On Sunday, Harold Baines was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by its “Today’s Game Era” committee. From the 16-member panel, Baines received the requisite 12 votes for induction, and the most shocking aspect of the balloting was that 12 people anywhere, let alone connected to the Hall of Fame, thought Baines was worthy of enshrinement.
Less shocking, but more dismaying, was what the process revealed, and what that revelation might mean for those candidates more deserving than Baines — among them, as perhaps the best example, former Phillies slugger Dick Allen.
Let’s get the Allen-Baines comparison out of the way first, because there really is no comparison. There are just two significant advantages that Baines’ Hall resume has over Allen’s: 1) Baines played 22 seasons; Allen played 15. 2) Baines was (in baseball’s clichéd parlance) the quintessential good teammate and solid professional, and Allen was as controversial as any player of his age and had a reputation as a disruptive, damaging presence. (Exactly how disruptive and damaging is another debate for another column.) By any other reasonable and respectable measure, though, whether traditional statistics or advanced baseball metrics or even the ol’ fashioned “eye test,” Allen was the superior hitter and player.
Allen’s career on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) was .912. Baines’ was .820. Allen’s OPS+, the statistic that accounts for external factors (e.g. ballpark size) in equalizing and normalizing a player’s production, was 156. Baines’ was 121. Allen’s 162-game averages over his career (.292 batting average, 33 home runs, 104 RBI) were much better than Baines’ (.289, 22 home runs, 93 RBI).
Allen, who played six positions at one time or another in his career, won the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year award with the Phillies and the 1972 American League MVP award with the White Sox. Baines, who spent his entire career in the AL and most of it as a designated hitter, never finished higher than ninth in any MVP voting. Allen led the NL or AL in 21 offensive statistical categories in one season or another. Baines led the AL in slugging percentage once. He was a solid, often excellent, hitter. He was the not the force that Allen was.
Mark Carfagno, the former Phillies groundskeeper who has spearheaded a campaign to get Allen inducted into the Hall, said in a text message Wednesday night that he and Allen’s son, Richard Jr., were disappointed that Baines had gotten in ahead of Allen. The more optimistic view would be that Baines’ induction will strengthen Allen’s case. After all, if Baines is a Hall of Famer, and Allen was better, what’s the rationale for excluding Allen now?
“Geez,” Carfagno texted, “everyone knows what happened.”
Here’s what happened: Allen last appeared on the Hall ballot in 2014, when the “Golden Days” committee considered his candidacy. He came up one vote short of induction. At the time, Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the White Sox and one of baseball’s most influential figures, told the Chicago Tribune: “Dick Allen had kind of a checkered career. If I had been on the committee, I wouldn’t have voted for him. He only really had six really good years. I don’t think he’d rise to the standards of the others, in my opinion. But when he was with the White Sox, he certainly had Hall of Fame years.”
Here’s why Reinsdorf’s comments then are relevant now: Of his 22 major-league seasons, Baines spent all or part of 15 with the White Sox and seven with the Baltimore Orioles. Now, consider four members of the “Today’s Game Era” committee that selected Baines to the Hall: Reinsdorf; Tony La Russa, Baines’ former manager with the White Sox; Pat Gillick, Baines’ former general manager with the Orioles; and Roberto Alomar, one of Baines’ teammates with the Orioles.
Given that alignment, let’s just say that the committee might have been inclined to regard Baines in the best possible light. And during a contentious interview on MLB Network, La Russa only reaffirmed the weakness of Baines’ candidacy, citing “game-winning RBI” — a statistic that Major League Baseball discarded after the 1989 season because it was too arbitrary — and resorting to a how-dare-you-question-the-great-and-powerful-us indignation to defend Baines’ election.
Allen will next be eligible for induction when the “Golden Days” committee meets in the fall of 2020, and perhaps Mike Schmidt ought to do all he can to get a seat at the table, just so he can lobby for his old teammate. But then, that’s the point: To receive an honor that he has earned, Dick Allen shouldn’t need an ally on the inside, and Harold Baines, by all accounts a good guy, shouldn’t have been backed by cheerleaders who lowered their ostensibly high standards just to let their buddy in.
An immortal’s greatness should speak for itself. This time, it didn’t. The Hall of Fame is lesser for it.