Harold Baines and Lee Smith have been elected to the National Baseball Hall Of Fame, as announced on the MLB Network. The two longtime veterans were voted in by a 16-member panel reviewing candidates from the “Today’s Game” era (1988-present).
Baines joins Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones as the only players drafted first overall in the June amateur draft to reach Cooperstown. Selected by the White Sox in 1977 out of St. Michael’s High School in Easton, Maryland, Baines quickly emerged as a threatening left-handed bat, hitting 25 homers and picking up MVP votes as a 23-year-old in 1982, his third Major League season. Baines spent 14 of his 22 MLB seasons with the ChiSox, also spending seven years with the Orioles as well as shorter stints with the A’s, Rangers, and Indians.
The “professional hitter” description seemed permanently attached to any mention of Baines’ name, as he was dangerous at the plate almost to the very end of his lengthy career. Baines was also one of the first players who thrived as a long-term designated hitter, as he more or less became a full-time DH by the late 80’s. Baines’ 2866 hits ranks him 48th on the all-time list, and he also hit 384 homers with a career .289/.356/.465 slash line over 11092 plate appearances.
Smith also held a significant spot in the record books when he retired after the 1997 season, as Smith’s 478 saves were then the all-time record (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have since passed him). If Baines was a prototypical DH, then Smith might have been the prototypical example of a closer-for-hire, pitching for eight different teams over his career, often in short stints apart from spending his first eight years with the Cubs.
A seven-time All-Star, Smith finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting three times, including a second-place finish in 1991 as a member of the Cardinals. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 3.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and 2.57 K/BB rate over 1289 1/3 career innings.
The inductions of Smith and Baines provide an interesting counterpoint to two players poised to enter Cooperstown via the regular writers’ ballot in January — Rivera, widely considered the greatest closer of all time, and Edgar Martinez, arguably the best designated hitter ever. As we’ve seen in past HOF votes, there has been some resistance on the part of the writers to induct players who spent the bulk of their careers in either of the “limited positions” of closer or designated hitter, particularly the latter (given Martinez’s long wait for induction). Smith barely cracked the 50-percent threshold over 15 unsuccessful years on the writers’ ballot, while Baines spent only two years on the writers’ ballot, falling off in 2011 after failing to appear on at least five percent of all ballots.
Similar to the old veterans’ committee, the “Today’s Game” committee looks at candidates (both players and other important non-playing figures in baseball history) who weren’t voted into Cooperstown by the usual means. People from four different eras — Early Baseball, Golden Days, Modern Baseball, and Today’s Game — are considered, with each era being highlighted on a rotating basis.
At least 12 of the 16 votes from the “Today’s Game” committee were required for HOF election, with Baines gaining 12 votes and Smith going a perfect 16-for-16. Longtime manager Lou Piniella fell just short with 11 votes, while the seven other candidates on the ballot (Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, George Steinbrenner) each received four or fewer votes.