Remember that scene in Bull Durham where Crash Davis talks about how close he was to being a .300 hitter. He calculated he was a hit a week shy from .300?
“You get one extra flare a week–just one–a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail–just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium!”
Well, that applies in a very different way to former White Sox star Harold Baines.
I was looking up some stats about the 3,000 hit club about a post I am going to write about Derek Jeter, who barring injury will join the club sometime in 2011.
I saw that every single player within 200 hits of the 3,000 hit club is either a Hall of Famer or named Barry Bonds.
George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Brooks Robinson, Jesse Burkett, Mel Ott, Frankie Frisch, Zack Wheat, Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, Wee Willie Keeler, Jake Beckley, Frank Robinson, Sam Crawford, Sam Rice, Bonds and some guy named Babe Ruth all hit between 2,812 and 2,987 hits.
All immortals in Cooperstown or will eventually be after a lot of hand wringing and talk about steroids.
There’s one exception.
Harold Baines, who finished his career with 2,866 hits.
And I have to say, seeing his name on the list kind of stopped me in my tracks. Assuming that the two active hit leaders (Ken Griffey Jr and Derek Jeter) will each get 28 hits and pass Andre Dawson for 45th place on the all time hit list, then each of the top 47 names on the hit list would have had Hall of Fame careers (including Pete Rose and Bonds)… except Harold Baines.
I’ve always liked Harold Baines as a player. He was a good solid if unspectacular hitter. He had a good average, good power (he led the league in slugging in 1984) and was reliable.
He never was a top 5 MVP candidate. He never finished in the top 5 in batting average, on base percentage, OPS, doubles, homers or adjusted OPS.
He finished 5th in hits and 4th in RBIs in 1985, the year he had his personal best showing in the MVP vote. (He finished 9th.)
As I said, Baines was not spectacular but he was steady. He was a DH for more than half of his career. In his last 15 seasons, he played in the field 24 times… TOTAL.
And yet he had that hit total.
He played for 22 seasons, many of them partial injury plagued years towards the end. But he spread his productive seasons out over a long stretch. He was a 25 homer, 105 RBI man in 1982 with the White Sox.
He was a 25 homer, 103 RBI man batting .312 with an OPS of .919 for the 1999 Indians.
He broke in with the White Sox when LaRussa was managing, the team wore lapels and Chet Lemon was in Centerfield. (For a few games he was teammates with Minnie Minoso.)
He finished his career with the White Sox where he was teammates with Paul Kornerko and Mark Beuhrle.
He stretched from the lapels on the uniform era for the White Sox…
To the disastrous SOX across the chest monstrocities…
To the utterly forgettable cursive uniform…
Before finishing his career in the classic ChiSox duds.
He was a respected steady veteran, but not a superstar. Not a dominating force.
And yet he had that hit total.
He has barely survived four Hall of Fame ballots, peaking this last year with 6.1% of the vote… and he doesn’t have a realistic chance of ever being elected.
But just imagine this scenario, similar to Crash Davis’ dilemma.
If Baines got 7 more hits a season… he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
7 hits a year over 22 seasons would give him an extra 154 hits… and put his career total at 3,020… and as Stan Ross knows, 3,000 hits equals a ticket to the Hall of Fame.
There would be no denying him. It would be a lock, automatic in the first try.
He would be sitting in the background of Hall of Fame inductions forever with Bob Feller, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Hank Aaron, George Brett and Ozzie Smith.
His statue and retired #3 in Chicago would not be a tribute to a respected and loved star but a fitting send off to an immortal…
If he got 7 additional hits a year.
I’ve never met Mr. Baines, but he seems like a nice enough guy through interviews and the fact that teams kept employing him for nearly a quarter of a century.
He had a nice career, played in the post season in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, became a millionaire several times over and earned a World Series ring as a coach with the 2005 White Sox.
But I can’t help but wonder… does he think about those 7 extra hits a year? Does he think about a great catch made on a ball he hit? Does he think about an official scorer ruling a hit of his was actually an error? Does he think about a close call at first base that could have gone either way?
Does he think about games lost to the strikes of 1981 and 1994? Does he think of time lost to injuries later in his career?
A hit here, a hit there… a flare a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail here and there… and he’d be off to Cooperstown.
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