BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF THE HALL OF FAME

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Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

First and foremost, to those of you celebrating, I wish you a Christmas of great health, great joy and great happiness to you and your families. And may you each have a very, very healthy and happy New Year. Together we will make it the best year ever.

Don’t forget-in January 2019, SHORT HOPS podcast returns. It will be powered by ClubhouseCorner.com. It will be rich in both general baseball and fantasy baseball opinion and content. Hopefully, we will help you win your fantasy leagues.

Now please, bear with me as I vent a bit in today’s column.


I think Harold Baines was an outstanding major league player. I think Harold Baines was an outstanding hitter. I do not believe Harold Baines belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Harold Baines and reliever Lee Smith were voted to the Hall of Fame by a committee of 16 members of something called Today’s Game Era Committee. Keep in mind that 16 people were given the right and privilege to vote members to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Frankly, I’m still trying to get my head around the power those people have. And there are other limited number Hall of Fame election committees as well. But I don’t want to write about those yet. Not today.

The Today’s Game Era Committee is a specialized group of individuals designed to consider candidates that were not elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. We must not forget that. Each of the players on the ballot were on ballots considered by the BWAA, the principle electors.

To be elected to the Hall of Fame, at least 12 of the 16 members of the special Today’s Game Era Committee must vote in favor of the candidate. The selection meeting was held Sunday, December 9, 2018, at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Baines and Smith were announced that same afternoon.

Today’s Game Era Committee consists of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre, Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy McPhail, Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian, Claire Smith, Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony La Russa.

The only names you may not be as familiar with are media representatives Hirdt, Kurkjian and Smith. Avila, Beeston and McPhail represent front office management.  

Baines received 12 votes, the minimum required for election. Smith’s election was unanimous.

In 2017, in his 15th and final year of eligibility, Lee Smith received 34% of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. 75% of the votes are required to be voted in by the BBWAA.

The Hall of Fame track record for Baines is much less favorable. He was on the ballot in 2007 and received 5.3% of the vote from the BBWAA. Here are his results for subsequent years: 2008 (5.2%), 2009 (5.9%), 2010 (6.1%), 2011 (4.8%). He was no longer on the ballot after 2011, failing to meet the minimum standard for ballot retention. Please read that last sentence to yourself again.

WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS?

HAROLD BAINES

In a previous article on this site, I provided my opinion of the Hall of Fame. As it was then, my greatest problem with the Hall of Fame is a lack of articulated standards for election. That article is available on this site, here.

Now, with several satellite committees also being empowered to elect members to the Hall, the once blurry standards are further blurred. Does Harold Baines meet the standards to be a Hall of Fame baseball player? The response is in the eye of the beholder. The response of 12 of 16 people empowered to vote players to the Hall is yes-they think he does. Meet the standards? What standards?

Here are some facts about Baines, the outfielder and designated hitter.

He hit .289 in his 22-year career. He played for the White Sox, the Rangers, the Athletics, the Orioles, and the Indians. He was a good hitter, no doubt about it.

He hit 384 home runs. He had 2866 hits.

He appeared in six All-Star Games.

He won a Silver Slugger Award in 1989.

At the time of his retirement in 2001, Baines held records for most games played, most hits, most homers, and most RBI for a designated hitter. Admirable statistics. Since that time both Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz have improved upon those designated hitter statistics.

While his statistics are impressive in the composite, one must consider that he played for 22 years and had 11,092 plate appearances. Here are his season highs: Runs Scored=89 in 1982. Doubles=39 in 1988. Triples=10 in 1984. Home Runs=29 in 1984. RBI=113 in 1985. Stolen bases=10 in 1982. His highest batting average was .321 in 1989 when he had 397 plate appearances.

He had one year of 30 doubles or more. He had four years of more than six triples. He had two years of more than 25 home runs. He had two years of more than 100 RBI. He had three years of more than six stolen bases. In 22 years. In 2830 games. I have to ask this: Aren’t there a lot of guys with those type statistics? Are those Hall of Fame best year statistics?

Most of his high statistical performances took place in his first five years playing in the big leagues. In his remaining 17 years he was a good player. However, his numbers were no better or worse than most good players of his time.

LEE SMITH

In my estimation, Lee should have been elected by the BBWAA. He had fantastic numbers as a relief pitcher in an era when closers worked more than one inning.

In his 18-year career, Smith pitched for the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, the Yankees, the Orioles, the Angels, the Reds and the Expos. He threw 1289.1 innings. All but six were as a reliever.

