LAS VEGAS — Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer, or at least he will be very soon, elected to the Hall on Sunday night just before the start of baseball's Winter Meetings.
With the controversy over whether he was or wasn't worthy of the honor finally put to bed, only one burning question remained: Who was most excited about it?
Baines, famously a man of few words and few outward displays of emotion, might not be the correct answer, even though he's the one who will soon be enshrined in Cooperstown.
"I think the people with the White Sox might be happier than Harold because we all love Harold so much," team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sunday night in Nevada. "We’re just so happy for him. But he deserved it. He got in because he deserved to get in — not because he’s a great guy. He is a great guy."
But as happy as the chairman was, Baines was just as surprised.
"I'm very humbled and honored for this good news today," he said on a conference call. "I'm very grateful to the veteran's committee for thinking I'm worthy of this Hall-of-Fame honor today. I'm very shocked today.
"Very surprising. I was only on there one year, so I wasn't expecting this day to come. But that doesn't reflect on the person I am. I had a great career, I'm very proud of it. I think any player would tell you he doesn't play the game of baseball to get into the Hall of Fame."
Baines' numbers certainly back up his deserving status. In the 20 years that covered the 1980s and 1990s, he ranked fifth in baseball with 2,783 hits, second with 1,583 RBIs, third with 4,474 total bases, fifth with 474 doubles, fourth with 896 extra-base hits and ninth with 373 home runs. He sits in the top 50 among current Hall of Famers in RBIs, hits, home runs, extra-base hits and doubles. Since 1969, Baines is 10th among all players with at least 100 at-bats with a .324 postseason batting average.
"He just deserved it," Reinsdorf said. "It was just a shame he didn’t get in sooner than this. Harold is a great player. You look at the numbers he put up in the '80s and the '90s and played in the Majors for 22 years. I don’t think he ever had a bad year. Of course, there’s no finer person than Harold Baines.
"When the game was on the line in the eighth or ninth inning, and you can pick somebody to you wanted up, it was Harold Baines."
Reinsdorf was a member of this year's 16-person committee, along with former White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who managed Baines for many years during the 1980s.
Asked how he reacted when Baines was officially elected, Reinsdorf said, "I just went like that," showing reporters a fist pump, "and I looked up at Tony La Russa and I thought he was going to cry."
Asked how Baines reacted when he heard the news, Reinsdorf relayed, sarcastically: "Oh, he was screaming and hollering."
Who knows what emotion we'll see from Baines next summer in Cooperstown, but Reinsdorf is already making some joking predictions.
"That was one of the arguments we made to the voters: If you do vote him in, it will be a very short speech," Reinsdorf said. "But Steve Hirdt said, 'You don’t know, maybe Harold will get up there and say, “I’ve kept it all in for all these years and now I’m going to let it out and talk for 45 minutes.”' But I don’t think so.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if he said, 'Thank you very much' and sat down."
All kidding aside, the White Sox are, to borrow Reinsdorf's word, ecstatic over Baines' election. He spent parts of 14 seasons as a player on the South Side and many more as a coach in his post-playing career. He's had an influence of some kind or another on just about everyone who played for the team for the last nearly four decades.
"Harold just commands so much respect from everybody," Reinsdorf said. "He’s quiet, but they know who Harold Baines was. Look, Harold is the one guy who can control Ozzie (Guillen).
"Everybody has so much respect for the guy. Nobody said anything bad about him.
"Harold has been with the White Sox, with time off for a few other teams, since I got there. And he’s really a constant. He really is a Chicago White Sox. You look at the era of the '80s and '90s, it was Harold Baines."
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