A Side Order of Baines and Rice
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
December 30, 2005
Harold Baines played through two strikes. In 1994, his Baltimore Orioles played in 112 games, 50 less than a standard season. In 1981, his Chicago White Sox played in only 106 games, or 56 less than a standard season. So, in theory, Harold Baines missed 106 games which he would have otherwise been able to play in.
Harold Baines career, and ultimately his pending failure to enter the Hall of Fame, will probably be characterized as one of failure to reach milestones. Baines batted 9908 times, or 92 at-bats short of 10,000. He 1299 runs, 488 doubles, 49 triples, and 384 homeruns, and 1628 RBI, which means he was 1 run, 12 doubles, 1 triple, 16 homeruns, and 72 RBI short of 1300, 500, 50, 400, and 1700. More importantly, Baines finished with 2866 hits, or 134 hits shy of 3,000. As we know, or at least assume, 3,000 hits means automatic entry into the Hall.
Now, obviously failure to reach these milestones does not justify leaving him out of the Hall, just as actually attaining these milestones would not have guaranteed entry into the Hall. However, baseball fans like to have nice round stats to hang their hats on, and 3,000 hits, 500 doubles, and 400 homers are the types of milestones which Hall of Fame voters might look upon favorably.
What we have to ask ourselves is, first, whether in those 106 games which Baines missed due to injury could have produced 1 run, 134 hits, 12 doubles, 16 homeruns, and 72 RBI. In the case of runs and doubles, probably; in the case of the other stats, maybe not. But it makes one think Ė are we going to keep Harold Baines out of the Hall simply because he narrowly missed some pretty impressive, if not significant, milestones? That seems odd, doesnít it? For what it is worth, his career average was .289, his OPS was 20% better than his league, and he played 1600 of his 2800 games at designated hitter, which advise that he is probably less than Hall of Fame caliber.
Interestingly, Sam Rice is an analogous player. Rice didnít debut until he was 25, and didnít play a full season until he was 27. Then, at 28, he missed all but 7 games because of World War I. At the end of his career, he had 2987 hits, 498 doubles, 1078 RBI, and 3955 total bases. He came up just short of several milestones despite his late start and missed season. Of course, he also played the field, hit .322, stole 351 bases, got 200 hits a whole bunch of times, and had a BB/K of 708/275. He also played in the twenties, an incredibly offensive era, compared with Baines, who starred in the 1980s, a lackluster offensive era, which may explain the run and average differentials (at least a little). Importantly, Riceís career OPS was only 13% better than his league, which is less than Baines.
Rice is in the Hall of Fame, and conventional wisdom says Baines will not be. Seems somewhat problematic, donít you think? In the end, what this means is that voters looked past Rice's failure to reach certain milestones and still saw a Hall of Fame caliber player, while voters will look past Baines' failure to reach milestones and see a lesser player. Lets just hope that the voters do in fact look at Baines at all.