LAS VEGAS -- Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa calls the arguments against the selection of Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame "weak-a-- superficial bulls---."
La Russa was one of the 16 members of the Today's Game committee that elected Baines and Lee Smith on Sunday. Baines topped out at 6.1 percent during his five years on the BBWAA ballot, and his highest finish in MVP voting was ninth place in 1985, making him one of the most stunning -- and controversial -- Hall of Fame selections in years.
La Russa was Baines' manager with the White Sox from 1980 to 1986, and then again in Oakland in 1991 and 1992. Longtime White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was also a committee member, as were former teammate Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick, Baines' general manager in Baltimore. Even Baines acknowledged that having La Russa and Reinsdorf on the committee "probably helped me."
During a contentious back-and-forth with sports-talk host Christopher Russo on MLB Network, La Russa defended Baines.
"Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer and it's a shame that he's being looked at as not right," La Russa said. "In the '80s and '90s, almost all of the stats that people trust, he was in the top five -- for 20 years. He drove in 100 runs late in his career and he drove them in early. Game-winning RBIs, he's up there with the best of them. He had a very distinguished career."
At one point Russo brought up Al Oliver, who had similar career statistics to Baines (and a higher career WAR, 43.7 to 38.7).
"Al Oliver is not better than he is, no disrespect to Al Oliver," La Russa responded. "I used to watch you because I thought you knew the game. I'm going to start calling you clueless."
La Russa also defended the potential conflict of interest of the makeup of the committee, saying, "Do you think the people who know him better than the average expert, fan or even other baseball executives, have actually been teammates with him ... when they speak with more knowledge about the type of player he was, I think that speaks more to his credit, not less."
La Russa, 74, last managed in the majors in 2011, retiring after the Cardinals won the World Series. He has been critical about some of the advancements in sabermetrics in the past and how players are evaluated, even though he was managing the A's in the late '80s and early '90s, when the team was at the forefront of statistical analysis.
When hired as the chief baseball officer of the Diamondbacks in 2014, he said, "You help prepare using the analytics, but you don't let them exaggerate. In fact, the teams that do are making a big mistake."
Last season, La Russa was a special assistant to Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski.