Lee Smith? Sure. Harold Baines? Meh…

The Baseball Hall of Fame’s veterans committee has seemingly opened the door for more closers and designated hitters to join the ranks of the best baseball players who ever lived.

Lee Smith is third all-time on the games-saved list and, considering he played for some wretched Chicago Cubs teams that averaged nearly an error a game, that’s saying something.

He retired as the all-time saves leader and finished top-10 in Cy Young Award balloting four times as a reliever. Keep in mind this was at a time when relievers were still viewed with suspicion as players who were responsible for taking away the ability of a manly starter to continue into the ninth inning after 147 pitches and a torn rotator cuff.

It’s ridiculous he wasn’t in sooner. 

As for Harold Baines? First thoughts that pop into my head: Professional hitter. Lots of teams. Often in the league leaders section of the sports page (my paper doesn’t carry those anymore). Bad knees. Not a lot of power for a DH.

But is he hall-of-fame worthy? A check of the stats: 129 games/year for 22 years, six-time All-Star, .345 postseason average, .289 career average, .300 eight times, 2866 hits, 164 hits/162 games, 22 home runs/162 games, 20th in games played (thanks to the DH), 22nd in intentional walks (22nd?somebody at the time thought he was good).

Really good. But there’s a reason he received no more than 6.1 percent in his last five ballots ending in 2011.

He was never consistently great.

One thing working in his favor was the creation in 2016 of the new “Today’s Game” category to increase membership in the hall. At that time there were twice as many players inducted from the game’s first seven decades compared to the following seven. Also, Baines former manager Tony LaRussa and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf are on the committee as is Bert Blyleven who knows a thing or two about awards based on longevity.

And the competition wasn’t exactly stiff. Albert Belle was a jerk, and injuries derailed Will Clark and Orel Hershiser from finishing careers that started with six seasons  of greatness. There’s also Joe Carter who was really good but not hall-worthy. Davey Johnson is another “meh” candidate as is Charlie Manuel, though both managed a team to a World Series title. And then there’s Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s seven titles, five firings of Billy Martin and two suspensions.  

Speaking of Yankees, Lou Piniella received 11 of 16 votes and, with a .291 career average as a player and three manager-of-the-year awards, should get in next year.

I think the issue here is goofy new category enacted to increase the number of members, but with a lack of outstanding players in it.

I mean what sense does it make for Baines to get in when Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Steve Garvey are not in yet? They all have career numbers that are better than Baines, but were passed over last year.

Also, I suspect  LaRussa will try to use this as an excuse to select performance-enhancing-drug users in future years. I can hear him already, “Well if Harold Baines is in, surely McGwire, Canseco, and Bonds should be too.”

Justifying your inaction at a time when action was needed must be exhausting.

So let’s not blame Baines who was really good for a really long time, into his 40’s in fact.

To quote the new inductee when asked by Associated Press for comment, “Well, they can’t take it away from me now, even if they don’t think I should be here.”

I like his selection better already.

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