Sox to honor Baines with statue
Bronze sculpture to complement legend's retired No. 3
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Harold Baines already has viewed his bronze likeness that will be unveiled this season by the White Sox as the franchise's seventh great to be immortalized through a life-sized sculpture at U.S. Cellular Field.
The low-key and humble White Sox legend liked what he saw.
"It's surreal," said Baines on Sunday morning, shortly after the team announced his day of honor would be Sunday, July 20, prior to a home contest against the Royals. "It looks just like [how] I was 20 years ago.
"Yes, it's better because I had hair and a beard. I think it will be just as special for my family as for me, just because we share this as a whole, not just as me personally. All the friends I made through baseball helped this happen, too, because it kept me on an even keel."
Baines joins club founder Charles A. Comiskey and Cuban legend Minnie Minoso (2004), Carlton Fisk (2005), the double-play duo of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox (2006) and White Sox pitching star Bill Pierce, who was honored last season. The statues are located on the concourse near center field.
Drafted by the White Sox in 1977, Baines made his Major League debut in 1980 and knocked out 384 home runs and picked up 1,628 RBIs over the next 22 seasons. Of those career totals, 221 home runs and 981 RBIs came as a member of the White Sox.
The talented outfielder and one of the game's most prolific designated hitters also served as a strong influence on teammates such as current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Baines and Guillen have been close friends for more than two decades, despite their vastly different personalities, with Baines beginning his fifth season on Guillen's coaching staff and third as first-base coach.
"We're two different types of people," said Guillen of the bond built with Baines. "It's hard for someone like me to have a best friend like Harold Baines because we're so opposite. I think maybe that's the reason.
"He doesn't like to talk, I talk. He doesn't like to drink, I drink. He doesn't go out, I go out. It's way opposite, but as I always said, just be yourself.
"Even when we were playing, just play your game the way you should be playing," Guillen added. "He was a leader, a quiet leader. Every day was the same for him. A home run with the bases loaded, a strikeout with the bases loaded, he never changed. I was too high or too down. There's not too many people in this game who played the way he did."
Along with the impressive long ball and run production totals, Baines compiled 2,866 hits during a career that spanned five teams and included a .324 average over 102 total postseason at-bats. Baines became eligible for Hall of Fame consideration on the 2007 ballot and once again will be a candidate in 2009.
Getting this sort of personal recognition, though, is as important an honor as the Hall of Fame in Baines' mind.
"Whenever your organization represents you with something like they're having, it's comparable to the Hall of Fame, maybe more special than that," Baines said. "I'm very honored. I'm very humbled.
"Mostly, it's very gratifying, but unexpected. I didn't play this game for statues, but I'm very honored by the way they appreciated the way I played the game for the organization. It's very meaningful, but I never look at materialistic things.
"To be honored with the guys already out there is very special," Baines added. "It will be a very special day."
Guillen walked into the White Sox clubhouse on Sunday to find Baines talking to a group of media about said honor. After congratulating his friend, he joked about how Baines' statue should have been expected since he's the "chairman's son."
All jesting aside, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf previously has spoken of Baines as one of his favorite players and people, not to mention one of the greatest clutch hitters he ever watched in action. Baines' No. 3 jersey was retired in 1989, making Baines the only active White Sox player to receive such an honor.
"Harold Baines was the automatic choice for this year's honor," said Reinsdorf of the honor in Sunday's team press release. "Harold has consistently personified class and professionalism in his approach to the game and his Hall of Fame-caliber skills were wrapped in a very humble, friendly personality. A favorite of White Sox fans when he played, Harold remains popular to this day."
"To me it's No. 1," added Guillen, pointing out how Baines' name should be mentioned at the top of the list of White Sox legends. "The White Sox have had great players in the past, they've had great performers. But when you talk about Harold Baines in this organization, you talk about a high-class guy and a guy people look up to and a lot of respect."
Of course, Baines would never be confused for someone who would be considered verbose. So, Guillen put an accurate description on what he expected from Baines' speech after the unveiling.
"It's going to be a quick one. That's the way he is," said Guillen with a smile. "That's the way he grew up and that's the way he's always going to be. He's real quiet, but I guarantee you he's so honored and so thrilled for that.
"The one thing that's good when they do this kind of stuff and you're still alive and you can still enjoy it. It's something we're looking forward to and besides his family, there's nobody more excited than myself."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.