Smith finished with a 3.03 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.

Smith saved 478 games.

In his 1289.1 innings pitched, Smith yielded only 89 home runs.

Smith made seven All-Star teams

Smith was 1st in saves in 1983 (29) 1991 (47) 1992 (43) and 1994 (33)

One can make a case that Lee Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame. It is a much easier case to make than the one for Harold Baines.

IMPACT ON THE FUTURE

The election of Baines to the Hall of Fame evokes the following question. What is the impact of the Baines election upon future of Hall voting?

These individuals were on the ballot that was evaluated and voted upon by the Today’s Game Era Committee. The votes each received are listed next to the name of each. Vote totals below 5 were not provided:

Lee Smith (16)

Harold Baines (12)

Lou Piniella (11)

Albert Belle (5 or lower)

Joe Carter (5 or lower)

Will Clark (5 or lower)

Orel Hershiser (5 or lower)

Davey Johnson (5 or lower)

Charlie Manuel (5 or lower)

George Steinbrenner (5 or lower)

Belle hit .295 in his 12-year career. He hit 381 home runs. He had seasons of 50, 49, and 48 homers. He had a season with 52 doubles. He had seasons with 148, 129 and 126 RBI.

In comparison with Baines for example, you get my point. But Albert Belle is not a Hall of Fame player in my estimation. And I loved watching Albert Belle hit.

Why were Baines and Belle even on a ballot for the Hall when the BBWAA didn’t vote them in during the normal voting process? Why are there Committees that “water down” the efforts of the BBWAA Hall of Fame voters? Well, to be sure, that’s the question those voters are asking.

Why do we have special Committees to elect players that weren’t elected by the recognized group of baseball writers?

WHY?

In January, 2013 it was announced that nobody was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

Nobody.

In 1996 nobody was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

Nobody.

However, Veterans Committees saved the day. In both years they elected members to the Hall.

How can the Hall of Fame continue to exist if the BBWAA doesn’t elect any new members? How can the Hall of Fame get fans to continue to visit the Museum if players aren’t voted into the Hall? How can the Hall of Fame sustain itself financially without new members?

With the emergence of veteran’s committees, we should likely have an annual inductee or two. All the bases are covered. There are committees to review the pre-integration era (1871-1946), the golden era (1947-1972), and the expansion and modern era of 1973 and beyond, probably insuring a steady flow of inductees. And a steady flow of revenue and publicity for the Hall of Fame without interruption.

CONCLUSIONS

I was at the Winter Meetings when Smith and Baines were announced as new members to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. The response of those in the media room was swift and probably predictable. Many people I spoke with have a BBWAA vote for the Hall of Fame. I don’t.

Most baseball writers asked the same question. If Baines was dropped off the ballot because he couldn’t garner more than 6.1% of the vote in any year, how is he deemed to be worthy of the Hall by a committee of 16?

Good question.

Here’s two other questions asked throughout the Media Workroom at the Winter Meetings. How could Baines not be elected by a Today’s Game Era Committee that includes his former owner and manager with the White Sox?  Weren’t those two members of the committee (Reinsdorf and La Russa) even a bit conflicted in their interest?

Good questions.

Isn’t the entire reputation of the Hall of Fame compromised by the induction of a player like Harold Baines?

Good question.

I have nothing against Harold Baines. I think Harold Baines was a very good baseball player. He was a solid hitter. He could help his team win games with his bat.

I spent 27 years living and working in Chicago. I am a huge fan of Jerry Reinsdorf and Harold Baines. I understand why White Sox fans are probably pleased and excited. But the ultimate question remains.

Is Harold Baines a Hall of Famer?

Good question.

In my opinion? No.

Next Week: A re-run of my article about the Hall of Fame in general.

SHORT HOPS PODCAST

Note: I will be away from the site for a couple of weeks recharging my batteries. When I return it will be time for the new edition of the SHORT HOPS podcast powered now by ClubhouseCorner.com. Host Doug Hall will join me on our renewed, revamped and rejuvenated SHORT HOPS podcast. It will include everything baseball-including fantasy baseball. I will be offering my fantasy opinions and answer questions regarding fantasy baseball exclusively on SHORT HOPS.

Watch for the roll out date of the first edition of the new SHORT HOPS podcast on my Twitter feed, the Clubhouse Corner and Short Hops Twitter feeds.

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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