Bernie Williams in 2005

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Murti: Harold Baines' Election Bolsters Bernie Williams' Cooperstown Case

Expect Yankees Great's Name To Come Up In 3 Years

Sweeny Murti
December 10, 2018 - 1:11 pm

I don’t want to spend time, as many others already have and will surely continue to do so, in bashing Harold Baines as someone who shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Whether you like it or not, he is now and forever a Hall of Famer because he was elected as such Sunday, along with Lee Smith.

But what does it mean for future candidates? The floodgates are now wide open for players who didn’t garner enough support on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, yet have credentials that are Cooperstown worthy.

The old-fashioned Veterans Committee was long ago disbanded. Its members were the ones who filled in the holes of the Hall of Fame voting by electing guys such as Phil Rizzuto, Nellie Fox, Jim Bunning and Bill Mazeroski, to name a few. These are players who didn’t fall into the layup category like Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Koufax, Gibson did -- the ones who don’t even need first names to identify them as baseball royalty.

But the Hall of Fame has long been something more than a baseball Olympus. There is room for greats of many levels and from many eras to tell the history of the game and its greatest players. We tend to get bent out of shape about the election results because the standard isn’t uniform and arguments can be made that “if player X got in, then player Y is absolutely a Hall of Famer!”

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Baines was elected because he received at least 12 votes by a 16-person committee evaluating the Today’s Game Era, one of the rotating committees that replaced the old Veterans Committee. The panel this year included White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and former White Sox and A’s manager Tony LaRussa, which is likely where the impassioned support for Baines on this year’s ballot originated.

Last year the Modern Era balloting elected Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. Contemporaries on that committee such as George Brett and Robin Yount were among their biggest supporters. So as the makeup of the committees helps shape the opinions of the voters in the room (the 16-member committee held a daylong meeting, unlike the BBWAA ballot, which has no group meeting before balloting), one can see a day when other players who were overlooked or undersupported will be celebrated with election to the Hall of Fame.

Longevity still counts, as the cases of Baines and Smith clearly indicate. Yes, players such as Don Mattingly and Albert Belle were more dominant forces in the game, but the Hall of Fame tends not to reward shorter periods of dominance -- take Roger Maris and Dale Murphy as other examples. Only the extreme cases of Sandy Koufax and Kirby Puckett -- crippling injuries that halted great careers in their prime -- tend to end in election.

After taking some time to digest Baines, the name that popped into my head as Hall worthy when this same era is considered again in three years was Bernie Williams.

Like Baines, Williams fell off the BBWAA ballot when he fell under the 5 percent barrier. Baines topped out at 6.1 percent; Bernie peaked at 9.6.  A closer look at Baines' 22-year career shows numbers that put him over 2,800 hits and 1,600 RBIs, an .820 OPS and a 121 OPS+. He compares favorably with the career totals of Tony Perez, who was voted in by the BBWAA and benefitted from his place on Cincinnati’s championship teams of the Big Red Machine era.

Williams' career totals come up shorter after his 16-year career, topping 2,300 hits and 1,200 RBIs. But his .858 OPS stands out, and even in a greater offensive era, his OPS+ was 125. Add in four Gold Gloves, four World Series rings and a batting title (and three other top-four finishes). This is a very good case to make.

The sad part about the PED issue that has caused a crowded ballot is that players such as Williams, Kenny Lofton and Johan Santana, who deserve a longer look at their careers’ Hall worthiness, get squeezed off the ballot and thrown into limbo, waiting for their turn on a ballot like the ones that elected Baines or Trammell. This is where contemporaries can plead their cases and shed more light on a career that probably deserved a better look and just couldn’t get it under the current voting structure, in which the 10-player limit forces BBWAA members to decide how many Hall of Famers they will vote for as opposed to simply voting for players they believe are Hall of Famers.

The committee that elected Baines and Smith on Sunday included Joe Torre, Roberto Alomar and Greg Maddux. The next time this committee considers a ballot from this era will be 2021, and Bernie’s name will likely be one that gets put up for debate.

Purists can scream at us all they want about it, but if you really wanted to be a purist, the Hall of Fame would be a museum to Babe Ruth and maybe 10 others. In recent years, elections have helped add stars of the 1980s and 1990s to the gallery of immortals. That movement will continue. Perhaps it will help players such as Keith Hernandez, Steve Garvey, Jim Kaat and others.

And hopefully we will take time to celebrate these careers, rather than argue that they weren’t as good as Ted Williams or Tom Seaver.

But I also believe the debate is the honor. Many players have asked me over the years if I thought they had a chance to make the Hall of Fame. My answer to them is this: If I have to think about whether or not you are, then that is the best compliment I can give you as a player.  The automatics -- Griffey, Mariano -- those guys are rare. But if I take the time to think about the career you had, then that is the honor, and you should be proud of the career you had.

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN