Newly minted Hall of Famers Harold Baines and Lee Smith both expect to be enshrined wearing Chicago caps — Baines with the White Sox and Smith with the Cubs — but recalled their time in Baltimore with the Orioles fondly when they were unveiled Monday at the Winter Meetings as the first two members of the 2019 class.
"It was an honor," said Baines, an Easton native whose three stints with the Orioles spanned seven of his 22 major league seasons. "I'm from the area. I was fortunate enough to play there for seven years, and I loved every minute of it. Some people never saw me play if I didn't play [for] the Orioles, from the town I came from. I'm very thankful for that."
Baines and Smith were selected Sunday by the Today's Game Era committee, which examined 10 former players, managers and executives for enshrinement due to their contributions to the game from 1988 to the present. The 1994 Orioles teammates shared the stage for a news conference Monday that included laughs, including when Baines said the thing he remembered most from that year were his standout closer's naps in the clubhouse, and tears, when Baines said he wished his father, Linwood, were alive to see him enshrined. Linwood Baines died in 2014.
In addition to the eggshell-white Hall of Fame jersey and navy cap they wore at the announcement, the two players share an affinity for the time they spent in Baltimore, whether it was several stints, as Baines had, or the one year that Smith had.
"It's a special moment," Baines said. "I think any player that can play in his hometown enjoys it. I was there for seven years and enjoyed every minute of it."
"I really enjoyed playing there," said Smith, who had 33 of his 478 career saves in his All-Star season with the Orioles. "It was like one of those things where every day, you would come out of the house and someone wanted to see if they could get tickets to the game. That's a good feeling as a player. Every day, someone was trying to get in. You'd have sellouts for the rest of the season, and someone was still trying to get to the ballpark. It let you know what product that organization was putting on the field that year."
Though the Hall of Fame has the ultimate say in which cap logo — if any — a player is enshrined with on his plaque, Smith said his preference was the Cubs, with whom he spent the first eight years of his career.
Baines said he hadn't discussed that yet with the Hall of Fame, but that his 14 years with the White Sox trump even the hometown Orioles connection.