Former White Sox star Harold Baines goes deep in his Hall of Fame speech
This is a man of such few words that we in Chicago know him only as a walking, not-talking mute button. But out of his mouth came a lovely speech, so lovely that it left some of us who have been around him almost speechless.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Harold Baines walked to the lectern for his Baseball Hall of Fame induction Sunday carrying a binder. What, I wondered, could possibly be in that thing? Not his speech. Couldn’t be his speech. A Post-it note surely would suffice.
This is a man of such few words that we in Chicago know the former White Sox star only as a walking, not-talking mute button. So Harold with a binder? The only unlikelier sight would have been Pete Rose walking around here with a ‘‘Free Autographs’’ placard.
But out of Baines’ binder came sheets of paper and out of his mouth came a lovely speech, so lovely that it left some of us who have been around him almost speechless.
‘‘I owe so much to my father, Linwood, who through his words and through his deeds told me how to approach life: You work at it, you put your head down, you keep your mouth shut and work at your craft day in and day out,’’ he said.
‘‘He worked six days a week as a mason to support his family. He was a baseball player who loved the game, but his time came too soon. He passed away in 2014. I know I made him proud on the baseball field. I know I made him more proud of the man, the husband, the father, the teammate and the friend I have become.’’
For 22 seasons, Baines kept his mouth shut and worked at his craft, amassing 2,866 hits and 1,628 RBI, which, at the time he retired in 2001, were the 21st-most in major-league history.
His voice quivered at times during his speech, especially when he talked about his wife, Marla, whom he started dating in high school.
‘‘You are the true Hall of Famer of our family,’’ he said. ‘‘I love you.’’
He thanked the people of his hometown, St. Michaels, Maryland, who helped ‘‘a youngster like me who may have had some athletic ability but not a lot else going on for him in the 1970s.’’
He thanked Tony La Russa, his former manager with the Sox, and Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for their help during his career as a player and then as a coach. He should have thanked both of them for getting him into the Hall of Fame through the Today’s Game Era Committee. They were the prime movers in his election, as La Russa was for another Today’s Game inductee, former Cubs closer Lee Smith.
Baines thanked former Sox teammates Carlton Fisk, Greg Luzinski, Ozzie Guillen, Greg Walker and Ron Kittle.
‘‘With a few of these guys around, is there any surprise that I never, ever said much?’’ he said.
On Sunday, though, he became chatty Harold — or as chatty as he can be. What had we expected? We expected he would steal fellow inductee Mariano Rivera’s theme song, ‘‘Enter Sandman,’’ and put us to sleep. But no. Not even close.
‘‘Somewhere, someplace in my career, I acquired a reputation for not saying much,’’ he told the crowd. ‘‘I’m not sure why. Maybe it was May 8, 1984. My home run ended a 25-inning game to beat the Milwaukee Brewers.’’
When a reporter suggested to him after the game that he ‘‘apparently got all of that one’’ on a cool night, Baines answered succinctly.
‘‘Evidently,’’ he said to the writer all those years ago and again to a laughing crowd Sunday.
In a video tribute before the speech, Fisk said Baines earned the nickname ‘‘Mr. Evidently’’ that day in the Sox’ clubhouse.
He was visibly nervous at the beginning of his talk, which is what you might expect from a man who’s microphone-phobic. But of the 19,500 major-leaguers who have played the game, only 232 have been inducted into the Hall. It has a way of coaxing feelings and emotions out of inductees they might not have let out otherwise.
Baines joked at the beginning of his speech that his friends and teammates should start their stopwatches because he knew there would be a bet on how short it would be. Answer: 9 minutes, 34 seconds. There are weeks when he hasn’t spoken that much. Who could have foreseen such talkativeness? And who could have imagined getting a peek inside Harold Baines? No one.
‘‘In the end, when you ask me why I’ve never been outspoken or said very much,’’ he said, ‘‘think of my dad and the advice he passed on to me many years ago: ‘Words are easy; deeds are hard. Words can be empty; deeds speak loudest, and sometimes they echo forever.’
And with that he was gone, talked out and likely as relieved as a kid at the end of a long church service. He was free again.