Harold Baines will forever be tied to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — but not because he now is a member. Actually, yes — because he now is a member. Harold Baines, hall of famer; some things just sound … wrong.
Good player — yes. Great — no, despite the argument Tony La Russa put forth. (Game-winning RBI, really — that is your strongest argument for induction? GWRBI — the forerunner to goofiest stat until WAR came along to take the bullshit mantle?)
— theScore (@theScore) December 13, 2018
(Did You Know: In 1988, the Cubs’ Rafael Palmeiro hit .307 — second-highest in the National League — with zero (!) game-winning RBI. Obviously, he could not come through in the clutch. Maybe that’s why he was traded to Texas in the offseason? … Yes, the GWRBI was an ill-conceived stat.)
Arguably, Baines’ best five-season stretch was 1982-86. He averaged 174 hits, 23 HR, 100 RBI, and hit .292. Four times he finished in the top 20 in MVP voting: 20th in ’82, 10th in ’83, 13th in ’84, 9th in ’85. He was an all-star in ’85-86.
For his 22-year career, Baines totaled 2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, and hit .289. He was never again in the MVP conversation after 1985 — he retired in 2001 — and he was on four all-star teams his final 15 seasons.
Baines was a designated hitter in 1,643 games. He played the field in 1,061. To be fair, Baines led the American League in fielding percentage among right fielders in 1985 (.994). He also led the AL in errors by RFs in 1983 (9). In fact, that’s the only statistical categories he led. Ever.
Those have not been considered Cooperstown-worthy digits. But, now they are.
Before being added to the roll at Cooperstown, maybe the most notable thing about Baines was he was traded (along with Fred Manrique) by the White Sox to the Rangers for Wilson Alvarez, Scott Fletcher, and 20-year-old rookie Sammy Sosa in 1989.
Have there been better five-year stretches by players not in the Hall of Fame? Off the top of my head, these five players had outstanding five-year runs in their careers:
Don Mattingly — 1984-88
206 hits, 27 HR, 114 RBI, .332 avg., one MVP (four times in top seven), five All-Star games, four Gold Gloves.
Dale Murphy — 1982-86
174 hits, 35 HR, 105 RBI, .288 avg., two MVPs (four times in top nine), five All-Star games, five Gold Gloves.
Steve Garvey — 1974-78
201 hits, 21 HR, 103 RBI, .312 avg., one MVP (five times in top 11), five All-Star Games, four Gold Gloves.
Dick Allen — 1968-72
142 hits, 32 HR, 97 RBI, .287 avg., one MVP, two All-Star games (and this while averaging only 139 games per season).
Gil Hodges — 1950-54
155 hits, 35 HR, 114 RBI, .283 avg., five times in top 19 in MVP voting, five All-Star games.
Each of those players had actual hardware to show for their efforts. (No, there is not a trophy for Most Game-Winning RBI.)
In 2018, the Today’s Game Committee considered 10 candidates: Baines, Lee Smith, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, George Steinbrenner, Joe Carter, and Charlie Manuel.
I’m OK that Lee Smith was chosen. Fact is, Steinbrenner was more deserving than anyone on the list. (Even Clark had a five-year stretch from 1987-91 that had as many 100-RBI seasons (3) as Baines had in his career.)
Yes, a HOF career is more than a five-year window. So here are career stats for Baines and the aforementioned five:
Baines — 22 seasons
2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, .289 avg.
Mattingly — 14 seasons
2,153 hits, 222 HR, 1,099 RBI, .307 avg.
Murphy — 18 seasons
2,111 hits, 398 HR, 1,266 RBI, .265 avg.
Garvey — 19 seasons
2,599 hits, 272 HR, 1,308 RBI, .294 avg.
Allen — 15 seasons
1,848 hits, 351 HR, 1,119 RBI, .292 avg.
Hodges — 18 seasons
1,921 hits, 370 HR, 1,274 RBI, .273 avg.
However, at least 12 of the 16 Today’s Game Era Committee members believed Baines should be included in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. … It’s not the strangest thing that happened this year. It may not be the strangest thing to happen for the next 10 years. But if a Hall of Fame committee wanted to make a statement, it could have done so with a lot more authority.
P.S. Keith Hernandez holds the never-to-be-broken record for career game-winning RBI (129). He eagerly awaits his call to the Hall.