LAS VEGAS -- Someone always cries during those Hall of Fame news conferences. On Monday, it was Harold Baines' turn.
The odds seemed long that it would be the stoic Baines, not Lee Smith, who choked up. Not that it's the kind of thing one would bet on, but after all, it is Vegas and gambling is in the air.
The occasion was the day-after meeting of baseball's newest Hall of Famers with the gathered media on hand for the winter meetings. Baines, whose business card surely contains the words "professional hitter," sat on one side of the dais, while Smith, who logged 478 career saves, sat on the other.
Both players found their way into Cooperstown after the Hall's Today's Game Committee voted them in over the weekend. This is the kickoff event to every winter meetings and it's a happy occasion, no matter who it is giving those day-after media events. Family, old teammates, managers, executives, friends .... a smattering of all the above are on hand, along with the reporters, who are just grateful to have something to write about after a day of many whispers but few declarations.
It was an odd occasion, in a way, because of the job descriptions of the newly minted immortals. Baines is best remembered as a designated hitter, while Smith, of course, was a short reliever. It was a day for the specialists. Questions remain about just what kind of presence specialists ought to have in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, but none of those was broached Monday. For one thing, it's not really a matter of the players needing to defend themselves. They did not vote themselves in. For another thing, to be frank, no one really wants to rain on another person's parade.
The selection of Smith might have garnered more scrutiny than it has if not for the selection of Baines. The web portals, social media apps and online forums were lit up with a furor over his induction, and what it signifies in terms of what the Hall of Fame has become. (The Hall of the Very Good!) Baines' name, as the avatar of this furor, was attached to all of these wails. Thus, it almost feels as though it was his fault when, of course, it is not. For what it's worth, Baines seemed to be as surprised as anyone when he got the call Sunday.
"To be honest, I wasn't sitting around waiting for it, to get a call," Baines said. "Because I didn't play the game for the Hall of Fame. I played a game to have a job and try to win championships."