Las Vegas — A pair of former Orioles — outfielder-designated hitter Harold Baines and reliever Lee Smith — were selected Sunday for the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame class by the Today's Game Era committee.
With their elections, announced Sunday night at baseball’s Winter Meetings, the pair of 1994 Orioles teammates will be enshrined together after their respective candidacies didn’t garner the required votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who vote on the Hall of Fame class annually.
“We were very shocked when we got the phone call,” Baines said on a conference call. “I wasn't really expecting it, but very grateful that it happened.”
Baines fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2011, his fifth year out of a possible 15 at the time, and never received more than 6.1 percent of the writers’ vote. Smith was on the ballot for 15 years before his candidacy expired in 2017, but the new committee put in one of that generation’s dominant closers the first chance it got.
“He's a great pitcher and I think he should have been in a long time ago, but it's not in our hands when somebody else is voting for you,” Baines said. “It's a great day for both of us.”
Baines, an Easton native who was selected first overall in the major league baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox in 1977, spent three stints with the Orioles. He first joined the team in 1993 as a free agent and played two seasons with the Orioles before signing back with the White Sox, who traded him to the Orioles in July 1997.
The Orioles dealt him to the Cleveland Indians in August 1999 but re-signed him as a free agent that winter, only to trade him back to Chicago in July 2000.
Baines, a career .289 hitter who amassed 384 home runs in his 22-year career, hit .301/.379/.502 with 107 home runs in parts of seven seasons in an Orioles uniform, his best with any club. The last of his six All-Star Game appearances in 1999 came with Baltimore, and he was enshrined in the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2009.
Smith spent just one of his 18 major league seasons in an Orioles uniform, earning one of his seven All-Star appearances and saving 33 games with a 3.29 ERA and finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award voting as their closer in 1994.
The veteran right-hander turned 61 last week, and said “this is one hell of a birthday gift for me.”
Despite 15 years on the writers’ ballot, he said on a conference call that Sunday — when he was on his tractor plowing his driveway waiting for the results — was the most nervous he’s been about any ballot.
“I'm a pretty patient fellow, and I think I waited long enough,” Smith said. “As sweet as it is now — it's unbelievable. ... I never gave up hope, and when they started with the second-chance ballot, I thought my chances were a little better.”
His itinerant career began with the Chicago Cubs and took him through the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, California Angels, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos. He said on a conference call that while he had a lot of options for which cap to wear, “because Smitty’s been around,” he planned to be enshrined in a Cubs hat.
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“Wherever you start out always has something in your heart,” Smith said. “It's always there.”
Both Baines, who spent most of the end of his career as a designated hitter, and Smith, a lifetime reliever, said they hope their selections might open up the possibility for more players in their position groups and with similar backgrounds to get into the Hall.
While Smith's Hall of Fame candidacy on the writers’ ballot ran out last year, he was named on all 16 ballots from the Today's Game committee, which considered a group of 10 candidates for their contributions to the game between 1988 and the present. Baines was named on 12 ballots, while one-time Oriole Lou Piniella was narrowly omitted from the class with 11 votes — one shy of the 75-percent threshold.
Other former Orioles on the ballot include Joe Carter, Will Clark, Albert Belle and former manager Davey Johnson. Each received fewer than five votes, according to the Hall.
The Hall board-appointed panel included longtime White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and Baines said he was grateful for his support. Hall members Greg Maddux, Roberto Alomar, Joe Morgan, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre also were on the panel.
The next BBWAA election will be announced Jan. 22. Former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina received 63.5 percent of the vote last January; 75 percent is needed for induction.
Next year’s induction ceremony will be July 21 at Cooperstown, N.Y.