Baines and Smith Get the Call to the Hall

Congratulations to Harold Baines and Lee Smith. They just received their game’s highest honor after long and distinguished careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most exclusive clubs in sports. Receiving the call to the Hall yesterday must have been an honor and a thrill. But if we’re being honest, it was probably also a bit of a surprise.

In his 22 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1980 to 2001, Baines led his league in an offensive category once. In 1984, Baines led the American League with a .541 slugging percentage. That’s it. He was a six-time all-star, and won a Silver Slugger award in 1989, but he never placed higher than ninth in MVP voting. He received MVP votes for only four seasons, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1985. He never played in a World Series.

Baines certainly had an enviable career. He played in the big leagues for more than two decades and compiled some great numbers. He’s in the top 50 all time in hits (46th), total bases (43rd) and runs batted in (34th), though that’s due in large part to his longevity. He’s 20th in career games and 33rd in career at bats. Still a wildly successful career, but it’s hard to say that he was one of the all-time greats or even one of the best of his era.

That seems to be the opinion of the vast majority of the baseball writers, too. He appeared on the baseball writers’ ballot five times and never received more than 6.1% of the vote before falling off the ballot after 2011.

Lee Smith has a better Hall of Fame case. A seven-time all-star, Smith led his league in saves four times and retired as the all-time saves leader. He’s currently third on the all-time saves list behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Good company. Smith finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting three times in the early ’90s, and posted a career ERA of 3.03 in 1022 career games, 12th most by a pitcher.

In his 18-year career, though, Smith pitched in just four playoff games. He suited up for eight teams in 18 seasons. That’s not unusual for a relief pitched, but you wouldn’t expect an all-time great to bounce around like that.

The Hall of Fame Eras Committees, formerly the Veterans Committee, should be tasked with electing to the Hall of Fame players who may have been unfairly overlooked in their time. They should not look to push in borderline candidates like Baines, Smith and Jack Morris and Alan Trammell last year, players who already had their fair shot on the writers’ ballot.

The election process isn’t perfect, but it does seem to get it right more often than not. More inductees like this from the Eras Committees will water down the baseball Hall of Fame and turn it into the basketball Hall of Fame. And if that happens, you better believe I’ll be pushing hard for Johnny Damon the next time the Today’s Game Committee meets.


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