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White Sox hold ceremony for new HOFer Baines

@scottmerkin
August 11, 2019

CHICAGO -- Harold Baines spoke for 4 minutes, 44 seconds during Sunday’s pregame ceremony at Guaranteed Rate Field to honor his recent Hall of Fame induction. “It will be a lot shorter than [the Hall of Fame speech] was,” a smiling Baines said of the speech before actually giving it

CHICAGO -- Harold Baines spoke for 4 minutes, 44 seconds during Sunday’s pregame ceremony at Guaranteed Rate Field to honor his recent Hall of Fame induction.

“It will be a lot shorter than [the Hall of Fame speech] was,” a smiling Baines said of the speech before actually giving it at Harold Baines Day, held before the White Sox hosted the A's. “Still nerve-wracking, but just not as long.”

The former White Sox great was not elected to the Hall of Fame for being verbose or for his high-energy entertainment value. The classy veteran of 22 big league seasons referred to himself as an “introvert” when meeting with the media Sunday.

His resume featured on-field prowess as a top-notch clutch hitter and a man who produced as a designated hitter for 1,643 of his 2,830 career games. It’s not an easy position to find success in. In fact, current White Sox players such as Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez don’t want to move from their spots on the field to strictly hitting, even for a few games.

That role wasn’t exactly the first choice for Baines. But nine knee surgeries can quickly change your outlook.

“It took me a good year to get used to that, but once you know you can't help the team on defense, you kind of focus on what you can help the team do, and that's what I did,” said Baines, who moved from right field. “It wasn't tough.

“My injuries stopped me from going out there and doing what I love. I loved playing defense, but I was fortunate to have the American League with the DH, and I continued playing.”

Jim Thome and Frank Thomas were among the Hall of Fame White Sox dignitaries in attendance to honor Baines. Both of them saw significant DH time, with Thomas playing 1,310 games in that role and Thome checking in at 818.

Edgar Martinez, who also was part of Baines' 2019 Hall of Fame class and was honored by the Mariners on Saturday night, saw action at DH in 1,403 games. These players are now rightfully being recognized for their contributions to their teams' success.

“All aspects of the game in my opinion should be recognized, and a guy shouldn’t be punished, because they have a position that is valuable in the game,” Thome said. “It adds to the lineup. Think about it.

“The ultimate goal is to score runs. And the more runs you score, the more you win the game. Playing in both leagues for me, the strategic part of the National League was OK, the pitcher was going to hit. But the seven, eight guys have to produce.

“With the American League, you can throw a really good hitter in as the DH. That’s what makes our game great. How that moves forward will be interesting to see.”

Baines’ even-keeled and often low-key temperament helped him handle the 0-for-20 and 1-for-25 funks that came up over his career, without the defensive work to compensate.

“He had a great demeanor,” Thome said. “He was always level, no matter if he struggled or he did well. You got the same guy every day. And his talent was off the charts. You add that to that demeanor, and I think you are going to get a guy that’s going to the Hall of Fame or has been.”

“If there's one thing that stood out for guys that were on his team and those that competed against him, in a close game late, Harold was the guy you wanted to go to bat,” Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa said. “Harold was the guy you didn't want to come to bat against you. That showed his coolness, his toughness under pressure.”

Sunday became another special day from this special year, with La Russa, Ron Kittle and Ozzie Guillen speaking before Baines. Baines was surrounded by a plethora of White Sox dignitaries from over the years, including Robin Ventura, Jerry Reinsdorf, Ken Williams, Tim Raines and Roland Hemond.

This event’s significance set in immediately for Baines, unlike the Hall of Fame honor, which he is still processing.

“You see a guy like Hank Aaron and guys like that, and you're in their midst, yeah, that's very special,” Baines said. “I never envisioned myself being on the same stage with a person like that. All of them, they all deserve to be there, and it's very special to be a part of that.”

“Very grateful, very honored. But it really hasn't hit me yet.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.