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Should Harold Baines be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Here's what experts are saying

Should Harold Baines be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Here's what experts are saying
Harold Baines, right, played for the Orioles for seven seasons. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is catching some flak for the addition of former White Sox and Orioles player Harold Baines, who was voted into Cooperstown this week by the Today's Game Era committee.

Having played 22 seasons, Baines is a perfect example of what the designated hitter can do for a player without a fielding position. But are his stats Hall of Fame-worthy?

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Edgar Martinez may illustrate why they are not.

The longtime Seattle Mariner is in his final year of eligibility to be voted in by the baseball writers. Martinez, who was named on 70 percent of the ballots last year, also played most of his games as a DH. (Players need 75 percent of votes to be elected.)

In his 18 seasons, Martinez had 2,247 hits, 309 home runs and 1,261 RBIs. He hit .312/.418/.515 over his career. He had one 30-plus home run season, and reached over 100 RBIs six times.

In his 22 seasons, Baines had 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs. He hit .289/.356/.465. He never hit 30 home runs and had 100 RBIs three times.

When you compare the two based on their number of at-bats, Martinez is statistically above Baines: a hit every 3.2 at-bats (compared to 3.5 for Baines); a home run every 23.3 at-bats (compared to 25.8); and an RBI every 5.7 at-bats (compared to 6.1).

Regardless, Baines, an Easton native, will be enshrined next summer in Cooperstown (he has professed his desire to enter the Hall as a member of the White Sox, not an Oriole).

Here’s what they’re saying about his election:

Michael Rosenberg, Sports Illustrated: I feel a bit for Baines, who earned the ultimate compliment only to be told he didn’t remotely deserve it. This is because he didn’t remotely deserve it. Baines was a good player who does not belong in Hall of Fame conversations, let alone the Hall of Fame. His election seems to prove what Congress and the NCAA proved long ago: If you tell people they are part of a committee, they will feel compelled to do something, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

Jon Taylor, Sports Illustrated: There’s nothing to Baines’ Hall of Fame case beyond his prodigious hit total, and he got there by piling up thousands of plate appearances as a plodding DH who could barely play the field. And he wasn’t even the best at that limited position: Among all players with 50% or more of their games played as a DH and 3,000 or more career plate appearances, that 121 OPS+ ranks seventh. Baines is far behind Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz; he even trails Hal McRae and Travis Hafner. Does someone who didn’t out-hit those two sound like a Hall of Famer to you? It didn’t to the voters, who never gave him more than 6.1% of the vote over five years before he fell off the ballot after the 2011 election.

Chad Finn, Boston Globe: I don’t want to diminish Baines, but it’s unavoidable. He passes no Hall of Fame tests, and the Baseball Writers Association of America (of which I am a member) got it right, never giving him higher than 6.1 percent of the vote in his five years on the ballot. He seems like a nice guy, and he definitely is a first-ballot choice for the Had A Beard Since Nursery School Hall of Fame along with James Worthy, but I can’t be totally happy for someone who gets an honor they don’t deserve.

The biggest problem is not that Baines fails to meet the definition and parameters of excellence required of a Hall of Famer. The problem is the opposite: He now is the definition of a Hall of Famer, and his election opens up a case for a lot of other players, some who have been overlooked, but many who don’t belong.

Mike Oz, Yahoo Sports: There’s no doubt that Baines getting into the Hall of Fame lowers the Cooperstown bar. Does this mean that this January when writers’ ballots results are announced in January, that the Sheffields and McGriffs of the world are getting in?

Probably not. The BBWAA will likely keep its high standards for inclusion in the short term.

But Baines’ getting in might slowly change that, especially with an electorate that is evolving itself. Maybe it starts with more votes for Edgar Martinez this year, since the anti-DH argument doesn’t hold a ton of weight anymore. Maybe others follow that by voting for Larry Walker.

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Floodgates won’t open, though, that’s for sure.

While some people may look at Baines as one of the more baffling Hall of Famers in a while, in time his legacy could be quite different. Maybe he’s the guy who slowly opens up Cooperstown to more players.

He could also wind up as a cautionary tale. There are quite a few people out there who believe that players, coaches and executives, not writers, should be the ones voting for Hall of Famers.

David Schoenfield, ESPN: When he was an active player, … nobody thought of Baines as a Hall of Famer. And why would they? His career high in WAR [wins above replacement] was 4.3 in 1984, and while WAR didn't exist during his playing days, it's reflective of how Baines was perceived at the time. A nice player, good enough to make some All-Star teams, but not a great player, not in the way you think of Hall of Famers — even if he did end up with some nice counting numbers thanks to his longevity (he's 34th all time in RBIs).

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