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December 10, 2018
Las Vegas, Nevada
JON SHESTAKOFSKY: Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here. My name is Jon Shestakofsky, and I'm vice president of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Welcome to the Hall of Fame's Today's Game Era Committee introductory press conference. Joining me on the dais are Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame; the two newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Lee Smith and Harold Baines; as well as chairman of the board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Jane Forbes Clark.
Following the press conference, Today's Game Committee members are here, and I'd like to invite Jane now to give a few opening remarks.
JANE FORBES CLARK: Thank you, Jon. Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here today. As you know, the National Baseball Hall of Fame's 16-member Today's Game Era Committee met here yesterday to consider the ten candidates for Hall of Fame election, whose greatest contributions to the game have been realized since 1988.
The ballot comprised of six former players, three managers, and one executive was selected by an 11-member Historical Overview Committee of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
The 16 members of the today's Game Era Committee were Roberto Alomar, Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian, Tony La Russa, Andy MacPhail, Greg Maddux, Hall of Fame vice chairman Joe Morgan, Jerry Reinsdorf, John Schuerholz, Claire Smith, Ozzie Smith, and Joe Torre.
And on behalf of the board of directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I would like to thank them very much for their very thoughtful and productive work yesterday.
You heard the results of yesterday's committee work. You heard them last night on MLB Network. They elected Harold Baines and Lee Smith to one of sports's most elite fraternities.
Harold Baines played in 2,830 games over a 22-year career, including 14 seasons as a member of the Chicago White Sox, seven with the Baltimore Orioles, as well as time with the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. He batted .300 or better eight times, totaling 2,866 hits, and had 11 seasons with at least 20 home runs.
He retired after the 2001 season as the all-time leader among designated hitters in games, runs, hits, home runs and runs driven in.
A six-time All-Star, Silver Slugger, and a two-time Designated Hitter of the Year Award winner, please welcome to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2019, Harold Baines.
Lee Smith began his career with eight seasons as a member of Chicago Cubs. His 18-year Major League career saw an impact on seven other franchises -- the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, Cincinnati Reds, and the Montreal Expos.
A top closer in the 1980s and 1990s, he saved 478 games, which stood as the all-time MLB record for 13 seasons through 2006 and remains the third-most in baseball history.
A seven-time All-Star, he converted 25 or more saves and a previously unprecedented 13 consecutive seasons from 1983 to 1995 and recorded nearly a strikeout per inning throughout his Big League career. He now joins the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2019. Congratulations, Lee.
They are now both teammates with the all-time greats of the game, and we are so happy to welcome them to Cooperstown.
And if I could ask you both to please stand and put on your new team jersey. We're very much looking forward to our induction ceremony in Cooperstown on Sunday, July 21st, 2019, where Harold and Lee will be joined by any electees who emerge from the BBWAA voting this January. Thank you.
JON SHESTAKOFSKY: Now, before we open for questions, each of our electees will share some opening remarks, and we'll start first with Harold.
HAROLD BAINES: What? Lee Smith told me to keep this real short. And I'm very honored. I'm very humbled, and I'd like to thank the election committee for voting me worthy of being a Hall of Famer.
LEE SMITH: For myself, most of the people in the room know I've never been short for words, but I gotta say I played for a lot of teams; this has got to be by far my best ballclub. I love this one here. Thank you guys very much, and the committee, everyone had something to do with this. I love it. Thank you.
JON SHESTAKOFSKY: And now we're ready to take questions.
Q. Lee, when you hung up the phone last night, what went through your mind, considering all the years that you waited by the phone for this day?
LEE SMITH: Hey, man, it was tough. I just couldn't -- still actually been talking to so many guys now, like Bert and the rest of the fellas, and it still hadn't sunk into them yet. So it hadn't got there for me yet either, man.
But to get that phone call, waiting and things of that nature, it's a great feeling, man. Like I said, I'm short for words right now, but I love just being able to be up here, because all the guys that I've seen and played with and seen come up here on this podium, it is unbelievable. I'm at a loss for words.
Q. Lee, you in particular, I've covered pretty much your whole career, from the ups and the downs, and why do you think it took so long considering you're the third-leading guy with the most saves?
LEE SMITH: I think Ms. Jane Clark, she answered that question: I played for a lot of ball clubs. But I think the one thing is that I heard a lot about my having played for a lot of different teams and have somewhere to hang my hat, but like I said, this is my favorite hat so far. I'm just glad finally the closers in the game is getting a little more recognition for what they've done in the game.
I got a call from a good friend of mine, Goose Gossage, earlier, man, and he had me almost in tears talking about how long he's been waiting and hoping I would get in. But like I said earlier, it hadn't sunk in yet for me.
Q. Lee, in that vein, the fact is that in a year period, to your point, Javi gets in and you get in, and it's pretty much a slam dunk that Mo's going to get in. That's quite an accolade for all you guys and what you did in different eras in your job.
LEE SMITH: You know, you were talking about Mo, it goes without saying, man, this guy, what he's done to the game, but for me, just thinking about pitching two innings and more of tied games and games that we were actually losing a couple few times.
But I think it's really given a lot of recognition to the relief pitching corps of Major League Baseball now. But you look at now, they're actually giving the setup man a little credit now with the hold and things like that.
I'm thinking so many ball clubs now set their team around their bullpen, because I think what the toughest thing is, if a team goes out and they lose the game in the fourth inning, okay, we lost the game in the fourth inning, but it hits the club a little tougher to lose the game in the eighth or ninth inning.
I'm so glad we got a little more recognition of what's happening in the game where the game is more important to the end of the game, not just like the start or the middle, but that's greatly deserved, I think, for a closer for Major League Baseball.
Q. Harold, what were your expectations for this ballot? Did you think you were going to have a good chance at this? Tell me what your thoughts were.
HAROLD BAINES: I wasn't sitting around thinking about it, to be honest. I'm very honored to be here. It's a very special day. A lot of my friends are here. I'm honored to be part of this great fraternity I'm joining.
But to be honest, I wasn't sitting around waiting for it, to get a call. 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.
Q. The way you guys finished your careers were in very different roles from where you started your career, whether as a starter or as an outfielder transitioning to a reliever and a DH. Talk about the transition you made throughout your career from a day-one Minor Leaguer to what ended up being a Hall of Famer.
HAROLD BAINES: I started out in the outfield. I got hurt pretty early in my career, and I was fortunate, the American League still had a DH, and I still could hit a little bit. And I had a manager that believed in me, Tony La Russa, that gave me a chance.
LEE SMITH: Is that it?
HAROLD BAINES: You're going to be 20 minutes.
LEE SMITH: For myself, back in the day, when I was -- all of my idols playing Major League Baseball were starting pitchers in the Bob Gibsons and the Fergie Jenkinses and the Nolan Ryans, where you wanted to be a starting pitcher because in that era it was somewhat a slap in the face being a relief pitcher, because usually the starter went to the complete game, or if he didn't, he got knocked around and it was like a mop-up role.
And luckily Mr. Billy Williams came to my home and asked me into -- I actually quit playing baseball, and Billy Williams came to my home and talked me into coming back playing. And like I said earlier -- we're on the air, I can't exactly what he said to me, but -- and so, in turn, he said, hey, you haven't done anything in this game yet; go out there and earn your place.
And the rest is history. I love it.
HAROLD BAINES: See what I mean?
Q. Harold, knowing that Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony La Russa --
HAROLD BAINES: Who is that?
Q. Two guys you've come across paths over the years. That they were on the committee and able to share in this with you, what does that mean for this announcement?
HAROLD BAINES: I think you have to ask them. They know what I feel about them. They're very special to me. It probably helped me, to be honest. But our friendship goes further than the game of baseball.
Q. I was privileged to watch your entire careers. It was a great joy and pleasure. Smitty, a lot of people said if you ever threw inside that no one would have gotten a hit off of you. Why did you always stay away from the hitter, and why did you allow that even though you threw 100 miles an hour?
LEE SMITH: They didn't say that to me while I was playing. But that was my comfort zone. I learned that outside corner was my comfort zone. I still think to this day I could close my eyes and hit that outside corner. I just feel comfortable with that. I would sometime come in, you know, up, to make that ball a little bigger, but my outpitch was definitely down and away.
