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Harold Baines, Chicago White Sox slugger, greatest designated hitter ever

Harold Douglas Baines was born March 15, 1959 in Easton, Maryland. As a boy, he showed so much promise that Bill Veeck, the then-owner of the Cleveland Indians came out to see the boy that everyone talked about so much play Little League. When he graduated high school in 1977, he was the first pick of the major league draft by Veeck - though the Wreck had since moved on to own the Chicago White Sox.

Harold's rookie season in 1980 was uneventful - he hit just .255 with 13 home runs. At just 20 years old, expectations were high for the shy Baines, and it took another season shuffling between the majors and minors in 1981 to get him fully adjusted to big-league pitching.

From 1982 to 1986, Harold was one of the better rightfielders in the American League, topping 100 RBIs twice and consistently batting around .300. In 1983 he helped lead the White Sox to the American League Championship Series - he hit a major-league record 23 game winning RBIs - but struggled in the playoffs as the team exited early. (That struggle proved to be a fluke as Harold compiled a lifetime .324 average in the playoffs.) In 1984 he had perhaps his best season in the majors, hitting .304 (with a league-leading .541 slugging percentage) and smacking 29 home runs. he also proved to be remarkably reliable, playing in 140 games or more in all five years.

In 1987, the White Sox acquired the speedy young Ivan Calderon, and moved Baines, never known for his glove or his speed, to the designated hitter spot. Unfazed by the change, Harold hit 20 home runs for the sixth consecutive season. After a subpar season in 1988, Harold was traded midway through the 1989 season to the Texas Rangers (in that famous deal for Sammy Sosa that George W. Bush lamented as his "worst business decision ever.") He had been batting .321, but his power seemed to have diminished and the White Sox were eager to cut payroll. Still, he left the team as their all-time home run leader.

Throughout the remainder of his career, Harold remained a designated hitter. Although he was a frequent strikeout victim, his impressive power numbers assured him of a spot in a major league lineup. In 1990, he batted .290 in 103 games with the Rangers before being shipped off to the Oakland Athletics, who were then fighting for a playoff spot. The team captured the pennant, and faced off with the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Again, Harold, who had batted .357 in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, struggled to hit. Playing with a sore shoulder, he served as a pinch hitter in two games and went 1 for 5 in another - that one hit being a two-run homer - as the Athletics were swept in 4 games.

Harold spent two more years in Oakland, and was then traded to the Baltimore Orioles before the start of the 1993 season. Already 34, Harold was considered on his way out of the game, though he had still hit for power with the A's. In 1993, out to prove his critics wrong, Harold had an outstanding year, batting .312 and hitting 20 home runs for the 8th time in his career. He played two more years with the Orioles, flirting with .300 in both, and then signed with his old club the White Sox as a free agent in 1996. In May of that year Harold smacked his 300th home run.

Critics of Harold point to him as what's wrong with the designated hitter. Someone who fields and runs as poorly as Harold, they argued, shouldn't be allowed to bat. It degraded the metaphysics and the grace of the game. Harold ignored all of these comments and, as if to prove them wrong on analytical ground as well, became a much more selective hitter, never striking out more than 70 times after 1990.

In his later years, Harold was seen as a batting commodity by the majority of the American League. In the pennant race? Harold will shore up some of your batting woes. He was traded in August of 1997 back to the Orioles, and in September of 1999 to the Cleveland Indians. 1999 proved to be yet another monster season for the now 40 year old Baines - he hit 25 home runs and knocked in 100 batters, joining Dave Winfield as the only over the hill player to reach those prodigious plateaus. In the meantime, he also proved to be deadly at the plate when a team's hopes were on the line, batting over .400 in the playoffs of the 1990s.

By now, Harold's knees had all but completely given way, and after an injury-filled season batting .131 in 2001 with the White Sox, he called it quits. Harold retired as with the 23rd most runs batted in the majors - and #1 all time as a DH. His 2866 hits are 37th all time, his 384 homers 44th, and his 4604 total bases 29th. He is truly one of the all-time career legends of Major League Baseball.

