- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BALTIMORE.
Since Cadillac Bud Selig has announced that he will step down as commissioner of baseball after his term is up in 2006, I have the perfect candidate to replace him.
It's Harold Baines, although it's doubtful he would take the job. He was at Camden Yards last week in his role as roving hitting instructor for the Chicago White Sox, but that's only a part-time obligation, which suits him just fine.
"I'm not ready for a full-time job because I enjoy being around my family a lot," said Baines, the Maryland baseball legend who grew up on the Eastern Shore and was discovered in Little League by Bill Veeck. "My first priority is my family right now."
Baines, 44, has a lovely family back in St. Michael's, with four children one daughter in college and another on the way. But maybe there should be some sort of "Baines For Commissioner" movement.
The idea of Harold Baines as commissioner of baseball might seem ludicrous on first glance. But he has several qualities that would make him the perfect candidate.
First, he rarely speaks (and "rarely" is a generous description). But after all the double-talk from the car salesman, it would be a welcome change to have a commissioner who doesn't say something unless he means it.
Secondly, there may be nobody in baseball with a healthier outlook on the game than Baines, who spent parts of seven of his 22 major league seasons in Baltimore.
"I was blessed that I was able to play in a major league uniform, and I was one of the lucky ones to play for organizations that appreciated me," he said, speaking of course not only of Baltimore but the White Sox, where Baines got his start and played for parts of 14 seasons. "But every player should appreciate how lucky they are now, with the money they are being paid. There shouldn't be any angry players."
This is not some old-time ballplayer, mind you. This is a guy who is just two years removed from the playing field. Any player who thinks like this is probably too honest to be commissioner.
Baines was the ultimate actions-speak-louder-than-words player, and his actions on the field spoke loud enough that after 10 seasons in Chicago, they retired his No.3 after he got traded (to Texas and an owner named George W. Bush, for a young outfielder named Sammy Sosa), making him the only player at the time whose number was retired while he was still playing.
He was a fan favorite both in Chicago and here as well, yet there may have been no other All Star in history who called less attention to himself than Baines.
"I think people appreciated the way I played the game," he said. "I wasn't very flashy, but I was consistent and went in and did my job and went home."
He did his job very well, a six-time All Star who batted .289 over 22 seasons (from 1980 through 2001), with 2,866 hits, 488 doubles, 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI, which ranks him 22nd all time. That means only 21 players in the history of the game drove in more runs than Harold Baines.
To me, that's a Hall of Fame career. Other voters, though, may not agree. It's something that Baines would welcome, but he realizes he is probably on the fence for a lot of selectors.
"I think about it, but I don't hear any good things about it," he said. "If it happens, it's a plus. If not, then it wasn't meant to be."
He has the designated hitter tag working against him. Because of numerous knee operations, Baines, once a fleet, quality outfielder, was reduced to being a full-time DH after the 1986 season. There are questions whether writers will vote in a player who was a DH for a significant part of his career. The issue will come up with Paul Molitor (.306 average, 3,319 hits, 234 home runs, 1,307 RBI, 504 stolen bases) next year. And Edgar Martinez's numbers (.317 average, 273 home runs, 1,100 RBI) will likely make him difficult to pass over when his time comes after he retires.
But Baines' numbers, creating just enough doubt among voters, might fall short. For him to be more of a sure thing, he probably needed to reach 400 home runs and 3,000 hits, since only seven players in the history of the game reached both of those milestones.
Plus, there are the candidates up for a vote in Baines' first year of eligibility Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire. If it does happen for Baines, it will have to likely be a long-term campaign, a la Tony Perez.
It might have been different if he never had the knee injuries, but this is a man who considers himself blessed, and he certainly has a remarkable sense of perspective.
"I don't think I would have played as long [if he wasnt hurt]," Baines said. "When you get hurt, you have to work twice as hard to get back on the field. That probably saved my career. Before, I worked hard on the field, but I didn't work hard to prepare to play the game, because I was blessed with talent. But once you have a major injury, then it is twice as hard to get back on the field. I was in pain, but if you want to keep playing the game of baseball, you get past that. I was blessed to play for 22 years."
I asked Baines that if he did someday have a plaque in Cooperstown, what would he like it to say? "When people paid their money to come see me play, they got their money's worth," he said. "I showed them enough that they would want to come back and see me again."
That's a Hall of Fame attitude, and these days worth more than 500 home runs, 3,000 hits or whatever standards are used to measure the worth of a man to the game. And it qualifies him for commissioner as far as I'm concerned.

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