And I felt comfortable making those pitches, and it paid off pretty good for me. But Ozzie and Mike Schmidt and all those guys, I heard them say that, if I would have pitched in, I might have scared, intimidated the hitters a little more. I figured those guys, to be intimidated, they wasn't going to be around very long. I just stayed where I felt comfortable at.
Q. Mr. Smith, if you had to be a starter in the Big Leagues, how would that have affected your nap schedule?
LEE SMITH: Well, I gotta say, it probably would have been better for me because I probably would have got three days in (laughter). But I had this thing, I had a knack that I could relax a little bit before the game. I didn't want to say that in front of Mr. Joe Torre because I was with him quite a bit.
And Joe, he never gave me any trouble, but when the game was on the line, he knew he could come to me. When he made that statement about me and Mariano, other than this moment right here, that was probably one of my proud moments in baseball, with him giving me that compliment. I would say thank you right here.
Q. What recollections do you guys have of playing together in 1994 with the Orioles, and is it crazy that here you are now going into the Hall of Fame together?
HAROLD BAINES: Watching Lee take a nap. (Laughter). No. Baltimore is home for me. So it was a very special moment to, I think, any player that can play in his hometown and enjoy that. I was there for seven years and enjoyed every minute of it.
LEE SMITH: For myself, I really enjoyed playing there. It was like one of those things every day you would come out of the house and someone wanted to see if they could get tickets to the game. That's a good feeling as a player.
Every day someone is trying -- you've got a sell-out crowd for the rest of the season, and someone is trying to get to the ball park. That let you know what product that organization was putting on the field that year.
And for myself it really hurt what happened at the end of the season because that was I though probably one of my best years I was having that year in Baltimore.
But I tell you what, I really loved playing there. I wish I could have played there longer. And a couple other places that I went. But just being able to compete in the Major Leagues and see what these guys have to go through as a hitter, it's tough. I found at an early age I couldn't hit. Thank God I had a good arm so I could be up here on this podium.
Q. Did either of you own the other when you played against each other?
HAROLD BAINES: I didn't face him that much. We were teammates. I really didn't face him that much. As a hitter, a pitcher usually knows if you hit them pretty well. So Lee could probably answer that question.
LEE SMITH: We didn't do that interleague thing-- we didn't see each other a lot. When they did Crosstown Classic, most of the guys didn't play or the guys didn't pitch. So I didn't get to see Harold a lot. He was probably hitting while I was asleep. Good thing. (Laughter).
Q. I know today is very meaningful to you. Wonder if there's someone in your life who this day is as meaningful or more meaningful -- maybe better way to ask it, who is proudest of you today in your lives?
HAROLD BAINES: Probably my family. My wife and my four kids. My mother.
My father's not here. He was my hero. That's the only thing I miss, is him not being here.
LEE SMITH: Like the man said, it's got to be your family. And I don't want Harold to get me bawling up here, too. But my sister, Bobbie Jean. She was like my pitching coach, my mom, dad, everything, but she was my older sister.
And to this day, of anyone on the face of this earth I wish could be here for this moment it would be her. You can't have more than someone in your corner, when you go out there and feel comfortable when you go out there try to and try to do your job, if you have somebody in your corner, no matter what. Even if I made a wrong decision as a pitcher, didn't save the game, there was always someone there behind you, and the family in general, that's -- you can't go any better than that.
Q. Pitching coach?
LEE SMITH: My pitching coach was a Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins. If I had to pick a guy that really helped me get over that threshold being a closer -- we had a guy not many people don't remember, a guy by the name of Fred Martin. And he actually taught Bruce Sutter, the split finger. He saw these hands, thought I could throw a split finger. I learned the slider from Fergie. That really helped me out. But he was one of the guys that really took care of me.
Q. Harold, usually 3,000 hits are a benchmark for a Hall of Famer. You came very close in your career, but you didn't get there. Do you think if you had made 3,000 hits, you would be in the Hall of Fame long before now?
HAROLD BAINES: I don't know. It's hard to -- every time I would hear they don't recognize DH, so it might have still been hard to get in. I'm very thankful for today that I did get in.
Q. Both you guys were always gentlemen, always modest about great things that you accomplished. Do you think that worked against you in this process, the idea that you weren't out there blowing your own horns; you were just waiting to be recognized in the proper way?
