Monday, July 22, 2019

'80s-Style Chicago baseball celebrated by Hall of Fame this weekend

I’m sure there are some baseball fans who think I’m totally crocked – the induction ceremonies for the Baseball Hall of Fame held Sunday were focused on New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera and one-time Toronto Blue Jay turned Philadelphia Phillie Roy Halladay.
1977 No. 1 draft pick now a Hall of Famer

But for those of us who remember back a few decades to the 1980s and were following the Chicago baseball scene back then, the Hall of Fame induction moment was more about recognizing the special moments we saw first-hand for ourselves.

FOR AMONGST THE ballplayers who were inducted (and now will forevermore have their visages immortalized in bronze) are one-time White Sox outfielder Harold Baines AND one-time Cubs relief pitcher Lee Smith.

Both were amongst the players whose memories were celebrated this weekend, and both gave induction speeches heavy on praising the memories of family who supported them.

With Baines literally saying his wife, Marla, deserved the praise more than he.

“You are the true Hall of Famer of our family,” said the man who used to be one of two Chicagoans capable of getting thousands of people to chant “Harold, Harold” in unison (the other was Harold Washington). “The game has given us a lot of shared moments, memories like today. Your presence here today makes my journey complete.”

Once the best relief pitcher ever
NOW I KNOW there are many fans who are getting all bent out of shape over the notion that Harold Baines is now regarded as one of the best ballplayers ever.

But perhaps it’s because I remember back to the ‘80s – before Baines suffered the knee injuries that turned him from a star outfielder into a designated hitter. In short, I remember what he was when he WAS a complete ballplayer.

And I regard the existence of the designated hitter in baseball as the reason why Baines was able to keep playing for so many ball clubs (including three stints each with the White Sox Baltimore Orioles) as the reason why he lasted in baseball into the 21st Century – instead of being a washout back around 1986.

Perhaps it’s because that 1983 White Sox team (the first Chicago ballclub ever to make it to baseball playoffs) now has three Hall of Famers amongst its ranks – along with catcher Carlton Fisk and manager Tony LaRussa (who admittedly used his baseball clout to get Baines the vote sufficient for Hall of Fame admission).
Superceding his saves total doesn't diminish Lee Smith
OF COURSE, THE ’83 White Sox were followed up in 1984 by the first Chicago Cubs team to ever make it to baseball playoffs – and Lee Smith was a key part of that team in that he provided the relief pitching that helped prevent many Cubs teams that season from blowing late leads.

In fact, even for the many other ball clubs he pitched for through 1997, he racked up 478 saves – which once was the most-ever for a relief pitcher. Rivera now has that record – with 652. A factoid that some have said diminishes Smith’s achievement.

Or maybe it’s like those who don’t want to consider Baines’ 2,866 base hits – and the fact that the labor disputes of that decade very likely cost him the chance to play in a few more games that would have given him the 3,000-hit statistic AND semi-automatic Hall of Fame induction.

Maybe it’s the fact that Smith became the second-consecutive star relief pitcher whom the Cubs gave up on (Bruce Sutter was the first) who has went on to a Hall of Fame career.
"Go stifle" to all of Baines', Smith's critics

THEN AGAIN, BAINES is the guy the White Sox traded away the first time back in 1989 to the Texas Rangers for Sammy Sosa. Meaning then-Rangers owner George W. Bush is going to have to quit calling the trade his biggest screw-up. He’ll have to regard certain acts of his U.S. presidency as superseding it.

Just like I suspect too many people forget how talented a player Baines was for the White Sox back in in the 1980s. Do too many people want to believe that ball clubs that had one remarkable season each during the decade couldn’t possibly be worthy of Hall of Fame status players?

I can’t help but think it’s a good thing that both Baines and Smith managed to overcome their baseball detractors and gain the recognition they deserve for their time in baseball.

And particularly with Baines, a part of me wants to tell every single person who’s going around bad-mouthing Sunday’s induction the same thing that Archie Bunker used to tell wife Edith. As in, “Go stifle yourself!”


No comments: