The baseball world is very bored right now, and so is in high dudgeon over the election to the Hall of Fame of Lee Smith (fine, whatever) and Harold Baines. Harold Baines! It’s alternately inexplicable (Harold Baines was good for a long time, but c’mon, he’s no Ryan Klesko) and completely explicable (the 16-person Today’s Game Era Committee is notoriously bad at this, not only voting for their buddies but convincing each other to vote for their buddies). Obviously some sort of changes to the process are needed. Paul Konerko has an answer.
Konerko is half-joking, but the more I think about this, the more I like it. I subscribe to the notion that the Hall of Fame should honor those players without whom you can’t tell the story of baseball, and while that definition definitely doesn’t include Harold Baines, there really is a ton of overlap between that list and the list of 20-year guys.
Here’s the list of MLBers with the most service time. Many are already in the Hall of Fame on their own merits, and several others deserve to be, so this would not be a radical upheaval. At the very least, our new Paul Konerko Hall of Fame (which ironically does not include Paul Konerko, with 18 seasons played) would consist of guys who were good enough to hang on into their late 30s and 40s, no mean accomplishment considering they would have been pricer than call-ups on rookie deals—thus requiring them to significantly outplay replacement level—and were still good enough to earn new contracts every single winter.
Some of these new Hall of Famers would be very controversial. Others would not. Julio Franco: In, and who would complain? Bartolo Colon: In, so let’s start the party. LaTroy Hawkins? I’ll allow it. Let’s Induct Some Guys. If Harold Baines has to be in so we can ensure Carlos Beltran gets in too, so be it.
Adrian Beltre, retiring after 21 seasons, would not need to wait to find out he’s in. CC Sabathia, going year to year with the Yankees, would only have to play one more season after next to guarantee entry. He’d go in on opening day of 2020 alongside Albert Pujols.
I’m not sure if we can count NPB seasons here, because Ichiro’s MLB career appears to have stalled at 18. He’ll get in the normal way, but I’ll ask Konerko for some clarity next time I see him.
Here you’re probably asking, doesn’t this idea fail if it lets in those journeyman relievers, usually junkballing righties, who hang around and bounce around like 10 different teams? To that I say: Jamey Wright and David Weathers each only had 19 years of service. The system works.
Okay, so this won’t and shouldn’t replace the Hall of Fame. But the Paul Konerko Hall Of Very Good For Very Long would honor those guys who were just always There, and baseball was more fun for having them. That’s worth something.