HAROLD BAINES: I think that's the way I was raised, just go do the job. You're not there for -- you're there for your teammates, for your coaches. You're not there for the accolades. If that comes later, fine. But you're there to be a team.
LEE SMITH: I think me and Harold somewhat fall in the same boat. For the fact of talking about the designated hitter as to the closers. It was sort of the same thought, the guy only pitched one inning, the guy only hits -- but I'll tell you what, those guys right there, they're the mainstay of the ballclub, being in the middle of that lineup, and that's a tough thing.
And I think we both sort of was slanted in the sense of looking at the closer got one inning, the designated hitter just being a hitter, but those guys right there, they have a tough job to do.
Q. Any thoughts on Edgar Martinez's candidacy and Lee, Mariano Rivera, two different cases, one in his last year of eligibility and one that is the first?
HAROLD BAINES: Both are well deserved. I hope he gets in. I think he had 70 percent last year. Guys that usually get that high usually get in the next year. I hope he gets in, both of them.
LEE SMITH: I don't think Mo is going to have a problem (laughter). The only problem he might have is Cooperstown (indiscernible). That's the only problem right now. But you've got -- a lot of people don't realize he was like 27, 28 when he came to the Big Leagues.
When he got there, he was John Wetteland. So you just think about what he had to overcome. And the poor fellow only had one pitch. Feel sorry for him, huh? He was unbelievable. And I don't -- the way things go now, I don't think anybody's going to touch that record. Just the things that he's accomplished in probably one of the toughest cities I think to play, manage, whatever, in New York, and he did it there on the main stage. He was the best.
Q. What's your recollection of Hoffman? And I seem to remember you were there when he tied and passed your record at Petco. Am I correct in that?
LEE SMITH: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I was there with Javi and actually I had a choice to -- they called me and asked if I could be there for him possibly to break my record.
And I had a choice of San Diego, California, or Shreveport, Louisiana. A lot of thought into that. But when I got there, I actually got there -- it was stay, and, hey, man, thank you, I get to stay in San Diego a couple more days.
But you just take that, what he did with a changeup. And San Diego, tough place to pitch. And not taking anything away from Mariano, for what he'd done, but you've got to pitch with the San Diego Padres, where they're getting like 85, 87 wins a year, this man getting 50 saves, throwing outpitches as a changeup, ballpark, unbelievable what he'd done. Just one of those things he had a heart to do that. And he learned how to pitch in the game, when he didn't throw 95 anymore.
Q. You had a history with the Padres. What do you remember about the home run Garvey -- what do you remember about the home run Garvey hit off of you in the playoffs?
LEE SMITH: That was probably the only hit he got off me. He didn't have to do it then. I actually kept the ball, like, down and away and I got that ball up. And not taking anything away from Steve Garvey, he hit to right center. It really hurts a little bit, because I think that's the highlight of the Padres.
But every time I go to San Diego they would have me walking up to the mound with Steve Garvey walking around with his finger up. I'm trying to get that memory out of my mind. You didn't have to bring it up. (Laughter).
But you know what, man, I actually was like my third year in the Big Leagues. All the guys on the team had injuries. I'm not going to make any excuses, but I would never have taken that chance to be out there. You don't know if you get an opportunity to do it again. With the Chicago Cubs I'm like I'm going to lay it all on the line. But Steve Garvey was one of the best at what he did.
Q. Since hopefully you'll both go in in Chicago uniforms, could you talk about the city of Chicago, what it means to both of you?
HAROLD BAINES: It means a lot to me. They treat me like I'm a Chicagoan. I'm not. But they've always treated me with a lot of love. Even after I stopped playing, they've always respected the way I played the game.
LEE SMITH: It's home for me other than Louisiana, if I have a choice, if it's somewhere I want to be, it definitely would be Chicago. And the fans there have always, always pulled for me, no matter what ups and downs the organization or the team are going through, the Cub fans always take some fond and great memories. Any chance I get to go back to that ballpark, it's unbelievable. I still keep in touch with all of my ground crew buddies, Rick Fughes, all those guys, I keep in touch with those guys there because they're really not just friends; they're my family.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports