Designated to remain, Baines eyes ring in '99 DH re-signs for one year, with World Series his goal

September 05, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- The Orioles yesterday retained the left-handed portion of their designated hitter role when they signed Harold Baines to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The deal guarantees that the St. Michaels native will celebrate his 40th birthday and perhaps his final season in his home state.

Sentiment, however, played a backup role to reality. Baines desperately wants to earn a World Series ring before his career ends.

"I'm just thinking about getting a ring. It's nice to be home, but that wasn't as important as having a chance to win. And I think this team can win," Baines said.

The deal crystallized within the last week, according to Baines, and leaves the Orioles with seven pending free agents.

"We just felt that he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Harold has proven he can hit," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said of the DH. "Not only does he produce on the field, but he's a tremendous guy to blend with young guys. He's great on the field and in the clubhouse."

While the graybeard Orioles continue to drop hints of a pending youth movement, Baines, whose birthday is in March, becomes the second 40-year-old assured of a place on next year's roster. Left-handed reliever Jesse Orosco, 41, signed a contract extension that could potentially keep him in Baltimore through 2001.

The deal represents a marginal increase over Baines' current $1.15 million base plus $125,000 incentives each for 300 and 350 plate appearances.

Recognized as the consummate "professional hitter," Baines has admittedly surprised himself by his longevity. Cursed with chronic knee soreness, he has endured to become the most productive designated hitter in major-league history.

On Aug. 13 he became the all-time RBI leader among designated hitters, passing Hal McRae. Baines trails only Don Baylor (219) in home runs by a designated hitter with 197. All but five of his 49 RBIs this season in his 259 at-bats have been as DH.

For all his gaudy offensive numbers, including 346 home runs and 1,472 RBIs, Baines has appeared in only one World Series and never played for a champion.

"A lot of guys have been around and never won a ring," said Baines, a participant in four league championship series with three teams. "I don't want that to be me."

Baines has a .305 average, seven home runs and a .448 slugging percentage. This is the sixth consecutive season Baines has hit better than .290. Only first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and catcher Chris Hoiles have a better RBI ratio than Baines' 1-per-5.28 at-bats.

Baines also leads the Orioles with five pinch-hit RBIs. Baines' .385 average with runners in scoring position leads the league.

The Orioles are still negotiating with Eric Davis, the other half of a potential platoon arrangement at DH. Baines is hitting .332 against right-handers this season but has struggled (.178) in 45 at-bats against left-handers.

Baines would not discount the possibility of playing beyond next year, saying, "I'll let the numbers tell me. As long as I'm productive and somebody wants me, I'll probably want to keep going."

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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