Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“Harold, Harold” – Baines will force many to reassess their baseball thoughts

Long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder-turned-designated hitter-turned coach and now team ambassador Harold Baines is now a Hall of Fame member, and that fact is confounding the way many people view the game of baseball.
Which, more than anything, is the reason why so many seem to be so miffed that Baines will get the national pastime’s version of immortality – a bronze plaque at the Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. that will proclaim him to be a significant figure within baseball history.

WHILE TOO MANY more likely didn’t pay much mind to Baines back in the 1980s – when he was a star outfielder with the White Sox. One who managed to keep playing all the way through 2001 as he bounced around the American League as a designated hitter with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians and two returns to the White Sox, along with three stints with the Baltimore Orioles.

Where his performance was significant enough that the Orioles themselves inducted Baines into their team's personal Hall of Fame back in 2009.

When combined with the fact that Baines had his uniform number “3” retired by the White Sox back in 1989, it seems that Harold played a significant part of baseball history – and that too many of us, for whatever reason, missed it.

But rather than admit that we might have missed out on something special, we’d rather claim it really didn’t mean a thing.
I’LL BE HONEST. I was surprised Sunday night to learn that Baines actually was chosen to be a Hall of Fame member. I knew his name was up for consideration, but I figured the baseball-types who made the decision would overlook him.

I can even comprehend why he was regarded as a long-shot for induction. His most significant statistic was 2,866 – as in the number of base hits he got during his athletic career.

It’s not far from 3,000 – which usually is regarded as an exalted figure whose achievement makes one Hall of Fame-worthy. But it still falls short, so I’m sure there are those who figure Harold Baines came close, but just wasn’t good enough.
Although back in 2014 when manager Tony LaRussa became a Hall of Famer, he actually gave Baines a plug for Cooperstown-induction by saying Harold suffered from extensive knee injuries which were the reason he had quit playing the outfield full-time.

“IF HE HAD kept his knees together, he’d have had his 3,000 hits,” said LaRussa – who apparently meant what he said because he was amongst the people who had a vote on Sunday and not only used it for Baines, he also lobbied his colleagues on Harold’s behalf.

Of course, the news reports from Sunday also indicated Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also had a vote – causing some to claim this is merely more Chicago-style politicking and perhaps as outrageous as that 1919 White Sox team that saw eight team members indicted for criminal conspiracy to throw the World Series.
Perhaps it’s because some paid too much attention to those years where he bounced around the American League – rather than the ‘80s when he got Most Valuable Player votes every season from 1982-85 and was a top hitter for the 1983 White Sox team that was the first Chicago ballclub to ever make it to a postseason playoff spot.

Either that, or they were paying way too much attention to the Chicago Cubs – and maybe they’re miffed that Cubs star relief pitcher Lee Smith from that same era will have to share his “big day” of Hall of Fame induction with Baines.

ONE THING WILL be interesting – how much of an induction speech will Baines deliver? Since as a ballplayer, he was so low-key and quiet that part of the reason he isn’t better remembered by fans is that his ego was way under control to the point where he was easily ignored.

Although it should be noted that on Sunday when interviewed, Baines actually became choked up emotionally and had to fight back tears.
There is one thing that baseball fans will have to change – one of the stories commonly told to mock the White Sox of the Bill Veeck era was how back in 1977, they did not use their first pick in the nation for amateur ballplayers to pick a future superstar like Paul Molitor – who went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Brewers – but instead picked a player whom Veeck had seen play as a local Little League star, which turned out to be Baines himself.

Now, people are going to have to say the White Sox used their rare opportunity to pick a franchise icon and Hall of Famer himself. Which also will explain how come July 21, the streets of Cooperstown will echo with the “Harold, Harold” chant so reminiscent of the old Comiskey Park itself.


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