Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski is spending the week explaining his thoughts about all the players on his Hall of Fame ballot—not only the ones he wholeheartedly supports and the ones who are tough calls, but everyone who had a good enough career to make it into the field of candidates:
The funny thing about most of these players is that they are probably better than we remember. For instance, last year Todd Zeile was on the Hall of Fame ballot. Todd Zeile? He did not receive a vote, to no one’s surprise.
But you know what? Todd Zeile was a good player. He got 2,000 hits in the Major Leagues. He drove in 90-plus runs five times. He played five positions, and even pitched a couple of innings.
He was not a Hall of Famer, not close to a Hall of Famer, but that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? To play 10 years of Major League Baseball – a qualification just to get on the ballot – means you must be one of the very best baseball players on earth.
One step up from the
—this year including Carlos Baerga, Marquis Grissom, and B.J. Surhoff—Posnanski comes to the case of
He played 22 seasons. In 19 of them, he posted an OPS+ between 108 and and 144. I’m not saying OPS+ is the end all statistic, but in Baines case I think it gives a very clear picture of his career. I have never been entirely sure what the phrase “professional hitter” means, but nobody in baseball history had a career quite that concentrated.
Baines was a consistency marvel. He hit between .295 and .313 11 times, hit between 20 and 29 homers 11 times, hit 29 doubles five times.
That was the genius of Harold Baines. He was a good hitter, and you knew he was going to be a good hitter.
To a great extent, rooting for baseball players is about the will to believe in things you have no reason to be sure about: that the promising young guy is about to grow into a superstar; that the erratic semi-regular will at last find his groove; that the aging superstar will shake off the rust and slug the ball like he did when he was 29. (My opinion is that
has a wonderful batting eye, and I want to think he could be bound for great things, but I’m not betting a paycheck on it.)
Harold Baines was a tall, dry rock in that stormy sea of uncertainty. When his spot in the lineup came around, there was nothing you had to convince yourself of and nothing to worry about. No one ever had to call him “scrappy.” He was an All-Star at the age of 25, and he was an All-Star at age 40. Fairly early in his career, his knees gave out, and he applied himself to being a full-time designated hitter. So he hit: line-drive singles, opposite-field doubles, long home runs to straightaway center.
, he was 56th on the all-time home runs list and 56th on the all-time singles list. The cool, left-handed swing never tightened up. His batting, on-base, and slugging figures
: .284 / .360 / .474. Overall: .289 / .356 / .465. He looked at home in every ballpark and every uniform. (The White Sox and Orioles traded him twice to each other in midseason, both ways.) Maybe this is not the usual stuff of baseball legend. It’s two decades’ worth of solid facts.