Cooperstown might never be the same as it was
It was supposed to be a great moment for Harold Baines on Sunday night. He and Lee Smith were selected Sunday night for the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame class by the Today’s Game Era Committee, a 16-member panel appointed by the Hall of Fame. They review players retired for at least 15 seasons who were passed over by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as well as managers, umpires and executives.
Instead, Baines has been the object of scorn and ridicule from baseball fans and baseball wonks for this prestigious honor. No one ever thought of him as a Hall of Famer in what was a good career for him. He never accomplished any milestone like 3,000 hits and 500 home runs that would make him Hall of Fame worthy.
There is concern that the Hall of Fame will be watered down and saturated now with good but not great players in the Hall of Fame. What made the Baseball’s Hall of Fame unique was it was hard to get in unlike other sports such as the NFL, NHL and NBA. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America is tough but fair when it came to voting players. Being in the Hall of Fame had to be earned.
Now, it’s all but over with the decision to put Baines there. We know the writers will continue to have high standards in voting baseball players into the Hall of Fame, but the Today’s Game Era Committee will be more than happy to put decent players there with the influence of politics. That means we can be seeing Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Mark Grace, Scott Rolen, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Will Clark, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina being inducted to Cooperstown one day.
There’s no reason to have today’s Game Era Committee have a say in all this. The sportswriters normally get it right when it comes to getting players in. They know enough where they can put these guys in. There’s no reason to add another group of people to select players.
By adding the Today’s Game Committee in this mix, guys will get in because the members of the committee will influence one another to vote their guy in. That was the case with Baines here. With Pat Gillick, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony La Russa being in this year’s committee, they used their clout to get Baines in since they employed him during their respective careers.
No one is mad at Baines. They are mad at the committee for this decision.
In Baines’ 22 years of playing Major League Baseball, he collected 2,866 hits and 384 homers. He never had a signature moment in his career like Jack Morris did with his epic Game 7 performance in the 1991 World Series that helped the Minnesota Twins win the championship.
Here’s what’s absurd: Mike Trout passed Baines in career WAR (38.3) back in May 2016 despite not playing 700 career games. In 22 seasons, Baines had a 38.7 WAR while Trout had a 44.3 WAR in the last five seasons.
In five straight years that Baines was in the Hall of Fame ballot, he never reached past 10% by the voters. It was so bad that he was off the ballot eventually. That should speak volumes there. If he was so good, he would have received the benefit of the doubt by the voters.
No wonder why Baines was so surprised that he got inducted. He even knew it was a long shot.
Having him in the Hall of Fame sets a bad precedent. Now, there’s no reason not to think steroid users such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Roger Clemens will be in Cooperstown one day. The guys who are borderline will eventually be there. Shoot, we can have mediocre players being there simply because of Today’s Committee.
In what world is it that Baines is a Hall of Famer while Albert Belle and the late George Steinbrenner are not? Belle was a jerk, but he was a great player in his own right being that he was one of the most feared hitters at the plate. Steinbrenner made baseball money, and he was the one that started teams forming regional networks and teams getting better local TV revenue. Marvin Miller should be there for being a power broker in free agency. Pete Rose should be there, too.
Eventually, we all hope this will be corrected.
But it won’t be the same anymore. Baines’ selection has created such a pandora box to get others in.
If the Hall of Fame becomes saturated 20 years from now, look back to this absurd selection of Baines.