I never thought I’d entertain these thoughts, but when Harold Baines was elected this year to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s opened things up quite a bit.
Dave Parker? One buddy brought up in recent years. He wasn’t Roberto Clemente’s equal as a Pirates rightfielder, but ... a Hall of Famer, I didn’t think so either.
Another buddy from college postured this: Al Oliver a Hall of Famer?
Neither reached 3,000 hits and that really was it for me.
Until Harold Baines, a 22-year Major Leaguer with 2,866 hits and a .289 career hitter. He was a six-time all-star, one-time Silver Slugger and finished in the top-10 MVP voting just one time.
Of those 22 years, Baines played 14 years with the Chicago White Sox. The only time he led the American League — he played in the AL his entire career — in anything was in 1984 when he led the league in slugging percentage at .541. He never hit more than 30 homers and drove in 100 or more runs twice.
His best years came with the White Sox from 1982 through 1989 (he was traded to the Rangers in 1989) where hit 20 or more homers in all but two of those seasons with both of his 100-RBI seasons. He batted .304 with 29 homers and 94 RBIs in 1984.
Baines never won a World Series ring, but hit .324 in 31 games.
Other career numbers from Baines: 384 home runs, 1,628 RBIs and a .465 slugging percentage.
Another key numbers: 2,830 games, 1,643 of them as a designated hitter.
Enter Parker — I hear Vince Laschied’s Cobra walk-up music — and his numbers: 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and 1,493 RBIs in almost 400 less games in 19 seasons, 11 of them with the Pirates.
Peak Parker was better than Baines, who might get nod on almost anyone for career length. Parker won back-to-back National League batting crowns in 1977 and 1978. In 1977, he also led the NL in hits and doubles. He was third in MVP voting in 1975, third in MVP voting in 1977 and won the NL MVP in 1978. In the Pirates’ World Series title season of 1979, Parker was 10th in MVP voting and won the All-Star game MVP that year as well.
Parker, who also stole 154 bases with most of them during his peak years with the Buccos, also won three straight Gold Gloves from 1978-80. His rocket arm basically won the All-Star game MVP.
Things didn’t end well for Parker in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s with the infamous drug trials in Pittsburgh and that could have cast a long enough shadow to keep him out of the Hall, but he did resurrect his career.
With his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 1985, Parker hit .312 with an NL-best 42 doubles and 125 RBIs to go along with 34 home runs, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting. He hit 31 homers with the Red in 1987 before heading to the American League to finish his career as a DH.
As a 38-year-old with the A’s in 1989, Parker won his second World Series ring with 22 home runs and a .264 average. At 39 with the Brewers in 1990, Parker hit .289 with 21 home runs, playing in 157 games.
He started his final season with the Angels in 1991 and finished with the Blue Jays.
Al Oliver? 2,743 hits, 219 home runs and a .303 batting average over 18 seasons, his first 10 with the Pirates.
Oliver, obviously, was always around .3000 and his lone batting title came with the Montreal Expos (.331) in 1982 at age 35 when he also led the NL in hits, doubles and RBIs to go along with 22 home runs. He also led the league in doubles in 1983. Oliver was a seven-time all-star, the NL runner-up Rookie of the Year in 1969 and a top-10 vote-getter as an MVP twice — 1983 (third) and 1974 (seventh) with the Pirates.
Oliver’s lone World Series title was with the Pirates in 1971.
Of Oliver’s 2,109 career games, only 200 were played as a DH. He never won any Gold Gloves, but was a solid outfielder mostly with the Pirates before finishing his career in the field mostly at first base.
It’s only of those, “if he’s good enough ... “ arguments, that’s for sure. But Parker and Oliver were pretty good and these days, that might be good enough to get a call from the Hall of Fame veterans committee, which is the same way Baines got his nomination.
Rich Rhoades is the sports editor of the Leader-Vindicator and the Jeffersonian Democrat in Brookville. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @TheSkinny1969.