Whether or not he will make the Hall of Fame depends on how people come to view him and the designated hitter position in the years to come. Most likely, he won't make the Hall, as he doesn't "feel" like a Hall of Famer - his 1984 slugging crown is the only time he led the league in any category, and although he was a good player for a long time (he made 6 All-Star teams) he struggled to establish himself as one of the best players in the game. Still, this doesn't diminish his admittedly amazing accomplishments. Fans of Harold know that his congenial, quiet hustle will be a benchmark that few players will ever attain. Not too shabby for the first pick in the draft.

Today Harold lives in St. Michael's, Maryland, just outside of Easton where he was born. In 2003 his #3 jersey was retired by the Chicago White Sox, and in 2004 the team named him as their new bench coach. In the end, Harold ended up right back where he belongs, playing a part in the game he loves.

Career Statistics

YEAR   TEAM    G   AB    R    H  2B 3B  HR  RBI SB CS   BB   SO   BA
1980 CHW AL  141  491   55  125  23  6  13   49  2  4   19   65 .255
1981 CHW AL   82  280   42   80  11  7  10   41  6  2   12   41 .286
1982 CHW AL  161  608   89  165  29  8  25  105 10  3   49   95 .271
1983 CHW AL  156  596   76  167  33  2  20   99  7  5   49   85 .280
1984 CHW AL  147  569   72  173  28 10  29   94  1  2   54   75 .304
1985 CHW AL  160  640   86  198  29  3  22  113  1  1   42   89 .309
1986 CHW AL  145  570   72  169  29  2  21   88  2  1   38   89 .296
1987 CHW AL  132  505   59  148  26  4  20   93  0  0   46   82 .293
1988 CHW AL  158  599   55  166  39  1  13   81  0  0   67  109 .277
1989 CHW AL   96  333   55  107  20  1  13   56  0  1   60   52 .321
     TEX AL   50  172   18   49   9  0   3   16  0  2   13   27 .285
     TOT AL  146  505   73  156  29  1  16   72  0  3   73   79 .309
1990 TEX AL  103  321   41   93  10  1  13   44  0  1   47   63 .290
     OAK AL   32   94   11   25   5  0   3   21  0  2   20   17 .266
     TOT AL  135  415   52  118  15  1  16   65  0  3   67   80 .284
1991 OAK AL  141  488   76  144  25  1  20   90  0  1   72   67 .295
1992 OAK AL  140  478   58  121  18  0  16   76  1  3   59   61 .253
1993 BAL AL  118  416   64  130  22  0  20   78  0  0   57   52 .312
1994 BAL AL   94  326   44   96  12  1  16   54  0  0   30   49 .294
1995 BAL AL  127  385   60  115  19  1  24   63  0  2   70   45 .299
1996 CHW AL  143  495   80  154  29  0  22   95  3  1   73   62 .311
1997 CHW AL   93  318   40   97  18  0  12   52  0  1   41   47 .305
     BAL AL   44  134   15   39   5  0   4   15  0  0   14   15 .291
     TOT AL  137  452   55  136  23  0  16   67  0  1   55   62 .301
1998 BAL AL  104  293   40   88  17  0   9   57  0  0   32   40 .300
1999 BAL AL  107  345   57  111  16  1  24   81  1  2   43   38 .322
     CLE AL   28   85    5   23   2  0   1   22  0  0   11   10 .271
     TOT AL  135  430   62  134  18  1  25  103  1  2   54   48 .312
2000 BAL AL   72  222   24   59   8  0  10   30  0  0   29   39 .266
     CHW AL   24   61    2   13   5  0   1    9  0  0    7   11 .213
     TOT AL   96  283   26   72  13  0  11   39  0  0   36   50 .254
2001 CHW AL   32   84    3   11   1  0   0    6  0  0    8   16 .131
     CAREER 2830 9908 1299 2866 488 49 384 1628 34 34 1062 1441 .289

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