As Harold Baines stepped to the podium Sunday after officially being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he delivered a message to his old friends and teammates.
“You can start your stopwatch now to time how long this speech is going to be,” Baines said. “I know you have a bet on it.”
The time for Baines’ speech checked in at approximately 9 minutes, 40 seconds, a speech full of meaningful messages and tributes for Baines’ home community of St. Michaels in Maryland, his past baseball organizations in the White Sox, Orioles, A’s, Rangers and Indians, plus fans, friends and most importantly family. Baines mentioned on a few occasions after being elected to the Hall of Fame via the Today’s Game Era Committee in December this day would not be about him.
His words rang true on a beautiful afternoon in New York.
Baines joked about gaining the reputation of being a man of few words, possibly starting on May 9, 1984, when Baines completed a 25-inning White Sox victory over Milwaukee, in a game originally beginning on May 8, with a walk-off home run. A media member asked Baines after the game about really getting that pitch he hit out to win it, to which Baines responded, “Evidently.”
“Perhaps the reputation was born,” Baines said Sunday.
In reality, Baines’ workmanlike demeanor came from his father, Linwood, who passed away in 2014 and received a special tribute in Baines’ speech. It was Baines’ father who taught him to approach life through deeds and not words. It was a lesson he passed on to him years ago, often when the two played catch in their yard, as Baines explained.
“Words are easy. Deeds are hard. Words can be empty. Deeds speak louder and sometimes they echo forever,” said Baines of the words imparted upon him by his father. “You work at it, you put your head down, you keep your mouth shut and you work at your craft day in and day out.
“I know I made him proud on the baseball field. But I made him more prouder of the man, husband, father, teammate, the friend I’ve become.”
While admitting to not being an emotional man, Baines said the one exception came with his family. He thanked his mother, two brothers and sister for their support and being in attendance, as well as his four children, their respective spouses and grandchildren.
He broke down when expressing love for his wife, Marla, who he has been with since their days together at St. Michaels High School, calling her the true Hall of Famer of their family.
"I get very emotional when I talk about family." Baines said after the induction. "Because my kids say I cry too much and I wanted to be strong for them.”
Because of this low-key demeanor, Baines’ excellence over his 22-year-career didn’t get the recognition it deserved. He was a six-time All-Star, finishing with 2,866 hits, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs. He also won the American League top designated hitter award, now called the Edgar Martinez Award, in 1987 and 1988 marking his first two full years as DH.
Martinez joined Baines as two of the six Hall of Fame inductees Sunday, along with Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, the late Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina. Baines hit .324 with four doubles, five home runs, 16 RBIs, a .378 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage over 31 postseason games.
This honor makes him the third No. 1 pick overall in the MLB Draft to reach the Hall of Fame. Baines, who was selected No. 1 by the White Sox in 1977, joins Ken Griffey Jr. (1987) and Chipper Jones (1990). But Baines chose to focus Sunday on topics such as giving back to your community to give other children the great opportunity he had as opposed to celebrating what he accomplished.
“We ought to revel that an outstanding person in Harold is in the Hall of Fame,” said fellow Hall of Famer and White Sox teammate Carlton Fisk in the video to introduce Baines. “He’ll represent himself, the game, the White Sox and the Hall of Fame well.
“He’s happy, we’re happy and deservedly so. He wasn’t afraid to swing. He wasn’t afraid of the situation. He wasn’t intimidated by the opposition. You didn’t notice him until he got you. And he got a lot of people.”
After the ceremony, Baines said he expected delivering his speech would be a difficult task. "Especially toward the end, I talked about my father and I got through that pretty well," he said. "I was proud of myself. But I started off my speech talking about community and family, which is very big to me. I’m glad I got through it without crying."