Player: Harold Baines was tabbed as the first overall pick by Chicago in the '77 draft. Baines moved fairly quickly through the minors and coming out of spring training in 1980 he won the rightfield job.
Baines had a rather poor rookieyear with a stat line of .255/.281/.405. The White Sox protected their young prospect by platooning him in '81 and his rate stats improved across the board (.286/.318/.482). Patience still wasn't a strong point with only twelve walks in 296 plate appearances.
The young rightfielder had a break out season in '82. Playing in 161 games he knocked 25 HR and drove in 105 runs. He received a few MVP votes but it was Baines' consistency that would be a hallmark of his career. Over the next '83-'87 seasons Baines would hit 20+ HR while his OPS+ ranged from 109 to as high as 142. Whether it was the respect of opposing hurlers or a developing batting eye, Baines improved to around 50 walks a season to go with a batting average that hovered around .300. The right-handed slugger struggled in the '83 ALCS loss to the Orioles getting just two hits in sixteen at bats.
Early in his career Baines was regarded as a plus defender with a strong arm, but by 1987 he had been slowed by knee problems which limited him to DH duty. He started only 60 games in the field the rest of his career. Baines slumped in '88 with only 13 HR while hitting .277. He rebounded in '89 and was hitting .321 when he was dealt to the Rangers along with Fred Manrique for Sammy Sosa, Wilson Alvarez, and Scott Fletcher. Baines was rather unproductive for the Rangers slugging just .390 in 50 games. He had been such an icon for White Sox baseball that after the trade they made the strange move of retiring his #3 uniform in the middle of the year.
After enjoying the stability of playing for the same franchise for most of the 80's, the next twelve years would see Baines change teams every couple of years. In '90 the Rangers moved him to the A's in a deadline deal for two players to be named later. He played a combined 135 games with an OPS+ of 130. He found himself in the postseason and had a good ALCS with his five hits helping dispatch of the Red Sox. With the DH only used in Oakland, Baines only started two World Series games with one hit as the A's lost to the Reds.
Baines remained with the A's for the next two years and followed a decent year in '91, .295/.383/.473, with a mediocre one, .253/.331/.391. Baines shredded Toronto pitching in the ALCS with 11 hits in 25 at bats but the A's didn't advance.
Before the '93 season the A's traded Baines to his home state Orioles. He spent the next three years hitting in typical Baines fashion, around .300 with 16-24 HR.
Baines returned to the ChiSox as a free agent in '96. He dusted off his retired uniform and hit .311 while slugging .503. He was traded in another deadline deal back to the O's in '97. Following a.300 campaign he had a fine postseason with eight hits in twenty two at bats, but Baltimore lost in the ALCS to the Indians.
Baines platooned for Baltimore in '98 and hit .300 with 9 dingers, the first time he was held under 10 HR in his career. At 40 years of age he returned to more regular role in '99 and responded by hitting .312 with 25 HR. His 103 RBI marked the first time since '85 he topped the century mark, the longest span in baseball history between such seasons. Oh, and of course Baines was dealt to the Indians in late August and was back in the playoffs. Despite his 5-14 performance with a HR, the the Indians lost to Boston in the ALDS.
Baines signed with the Orioles for a third tour of duty and hit .266 with 10 HR in half a season before being traded back to the White Sox for a third stay in the Windy City. He hit only .213 the rest of the year and was 1-4 in the ALDS loss to Seattle.
Now 42 years-old he returned to Chicago as a part time DH in 2001 and hit just .131 in 32 games. A hip flexor injury shelved him in July, and save for a final pinch hit strikeout in September, his career was over. Baines played 22 seasons and compiled 2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, with a .289 average.
Flipside: It is somewhat surprising to see Baines with 10 steals in '82 as it represents 29% of his career total of 34.
Oddball: Longtime White Sox owner Bill Veeck had Baines on his radar as early as 1971 when young Baines was still in Little League. Both Veeck and our subject lived in St. Michaels, Maryland and the attentive owner knew all about the young slugger. Although he sold his share of the Sox in '81, the move paid dividends for years.
History: Baines had a remarkable career that is neatly divided into two phases. He was the face of the White Sox in the 80's and became a popular trade deadline target in the 90's. Curiously each time he was traded his production was lower for his new team. Listed below, his OPS+, before and after the trades:
1989 CHI 165 ---> TEX 102
1990 TEX 131 ---> OAK 128
1997 CHI 127 ---> BAL 104
1999 BAL 151 ---> CLE 75
2000 BAL 103 ---> CHI 60
While accumulating impressive career stats, Baines never had a very high peak season with just one above 3.1 WAR (4.0 in '84). The '84 season marked the only Black Ink in his career as he led the AL in slugging at .541. He was picked to six AL All-Star teams and won a Silver Slugger in '89.
Baines' lack of MVP caliber seasons along with his long time DH role led to little Hall of Fame support and he fell off the ballot in 2011. It's the right call, but Baines should be heralded (pun intended) for his longevity and reliability.
Baines never won a World Series as a player but got a ring as a member of the White Sox coaching staff in 2005.