“You get one extra flare a week—just one—a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail—just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!”
Crash's calculations apply in an eye-opening way to former White Sox All-Star Harold Baines.
Of the top 50 All Time Hits leaders, 49 of them are Hall of Famers, eventual Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel) or someone where an off-field controversy may keep them from being a Hall of Famer (Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.)
The one exception is Harold Baines, who is 41st all-time with 2,866 hits.
The 3,000 hit club is an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame. Almost everyone who was within 200 hits of the 3,000 hit club is in the Hall of Fame.
George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Brooks Robinson, Jesse Burkett, Mel Ott, Frankie Frisch, Zack Wheat, Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, Wee Willie Keeler, Jake Beckley, Frank Robinson, Sam Crawford, Sam Rice, Bonds and some guy named Babe Ruth all had between 2,812 and 2,987 hits.
Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez also fall in that hit range, and they will probably eventually be in Cooperstown once the steroid hand wringing ends. And Omar Vizquel currently has 2,850 hits, which will enhance his Hall of Fame case along with his defense. And then there is Baines.
Baines was a good, solid, if unspectacular, hitter. Baines was the first overall pick in the 1977 draft. Two picks later, the Brewers picked future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
Baines had a good average, good power (he led the league in slugging in 1984) and was reliable.
But, he never was a top-five MVP candidate. He never finished in the top-five in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles, homers or adjusted OPS.
He finished fifth in hits and fourth in RBIs in 1985, the year he had his personal best showing in the MVP vote. (He finished ninth.)
He was a DH for more than half of his career. In his last 15 seasons, he played in the field 24 times. That is not 24 times a year. That is 24 times total, which averages out to putting a glove on less than twice a year.
He played for 22 seasons, many of them partial injury-plagued years towards the end. But, he spread his productive seasons out over a long stretch. He was a 25-homer, 105-RBI man in 1982 with the White Sox.
He was a 25-homer, 103-RBI man batting .312 with an OPS of .919 for the 1999 Indians.
He broke in with the White Sox when Tony LaRussa was managing, the team wore lapels and Chet Lemon was in center field. (For a few games, he was teammates with Minnie Minoso.)
He finished his career with the White Sox, where he was teammates with Paul Konerko and Mark Buehrle.
He stretched from the lapels on the uniform era for the White Sox, to the disastrous "Sox across the chest" monstrosities, to the utterly forgettable cursive uniform in the late 1980s, before finishing his career in the classic pinstripe ChiSox look.
He was a respected steady veteran, but not a superstar. And yet, he had that hit total that put him with the elite players. He appeared in five Hall of Fame elections, peaking with 6.1% of the vote in 2010. But, with only 4.8% of the vote in 2011, he is now off the ballot.
He had a nice career, played in the postseason in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, became a millionaire several times over and earned a World Series ring as a coach with the 2005 White Sox.
But, just imagine this scenario, similar to Crash Davis’ dilemma. If Baines got seven more hits a season, he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Seven hits a year over 22 seasons would give him an extra 154 hits, and put his career total at 3,020. There would be no denying him entry to the Hall of Fame. It would be a lock, automatic on the first try.
He would be sitting in the background of Hall of Fame inductions forever with Bob Feller, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Hank Aaron, George Brett and Ozzie Smith.
His statue and retired number three in Chicago would not be a tribute to a respected and loved star but a fitting send off to an immortal if he got seven more hits a year.
Does he think about those seven extra hits a year? Does he think about a great catch made on a ball he hit? Does he think about an official scorer ruling a hit of his was actually an error? Does he think about a close call at first base that could have gone either way?
Does he think about games lost to the strikes of 1981 and 1994? Does he think of time lost to injuries later in his career?
A hit here, a hit there—a flare, a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail here and there—and Harold Baines would be off to Cooperstown.