A Classy Guy Who Could Hit

Former O's Recall Md. Native Baines, Entering Team Hall

August 28, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Forget that he made three different stops in Baltimore. Or that in seven years of playing at Camden Yards he never wore a glove. Or that he was 34 and hobbled when he first joined the club.

On Saturday night, former designated hitter Harold Baines will be enshrined in the Orioles Hall of Fame as its 46th member.

The reason?

"The guy could flat-out hit," said Brooks Robinson, a charter member of the Orioles Hall.

Baines, who spent seven of his 22 years in the majors with the Orioles between 1993 and 2000, was to be honored today at a luncheon sponsored by the Oriole Advocates. A native of St. Michaels, where he still lives, Baines will be inducted Saturday night in a ceremony at Camden Yards before the Orioles' game against the Cleveland Indians.

Among those present will be his parents; wife, Marla, and their children: Antoinette, a graduate of Maryland; Britni and Courtney, who attend Towson University; and Harold Jr., a student at McDaniel College.

Though he spent most of his career with the Chicago White Sox - he's now their first base coach - Baines said Orioles fans always embraced him for his Eastern Shore roots.

"Even when I played for Chicago, the crowds here supported me because I was from Maryland," he said Thursday. "They wanted me to do well, as long as the Orioles still won."

And while he never attended an Orioles game as a youngster, Baines adopted the club on the Western Shore.

"Not too many kids are lucky enough to play for their hometown team," he said.

A .289 lifetime hitter, he is the fourth native Marylander to enter the club's inner sanctum, joining pitcher Steve Barber (Takoma Park) and manager-coach Cal Ripken Sr. and Cal Ripken Jr., both of Aberdeen.

"Harold did the Eastern Shore proud," Robinson said.

His prowess at the plate - 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs - makes Baines deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown, Ripken said. Eligible since 2006, Baines was named last year on about 5 percent of the ballots for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At least 75 percent is required for admission.

"Bainesey was an All-Star-caliber player every year, a pure hitter and the perfect teammate," Ripken said. "It's hard for me to figure out the subjective voting, but, yeah, I consider him a Hall of Famer."

With the Orioles, Baines batted .301 with 107 home runs and 378 RBIs. Obtained from the Oakland Athletics in 1993 for two minor leaguers, the gimpy Baines thrived in the role of designated hitter.

At bat, he had a leg kick like a Rockette and a swing straight from a Bernard Malamud novel. Baines also brought stability to the clubhouse with his quiet demeanor and strong work ethic.

"He didn't say a lot - you never heard him raise his voice - but I tried to be smart enough to listen when he talked," said B.J. Surhoff, who had a locker next to Baines.

"I called him 'Sleepy,' " said Eric Davis, an Orioles outfielder who played two years with Baines. "He always looked so relaxed, even up at bat. Strikeout or home run, his facial expression never changed."

Ray Miller, the Orioles' manager in 1998 and 1999, called Baines the consummate pro. "You could wake him from a sound sleep at midnight in the dead of winter, put a bat in his hand and he'd hit a 95 mph fastball off the outfield wall.

"I can still see Harold standing in the dugout, studying a pitcher and then walking away, saying, 'Uh-huh.' Then he'd go up to bat and, with the count 1-and-2, hit a rocket."

When Baines returned to the dugout, Miller would ask what he had seen in the pitcher.

"Harold would say something like, 'The guy tips his glove when he throws a slider,' " Miller said.

Only once, Baines said, was he ejected from a game. In Minnesota, a rookie umpire tossed him for flipping his bat after a strikeout.

"I was on deck at the time," Surhoff said. "Harold got called out on a horrible pitch but didn't say a word. Then he dragged the bat back to the dugout, where it fell out of his hand."

Baines' dismissal brought Miller, the Orioles' manager, racing onto the field.

"I went nuts," Miller said. "I screamed at the umpire, 'You just threw out the classiest guy in the game!' "

The umpire reacted in turn, Miller said.

"He got all red in the face and threw me out, too. But I had to do it. Harold played the game with such dignity."

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