If Baines, Then Nettles…
by Paul Semendinger
(Originally published – December 11, 2018)
Over the years, die hard Yankees fans, who admittedly sometimes make the cases more with their hearts than anything else, have argued that some of their favorite or most beloved players belong in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. This list has included the likes of Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Graig Nettles, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada all who have fell off the ballot and all, who, at least until Sunday night did seem to fall short of the Hall-of-Fame standards…
That is, until Harold Baines was just voted in to the Hall-of-Fame.
Harold Baines was a classy player. He played forever – 22 seasons. He had a sweet swing. He was a very good hitter. But I don’t think, until he was voted in, that most fans or commentators ever thought, “That’s Harold Baines, he’s a future Hall-of-Famer.” His election is stunning. It’s really game-changing.
Now that Harold Baines is in, it seems that the bar has been lowered to a point that is almost ridiculous. Baseball Reference’s WAR isn’t the be-all-and-end-all stat, but it does give a very good indication of a player’s total value over his entire career. By that measure, Baines, with a career WAR of 38.7, ranks as baseball’s 545th best player all-time. Boy, that’s lowering the bar. A lot. A ton.
The following long-time Yankees position players (not pitchers) have a higher lifetime WAR than Baines (this is an incomplete list): Paul O’Neill (38.3), Gil McDougald (40.7), Don Mattingly (42.4), Jorge Posasa (42.8), Charlie Keller (43.1), Wally Schang (45.0), Roger Peckinpaugh (45.1), Thurman Munson (46.1), Roy White (46.8), Bernie Williams (49.6), Jason Giambi (50.5), Mark Teixeira (51.8), Willie Randolph (65.9), and Graig Nettles (68.0). Current Yankee Giancarlo Stanton’s lifetime WAR of 39.2 already ranks above Baines.
Using WAR alone, a Hall-of-Fame case can now be made for any (and all) of these players. But rather than just looking at WAR, let’s just compare Baines to one guy on this list, a player, like Baines who also had a 22-year career: Graig Nettles.
Baseball Reference lists a collection of stats that are used, quite well, to demonstrate a player’s historical significance (and ultimately his Hall-of-Fame worthiness). We’ll examine each of these and compare the two players (please visit Baseball-Reference for a full explanation of each of these measures).
Black Ink: Harold Baines (3), Graig Nettles (4)
Gray Ink: Harold Baines (40), Graig Nettles (56)
Hall-of-Fame Monitor: Harold Baines (66), Graig Nettles (63)
Hall-of-Fame Standards: Harold Baines (44), Graig Nettles (31)
JAWS: Harold Baines (38.7 Career WAR), Graig Nettles (68.7 Career WAR)
Positional: Harold Baines (74th best RF), Graig Nettles (12th best 3b)
7 Year Peak WAR: Harold Baines (21.4), Graig Nettles (42.4)
JAWS: Harold Baines (30.1), Graig Nettles (55.2)
In my heart, Graig Nettles, my favorite player growing-up, was always a Hall-of-Famer. When I compared him to the other members of the Hall-of-Fame, with logic and reason, he always fell short.
Comparing Nettles to Baines though, it’s hard to argue against him.
This is a result of lowering the bar for Hall-of-Fame induction for an individual player. The standard changes. To revisit WAR briefly, Nettles’ WAR is 118th all-time. Baines’ is 545th. Nettles is in a completely different stratosphere. It is hard to argue against Nettles is Baines’ career is Hall-of-Fame worthy.
In addition, Graig Nettles was a stellar defensive player, earning two Gold Gloves. Most experts say Nettles would have won (many) more fielding awards if not for Brooks Robinson’s stranglehold on the position for most of Nettles’ prime years. Harold Baines was a poor fielder who spent most of his career, especially the later half, as a DH. Nettles gets a boost here as well. (Of course, WAR does factor in defense, but the point is clear, Nettles was an elite defender, Baines was not.)
Even if one wishes to just compare the players as hitters, Nettles comes out on top. For his career, Nettles’ Offensive WAR was 52.8. Baines’ was 40.7. Baines does have the higher lifetime batting average (.289 to .248) and more lifetime hits (2,866 to 2,225), but even with those advantages, Nettles was the superior hitter according to Offensive WAR.
Nettles was also a winner. He played on two World Championship teams – and was a leader on those teams. Nettles was eventually made Yankees captain. Harold Baines played on no World Series winning teams. In his only World Series (1990), Baines was a platoon player. In an era when it was more difficult to make the post season, Graig Nettles played in 53 post-season games (winning the 1981 American League Championship Series MVP along the way). Harold Baines, in the era of Wild Cards, played in 31 post-season games. Nettles was a major player on five teams that reached the World Series. Baines was never a major contributor on a World Series team.
Sometimes a player (Jack Morris, for example) has his Hall-of-Fame candidacy enhanced by a legendary moment. I cannot think of any “signature moments” for Harold Baines in his career. (If readers know of any, please let me know.) Graig Nettles had Game 3 of the 1978 World Series when his amazing defense was credited with turning the entire World Series around.
Harold Baines was a six-time All-Star. Graig Nettles was a six-time All-Star.
Harold Baines was never considered the best player in the league at his position. Graig Nettles was.
One might argue that the edge that Baines has over guys like Don Mattingly or Bernie Williams is his longevity. Baines, after all, played twenty-two seasons. That has to count for something. When comparing him to Nettles, though, that argument is lost. Nettles also played for twenty-two seasons.
I am not quite sure why or how Harold Baines was elected into the Hall-of-Fame. He was a nice player. He wasn’t great, not by any definition of the word.
When (very) marginal players like Harold Baines get elected into the Hall-of-Fame, it opens up a great deal of room for comparisons like this.
I’d love to see Graig Nettles in the Hall-of-Fame. (Heck, I’d love for Nettles, the greatest third baseman in Yankees history (up until A-Rod, at least) to get into Monument Park.)
Until now, I could never really make a compelling case for Nettles (or Thurman Munson or Don Mattingly or Bernie Williams or the others names to begin this article) to gain enshrinement. But now I can. I think it can be easily argued that Graig Nettles was a superior player in almost every way to Harold Baines. It doesn’t even seem particularly close.
Maybe, just maybe, Graig Nettles will now make it to Cooperstown.
With Baines in, it would be hard to argue against him.