Every sports fan has that person. You know what I mean. It's that man or woman on your favorite team, or in your favorite sport, who becomes your favorite player for life. For me, that person is Harold Baines. Baseball was my first sports love and the White Sox will forever be my favorite sports team and Baines was my guy. Sure, a lot of it had to do with his production. He was remarkably consistent and was tremendous in the clutch, but I gravitated toward Baines for other reasons.
First and foremost, I identified with Baines because of the way he went about his business. He was a quiet star, who you rarely heard speak. In fact, when he came to bat in old Comiskey Park, you'd often hear organist Nancy Faust play the Pointer Sisters "He's So Shy" as his walk up music. As closely as I followed the White Sox and loved Baines during those years, I can count on one hand the amount of times I actually heard him talk, or do an interview. It wasn't because of any kind of media feud, but rather it was because Baines just wanted to play baseball. He let his play do the talking for him.
He also had an incredible work ethic. I remember reading articles about Baines' dedication. He spent hours in the batting cage, studied opposing pitchers and was one of those guys who was the first to show up and the last to leave. It earned him the respect of his managers, coaches and teammates. To be honest, in my younger days, as a swimmer and still today in my professional life, I've tried to emulate the Baines style. Show up every day, work hard, don't toot your own horn, be loyal to your teammates and co-workers and do your best to perform at a high level.
Baines is also a high character guy. He never caused problems in the clubhouse, never was a contract holdout, and was popular with his peers. He also has been a role model off the field. Baines is well known as a dedicated family man. In his playing days in Chicago he was actively involved with White Sox charities and has given back to his home community of St. Michaels Maryland, where he is beloved.
When he was elected to the Hall back in December by the newly formed "Today's Game Committee," put together to elect players believed to have been overlooked, it caused a stir. Many baseball fans and members of the media blew a gasket, saying Baines was undeserving. While I admit, I was surprised he was elected, I don't get some of the outrage. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy. He finished with 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI's and lost most of two seasons (1981 and 1994) to work stoppages. Without them, he's likely in the 3,000 hit and 400 home run clubs. Yesterday, as he was being inducted, I was perusing social media and continued to see countless comments calling Baines unworthy, including one that said Baines had borderline credentials but only got in because he is a "good guy." My response--what's wrong with that?
Much of Baines 22 year career was played in the "Steroids Era." Star players all around him were cheating but he never did. Baines continued to do what he had done from the moment he debuted in the majors. He kept his head down, worked hard, showed up every day and remained consistent and productive.
The man of few words, who rarely revealed his emotions was forced to speak this weekend and showed how much the honor meant to him. He also showed the baseball fans around the country, who didn't get to know about him like I and other White Sox fans did, that he's a special human being. Are his credentials borderline? Yes. Is he a "good guy?" You're damn right he is...and if that's what got him into the Hall, instead of questioning it, celebrate it. I know I am. It's about time a nice guy finished first.
If you don't know about Baines, check out some of the interviews and his speech below. I think you'll see why he was, and still is my favorite.