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Harold Baines, Lee Smith elected to Hall of Fame by veterans committee

LAS VEGAS – The Cubs wanted to make Lee Smith a closer as a Class AA pitcher in the late ‘70s in Midland, Texas.

At which point Smith wanted to quit the sport and go play basketball.

Then he got a knock on his door.

“Billy Williams came to my home,” Smith said. “And I can’t say what he said on the air about doing this relief pitching thing.

Harold Baines

“But six months later I was in the big leagues.”

And as of Sunday night, four decades after that conversation, one of the first pure closers in the game joins the Cubs’ legendary outfielder as a Hall of Fame player.

With a distinct Chicago accent Sunday night, the veterans committee elected Smith and longtime White Sox designated hitter Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame.

Baines, a six-time All-Star who played 14 of his 22 seasons in Chicago, will wear a Sox cap on his plaque in the Hall. In a less obvious decision, Smith didn’t hesitate to say he wants to go in as a Cub after spending the first eight years of his 14-year career in Chicago – even though five of his seven All-Star seasons came with other teams (three with the Cardinals).

“I’m definitely going to have to be a Cubbie, man,” he said. “The Cubs gave me my first chance in the big leagues and they actually gave me a World Series ring. Unbelievable.”

Smith, a regular at Cubs Convention annually, was one of many former players awarded World Series rings by the organization after the 2016 championship.

“I still have a great love for the Chicago Cubs,” said Smith, whose 478 saves were a major-league record when he retired and now rank third on the all-time list.

Lee Smith (left) and mentor Fergie Jenkins (right) at Wrigley Field in 2012 with former Yankees exec George Costanza.

Baines, a six-time All-Star who missed election after 15 years on the writers’ ballot largely because he spent most of his career as a designated hitter, said he was “very shocked” to learn he was elected by the 16-member voting panel for the Today’s Game Era Committee.

“I wasn’t expecting this day to come,” said Baines, who got a boost of support with Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on the committee.

A .289 career hitter with a .356 on-base percentage and 384 home runs, Baines spent three stints with the Sox, including the first 10 years of his career after the Sox made him a No. 1 overall draft pick in 1977.

Baines and Smith were the only two elected by the committee.

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Among those who missed the cut were former Sox slugger Albert Belle and former Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who won two World Series as a player with the Yankees (1977-78) and one as manager of the Reds (1990).

It took 12 votes from the committee to be elected. Smith got unanimous support; Baines received 12 votes. Piniella fell one vote short.