Harold Baines: speak softly, carry BIG stick

By Jeff Kirik

His name might not be as recognizable as Mattingly, Boggs or Dawson, but over the last six years Harold Baines has been one of the most consistent stars in Major League Baseball.

Baines visited the Huskie Club Luncheon last Thursday as part of the White Sox Caravan and gave his views on his future with the team and the league.

The three-time All-Star rightfielder said his only concern at the moment is recovering from the arthoscopic knee surgery (his third in the last two years) he underwent on his right knee just after the season. He now is going through therapy three times a week and swims three other days in order to strengthen the joint.

“I’m just trying to get healthy,” the 28-year-old Baines said at a pre-luncheon press conference. “I’m not worried about playing the outfield because I know I can play the outfield.”

After averaging 23 home runs over the last six seasons, Baines has established himself as the Sox all-time leading home run hitter. If he stays healthy, many more South-side records could fall.

Even with the impressive statistics, Baines knows his time with the team could be limited. His name was involved in numerous postseason trade rumors before he had the surgery.

“I know I’ve been on the trading blocks the last two or three years by looking in the papers,” he said. “As long as you put the numbers up there somebody will take you. But it doesn’t matter where I play in the big leagues as long as I stay in the big leagues.”

Steve Lyons, a third baseman/outfielder who was also with the caravan, said he finds it hard to believe Chicago would want to trade its most-prized hitter.

“It’s a big advantage, I think, to us that he doesn’t get traded away,” Lyons said. “Harold’s without a doubt probably our biggest leader on the team.

“We see the rumors, too, and we’re sitting here thinking, ‘How can you trade a guy like Harold?’ But everybody’s loss is our gain—every time a deal falls through—because to lose a guy of his caliber would hurt no matter who you got for him.”

Because of his injury, Baines had to play designated hitter for most of last season. However, he still was able to hit 20 home runs and drive in 93 runs and earn the league’s Designated Hitter of the Year award.

Baines said he would like to get back into rightfield, but added he would DH again if forced to.

“I’d just enjoy getting back,” he said. “I’m not the type that can sit around and watch a baseball game. I’m just going to have to get well enough to contribute to the ballclub. I would love to get back into the outfield but if my knee doesn’t let me, I want to at least try to DH.”

Baines has a reputation for being a quiet man, but his bat speaks loudly when he steps to the plate. The eight-year veteran’s career highlights include leading the American League with a record 22 game-winning hits in 1983, leading the league with a .541 slugging percentage the following year and driving in a career-high 113 runs in 1985.

He has hit three home runs in a game on two occasions, driven in six runs in a game twice and has five career grand slams. Baines also had one of his bats enshrined in the Hall of Fame after ending the longest game in major league history with a 25th-inning homer against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1984.

Even with all these accomplishments on his resume, Baines’ biggest thrill in baseball is a simple one.

“Playing professional baseball. Period,” he said. “I’ve got a job that I love and get paid very well for doing it.”

Baines was a baseball star since he first picked up a bat. Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck was scouting Baines from the time the slugger was 12 years old. Veeck followed his discovery’s career up through high school and in 1977 made Baines the first pick in baseball’s free agent draft.

Now as a pro standout Baines is only concerned with improving his performance. He said since he hits from the third spot in the Sox order—an RBI position—he sets a yearly goal to drive in 100 runs. He said the home runs and fame mean nothing to him.

After establishing himself as a star in America’s game, Baines still doesn’t get the publicity which many people feel he deserves.

Baines said the lack of publicity doesn’t bother him. He’d rather stay out of the spotlight and just do his job.