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Opposite paths lead Smith, Baines to HOF

Feared closer, longtime DH elected on Today's Game Era ballot
MLB.com @RichardJustice

LAS VEGAS -- Lee Smith was perhaps the most feared reliever of his generation and helped define the closer's role in the modern game during 18 seasons in the Majors. Harold Baines was far different, stoic and shy, a craftsman who produced 2,866 hits with one of the sweetest swings of his day.

These two very different men will be forever linked after learning on Sunday that they'll be members of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction class of 2019.

LAS VEGAS -- Lee Smith was perhaps the most feared reliever of his generation and helped define the closer's role in the modern game during 18 seasons in the Majors. Harold Baines was far different, stoic and shy, a craftsman who produced 2,866 hits with one of the sweetest swings of his day.

These two very different men will be forever linked after learning on Sunday that they'll be members of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction class of 2019.

Smith and Baines were selected by the Today's Game Era Committee, a 16-member panel appointed by the Hall of Fame to review players retired for at least 15 seasons who were passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America as well as managers, umpires and executives.

Smith was a unanimous selection, while Baines got 12 of 16 votes to clear the 75 percent threshold for induction. Meanwhile, Lou Piniella, who managed five teams to 1,835 wins, the 16th most in history, fell one vote short with 11. Seven finalists received fewer than five votes.

Neither Smith nor Baines came close to being inducted by the BBWAA during their time on the ballot. Smith was named on more than 50 percent of ballots just once in 15 years (2012, 50.6 percent). Baines topped out at 6.1 percent in his fourth year and fell off the ballot after receiving fewer than the required 5 percent in 2011.

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who made the announcement on MLB Network, said such committees "were established as a sort of a court of appeals or an opportunity in the event over time it was felt somebody slipped through the cracks."

Video: Harold Baines on his election to the Hall of Fame

Smith and Baines didn't seem to mind the long wait. Smith, 61, retired after the 1997 season with more saves than any player before him. His 478 saves are third all-time behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

"I never, never, never gave up hope," Smith said, "and then when they started the second-chance ballot, I thought my chances got a little better. Today was probably the most nervous I've been with this Hall of Fame voting thing."

Baines, 59, played 14 of his 22 seasons for the White Sox, who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1977 Draft. He played for five teams in all and finished with 488 doubles and 384 home runs.

"Wasn't really expecting it, but very grateful that it happened," Baines said. "I have four wonderful kids who are very proud of their dad today."

Smith was joined by Rivera and Hoffman as the only closers with at least 10 seasons of 30-plus saves. Hoffman was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, and Rivera, in his first year on the ballot, is expected to be part of Smith's induction class.

Smith pitched in an era when closers routinely pitched more than an inning. He got at least four outs for 169 of his 478 saves and had 12 straight seasons of at least 60 appearances, a Major League record. He's also the only reliever with 13 straight seasons of 25-plus saves and 10 straight of at least 30. He finished top five in Cy Young voting three times.

Video: Lee Smith on being elected into the Hall of Fame

Smith initially resisted efforts by the Cubs to move him to the bullpen, but it cleared his path to the Majors and eventually the Hall of Fame.

"You gotta have really thick skin," Smith said of the role. "But you know the one thing I learned really myself, was like when you're going good, don't get too high, and when you're struggling a little bit, don't beat yourself up.

"If I could go home and put my head on the pillow and say, 'I did the best I can that day.' If you go out there and you make quality pitches day in and day out, good things are going to happen."

Baines served as a designated hitter for 1,643 of his 2,830 career games, and his entrance into the Hall of Fame could help the case of Edgar Martinez, who fell just short of BBWAA induction (70.4 percent) in 2018.

"Everything I hear or read, DH is really not part of the game, I guess," Baines said. "But I disagree. It's part of the game. You should recognize the DH as a part of the game until they get rid of it. Maybe this will open up doors for some more DHs."

The Today's Game Era Committee is one of four Eras Committees -- along with Modern Baseball, Golden Days and Early Baseball -- that provide an avenue outside BBWAA voting to make the Hall. Others on this year's ballot were Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, George Steinbrenner and Piniella.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.