Harold Baines had a baseball career that reminds me of actor Jack Warden.
Please bear with me. It makes sense.
Harold Baines, the first pick over all in the 1977 draft, had lots of ability right from the start when he entered the White Sox organization. By age 21, he was in the majors for good. By age 23, he was on the rising 1982 White Sox, clubbing 25 homers and 101 RBI.
What followed was a long, sometimes under the radar, but incredibly steady career. When his career began, players like Willie Stargell, Carl Yastremzski, Luis Tiant and Willie McCovey were still active. Carlton Fisk was still in Boston and not his teammate yet in Chicago.
Chet Lemon was his teammate, along with White Sox mainstays Alan Bannister, Claudell Washington, Britt Burns, LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson, future announcer Ed Farmer and for a pair of games Minnie Minoso and Baines shared a box score.
When his career ended, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia and eventual World Series hero Scott Podsednik were already in the majors.
That stretches quite a career and different eras.
During that time he seldom was the marquee player. He only led the league in a major category once, the AL in slugging in 1984. Usually there was another big star and slugger who overshadowed him.
Yet he provided steady production and kept it going for a long time. As I wrote in Bleacher Report in 2012, Baines played 22 seasons in the majors. If he got 7 more hits a year in each of those seasons, he would have cleared 3,000 hits and he would be in the Hall of Fame.
Instead he has the consolation prize with his 2,866 hits by having his number retired by the White Sox and a statue erected in his honor in whatever the hell the stadium is called now on the South Side.
Some years he gave his solid batting average and 22 home run a year average to a playoff team. His sacrifice fly clinched the 1983 AL West for the White Sox.
Later he got big hits in the post season for the 1990 and 1992 A’s. He homered for the Orioles in the 1997 Division Series and ALCS for Baltimore and batted .357 for the 1999 Indians in the Division Series, also homering. In 2000, back with the White Sox, he doubled and scored in the Division Series.
I bet you forgot he even was on some of those rosters. Each of those teams had dazzling super stars. But when they acquired Baines to hit along side Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar or Frank Thomas, the consensus feeling was always “Yeah, he will help. He is always reliable.”
He also played for some awful teams. A lot of the White Sox clubs he played for were dead in the standings and filled with players who did not live up to their potential.
He wore the collared jerseys of the early 1980’s, actually made the dreadful S-O-X across the chest look good, then wore the unis shown in this 1988 Topps card that were so deadly dull.
Baines career featured a Silver Slugger Award and 6 trips to the All Star Game (plus a World Series ring as a coach on the 2005 squad) but also had his name attached to an infamous deal, the one that sent Sammy Sosa to Chicago from the Rangers.
Harold Baines had a good solid career, tons of respect for those who know the craft if not a household name. And along the way he did it for so long with such a varied cast of people that one can’t help but say “Man, I can’t believe he is STILL doing it.”
That was Jack Warden. The New Jersey born actor and former paratrooper in World War II, had his break through role in 1953. He was featured in a memorable role in the Best Picture winning From Here To Eternity. A few years later, he stole the spotlight from Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb no less as the obsessed baseball fan in 12 Angry Men.
What resulted after that was solid work, year after year, decade after decade, in films and television projects where other people were the stars but Warden gave solid support.
Whether it was his Emmy Winning performance with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams in Brians Song, or his Oscar Nominated roles in Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty, Warden was always solid.
His scene where he dresses down Robert Redford in All The President’s Men is one of my favorite scenes in any more ever.
In 1979 alone he was in the classic tear jerker The Champ, stole scenes from Al Pacino in And Justice For All, and played the President opposite Peter Sellers and Oscar winning Melvyn Douglas in Being There.
In 1994, he had some of the most memorable scenes in Woody Allen’s last masterpiece Bullets Over Broadway.
Sometimes he was the best part in questionable material, like 1980’s Used Cars. Other times he was picking up a check in a truly terrible project, like Problem Child or the unwatchable baseball chimp move Ed.
He was in a film called Chairman of the Board starring Carrot Top. His last film was the unwatchable football comedy The Replacements.
Other times he was good in flawed projects from solid directors. Barry Levinson’s Toys didn’t work but it wasn’t Jack Warden’s fault. Warren Beatty’s Bulworth missed the mark but Jack Warden was a highlight.
As the 1950s became the 1960s became the 1970s became the 1980s became the 1990s, Jack Warden was reliable and delivered the goods. Other stars might have won the Oscar instead of him but Warden always provided the support.
Like Harold Baines, many casual fans might not have noticed his contributions over the years but might perk up from time to time and say “Wait, is that the same guy? He’s been doing this forever.”
Would anyone call Harold Baines or Jack Warden the best in their profession or even the best in their era? I doubt it.
But they have the respect of people who know how hard it is to be that good for so long and so consistent over so many years.
And THAT is why the comparison makes sense to me.