Lee Smith, Harold Baines Were Always Hall Of Fame Worthy

Character, longevity, and consistency boosted their MLB Hall of Fame qualifications.  


The inductions of Lee Smith and Harold Baines into Cooperstown on Saturday is a glorious tribute to Black baseball and the impact of African-American players on the game.

I always felt that Lee Smith belonged in the HOF and that the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters shortchanged his career and the influence he had on the culture of closing games. Smith was prominently featured in my February article titled “Black History Month In Focus: These Men Should Be In The Baseball HOF”

I listed 5 potent Black Knights who were not in the Hall of Fame, but whose careers I felt definitely met the standards for Cooperstown: 

“All I remember about Lee Smith watching him pitch the ’80s and ’90s was that he embodied everything that a feared closer should be. He had the scowl. He had the intimidation. He was 6-foot-5, 220-pounds masterfully navigating baseballs closer motto of smoke or choke. He had the stomach to blow a game and come back the next day and strikeout the side in the ninth inning, or go multiple innings in relief. Smith had a nasty heater and he lived for getting the ball in big game situations.

He set the standard for the modern-day closer, finishing his career in 1997 with an MLB-record 478 saves. The record stood until 2006 when recent HOF inductees Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman took the closer role to new, specialized heights.  

Smith was a candidate for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame for 15 years but failed to ever reach the 75% support threshold needed for election, sadly peaking at 50%.

The seven-time All-star, four-time MLB saves leader, three-time Rolaids relief Man award-winner also boasts an impressive career ERA of just 3.03.

Once Hoffman got in, it became a travesty that the great Lee Smith wouldn’t be deemed Hall of Fame worthy. When I think of a closer, I think of the big, bad boy from Jamestown, Louisiana with guts of steel, a golden arm and a Jheri curl that was out of this world.”

12 out of 16 members of the Today’s Game Committee finally agreed with me.


Harold Baines wasn’t on that list, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving.  You heard how Smith gushed about him in the above clip. Despite, never receiving more than 5.9% of the vote when on the original ballot, Baines was a super solid professional hitter, who is underrated in his era.  His body of work produced 2,866 hits, 384 homers, and 1,628 RBI during his 22 seasons. Baines also made six All-star squads.

Combine that with him being a PED-free player throughout a career that spanned 1980 to 2001 and the close, professional ties Baines has with members of the committee 

All of the backlashes about him being undeserving is kind of silly.

If you scour the Cooperstown roster you can find a trailer load of players with careers inferior to Baines’.

Moreover, since the BBWA is placing so much emphasis on character by excluding shoe-ins such as Bonds, Clemens and Sosa for being implicated in PEDs shouldn’t a model citizen and true pro like Baines have his leadership qualities and impeccable character count as major points towards a Cooperstown induction?

It’s only right.

Smith and Baines were both big-time players. They aren’t immortals, but they accomplished more than enough in their MLB careers. Those critics who are threatening to jump off the ledge because Baines made it to step back and chill out.

Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame and he is a .273 career hitter with 38 career homers. He gets a pass because he was on some great Yankees teams and he is one of the most beloved sports announcers in history.

Bill Mazeroski’s career is truly unremarkable and remembered for one great moment: his game seven, World Series-winning, walk-off home run. Otherwise, he was a .261 career hitter, average at best.

I’m not going to beef about it thought. They were considered exceptional in their era. I get it.

Committees such as the Today’s Game Committee were constructed to eliminate the generational and age biases that occur in the BBWAA voting.  As eras change, standards and rules have to be adjusted to make sure the best players, some of which may have been overshadowed by other immortals in larger markets,  are truly getting a good look.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.