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