LAS VEGAS — There will be a player who played the majority of his career as a designated hitter inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on June 21, 2019, but this isn’t Edgar Martinez. Not yet, at least.
Harold Baines got the call to Cooperstown on Sunday night, announced during baseball’s winter meetings in Las Vegas, and will be inducted along with longtime closer Lee Smith, who was the all-time saves leader from 1993-2005, and finished with 478 career saves while pitching for eight teams.
Both were voted in as veterans committee choices, part of Today’s Era which encompasses players whose greatest contributions came after 1988. Smith received votes from all 16 members of the Today’s Era committee while Baines received 12 votes, exactly the 75 percent needed for induction.
“I’m very shocked today,” Baines said Sunday. of his election by the veterans committee.
The 16-member committee was comprised of nine Hall of Famers, plus executives and writers. One such executive on the committee was Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, for whom Baines played for 14 seasons.
“So happy for Harold. He’s a great player and a great human being,” Reinsdorf said in a press release. “I am so honored that I was a member of the committee. He deserved to be in long ago. I am just so excited.”
This avenue to the Hall of Fame is for those who weren’t voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Lee Smith spent the maximum 15 years on the writers’ ballot, ending in 2017. He peaked at 50.6 percent in 2012, his 10th year on the ballot. Baines peaked at only 6.1 percent in 2010, and fell off the writers’ ballot after five years in 2011 when he failed to garner the requisite 5 percent to remain for consideration.
This year’s BBWAA results will be revealed on Jan. 22, 2019, with Martinez a highlight since he is in his last year of eligibility to be voted in by the writers. Martinez received 70.4 percent of the votes in 2018, falling just 20 votes shy of induction to Cooperstown. As of Sunday night, with only 29 public ballots known (last year 422 writers voted, for comparison) thanks to the wonderful Hall of Fame tracker by Ryan Thibodaux, Martinez was named on every ballot, gaining six votes so far from returning voters. BBWAA ballots are due by Dec. 31.
Martinez very well may be voted into Cooperstown in January, but that gives us six weeks in a world where Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer and Edgar Martinez is not, and that’s just wrong.
Baines hit .289/.356/.465 in his 22-year career, a 121 OPS+, and made six MLB All-Star teams. He hit 384 home runs and 488 doubles, driving in 1,628 runs. He was very good hitter for a very long time, mostly for the White Sox but also saw time with the Orioles, A’s, Rangers, and Indians.
Martinez hit .312/.418/.515 in his 18 major league seasons, all with the Mariners, compiling a 147 OPS+. He hit 309 home runs and 514 doubles, and drove in 1,261 runs. Martinez was a great hitter, one who made seven MLB All-Star teams.
Baines played 58 percent of his games as a designated hitter, and also saw time in the outfield, almost exclusively in right field. Martinez played 68.3 percent of his games at designated hitter, along with some third base early on and a little first base now and then.
Using Wins Above Replacement, Martinez (68.4 WAR) was miles ahead of Baines (38.7).
Martinez won two batting titles, led the American League in on-base percentage thrice, doubles twice, and led once each in OPS, OPS+, runs scored and RBI. He was named a Silver Slugger as the best hitter at his position seven times.
Baines won a Silver Slugger once (1989), and led the AL in slugging percentage once (1984). That is the extent of the black ink on his Baseball-Reference page.
Baines was a compiler over a long period of time, which absolutely has value, to be productive over 22 years in the majors. His hit total is relatively high (2,866), good enough to rank 46th all-time. He has 619 more hits than Martinez, which is a lot.
But to put this in perspective, Baines reached base in his career by hit, walk, or hit by pitch 3,942 times, a big number. Martinez reached base 3,619 times, closing the hit gap quite a bit. While Baines did reach base 323 more times than Martinez, he did so in 2,418 more plate appearances. Martinez would have to go 1,513 plate appearances without reaching base to lower his OBP to Baines’ level; that’s nearly three full seasons’ worth.
For now at least, only one of those two is a Hall of Famer. Shocking, indeed.