Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another Sox “great” falls 2 votes short

I’m starting to wonder if this is going to become a trend among White Sox ballplayers when it comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. – two votes shy, and, “Yer out!”

Which means while many baseball fans on Wednesday were celebrating (or bemoaning) the elections of infielder Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven to the Hall (induction ceremonies to be held in July), and others were trying concoct a message from the 64 voters who said “yes” to Rafael Palmeiro (only 11 percent), my attention was flipping around those ballplayers who had some stints in Chicago.

THAT INCLUDES ALOMAR, who along with his brother, Sandy, Jr., played for the White Sox near the end of his career, and Palmeiro, whose career began with the Cubs and might have lasted longer in Chicago had it not been for certain personal indiscretions (Cubs fans of a certain era remember who and what I’m referring to).

But it also includes Harold Baines, who was a White Sox star in the 1980s and managed to do three stints with the ballclub before quitting as an active player back in 2001. For the past four years,, Baines’ ballplaying career has managed to gain just enough Hall of Fame support that he gets kept on the ballot for consideration to the next year.

Not this time.

For it seems that only 28 of the 581 ballots cast by Hall of Fame sportswriters included Baines as a selection – which comes to 4.8 percent. A ballplayer needs a clean 5 percent to be reconsidered.

SO BECAUSE HE didn’t get 30 votes, Baines is gone. He’s no longer a possibility to get picked for the Hall of Fame anytime soon. Maybe some year, one of those veterans committees that studies baseball executives and other causes will give Baines’ career a second chance. Then again, maybe not.

All I know is that the scenario reminded me all too much of Nellie Fox. The White Sox great second baseman from the 1950s worked his way through the years continually falling short of the number of votes needed for Hall of Fame induction.

The reason he gets remembered is because of 1985 – his 15th, and final year of consideration. That year, he got 295 votes out of the 395 ballots cast. As in 74.7 percent, which rounded up is 75 percent – the bare minimum of support needed for actual induction (for what it is worth, Alomar on Wednesday got 90 percent support).

There were those who cited baseball’s traditions in rounding up percentages to allow ballplayers to achieve records or significant accomplishments. Not in this case.

FOX WOUND UP not making it into the Hall of Fame until 12 years later, when the aforementioned veterans committee picked him.

Which makes me wonder – will it be sometime around the year 2025 (he’d be 66 by then) that someone might take seriously the playing career of Harold Baines – which managed to overcome serious injuries that could have ended his playing career to last for two decades in the American League?

Because among White Sox fans, Baines is as beloved by his generation as the older fans were of Nellie. Now before anyone starts throwing lines of statistics at me to show me how inadequate Harold was, I am fully aware that Baines gets some exaggerated credit because he was the best ballplayer on what were some truly cruddy White Sox ball clubs back in the mid- to late-1980s.

He made six American League All-Star teams and twice finished in the Top 10 of the league Most Valuable Player voting, was 29th all-time in runs batted in with 1,628, and also led the league in slugging percentage back in 1984. The stat that gets him closest to consideration was 2,844 – as in the number of base hits he got in his career, so close to the 3,000-tally that usually gets people all worked up into thinking “Hall of Fame.”

THEN AGAIN, PALMEIRO exceeded that 3,000 figure, and still is likely to never get in.

My point in rattling off those particular statistics is to indicate that Baines would be far from the worst ballplayer to get into the Hall of Fame, should it happen some day.

In fact, a part of me can’t help but think that the description of “good, but not great” that Baines’ detractors will use to describe him is also fitting of Blyleven – the pitcher from my childhood years who managed to hang on in baseball for so long that his overall career totals (at first glance) look impressive – 287 career wins, just short of 300 wins, the pitcher’s equivalent of 3,000 hits.

The same stat geeks who will bemoan Harold Baines are in love with Blyleven’s record, ignoring the fact that among their contemporaries while they played, Harold was thought more highly of than Rik Aalbert.

WHICH IS WHY a part of me wonders if a future generation veterans committee will be willing to give Baines a second glance.

But for the meantime, we get to celebrate the induction of Alomar (even though the peak of his career was playing for those Toronto Blue Jays teams that deprived the White Sox of an American League championship in 1993). Roberto was on the South Side for both 2003 and 2004, and has family ties to the White Sox strengthened by the fact that both his brother, catcher Sandy, Jr., and his father, infielder Sandy, Sr., also called Comiskey Park home for a stint.


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