64.6), a truly overlooked star who blossomed after leaving Boston.
Drew is one of the most naturally talented players to wear a Red Sox uniform, he delivered repeatedly in the postseason, and he helped win a title in 2007. About all that separates him from Baines is longevity (and perhaps indifference), because Drew at his peak was clearly superior.
Betts, the reigning American League MVP, has already delivered two seasons Baines could only dream of, and he’s probably got another 10 years to burnish his resume.
Will any of the aforementioned retirees earn legitimate consideration moving forward? It appears doubtful, unless Evans garners significant support in the veteran’s committee, or the writers decide to forgive Manny’s stupidity, particularly as it relates to multiple failed drug tests.
These are the doors that open when a candidate as flawed as Baines earns enshrinement. As a DH for half his career, Baines has lowered the standard of excellence at that position, making Edgar Martinez a layup and and David Ortiz a first-ballot slam dunk in 2021.
In fact, if we use Baines as the new standard, Cooperstown would need to annex a neighboring hamlet and bulldoze it to the ground to accommodate everyone welcomed into the newly expanded museum.
It’d be like Oprah handing out cars. Paul O’Neill gets the Hall of Fame! And Carl Crawford gets the Hall of Fame! And Jesse Barfield gets the Hall of Fame! And Dave Justice and Andy Van Slyke and Ben Zobrist and Brad Radke, you get the Hall of Fame!
This is such an outlier of a terrible decision, I feel bad mocking it. It’s not like Harold Baines asked for this. He’s been retired for nearly 20 years, content in the knowledge that he had a very good career. That 12 randos wrongly decided it merited immortality isn’t his fault, but welcome to the Hall of Fame. Nothing in baseball boils the blood quite like it.