ST. MICHAELS — He could very well be the most famous modern-day person to come from St. Michaels, and many agree he is certainly among the most modest.
“You could be in a room with a hundred people and Harold, and you’d never know he’s a baseball player,” Dick Steen said, who is a friend of Harold Baines. “He truly is a humble hero.”
Retired professional Major League Baseball player Harold Baines was surprised Tuesday evening, Aug. 6, with gifts, plaques and the unveiling of a big street sign declaring the renaming of a well-traveled avenue in town “Harold Baines Way.”
The presentation was given outside on a stage set up near the Bay Hundred Community Pool to celebrate National Night Out in St. Michaels.
Tuesday evening’s ceremony began with comments by Howard, presentations by Talbot County Council President Corey Pack, and presentations by Commissioners of St. Michaels President Bill Boos, assisted by other town commissioners.
“He’s always been involved in St. Michaels and trying to help out,” Steen said. “I don’t know how many of you know it, but this pool over here is built in the ground that Harold and Marla donated to the community center.”
Boos said he looked up baseball statistics in anticipation, and while it’s hard to be totally accurate, he came to the conclusion that about 20,000 people had stepped onto a field as a major league baseball player.
Of those, only 236 have been named to the Hall of Fame since it began in 1939, he said.
“I was struck by that, how good you have to be to be in that and be with that group,” Boos said.
“Harold you were exceptional on the field but I know you consider your greatest accomplishments as a family man, a neighbor and a member of this community,” Boos said.
“We’re proud of you as a player but we are more proud of you as a man who does and means so much for all of us.”
Boos read a proclamation congratulating Baines on his career and philanthropy while fellow commissioner Michael Bibb unveiled a plaque with Baines’ image.
“The town of St. Michaels wishes to further honor him by declaring Seymour Avenue, the road leading to the Harold Baines Field at St. Michaels High School, to be also known as ‘Harold Baines Way’,” Boos read, as Bibb removed a curtain to reveal the new street sign.
Baines became emotional when he addressed the crowd, saying that his Hall of Fame induction would never have happened without his upbringing in the St. Michaels community.
“When I was a child, we didn’t have much,” he said. “There were times I needed shoes. I needed a glove.”
“This community carried me,” he said, with his wife Marla joining him. “So, it’s not about me. It’s about this wonderful lady here who helped me. My wonderful family. And this community that took care of me as a child. As a teenager.”
Along with the Baines family donation of land to build the community pool, the family has been a major contributor to the St. Michaels Family YMCA.
For many years, Baines sponsored a golf tournament to earn money for scholarships for high schoolers entering college or trade school after graduation.
While the tournament is no longer being held, Steen said that scholarships are still being awarded to deserving Mid-Shore high school seniors from the fund.
Baines also helps raise money in the community by signing autographed pictures for baseball fans during Christmas in St. Michaels.
He had a steady stream of well-wishers on Tuesday evening during National Night Out.
Holding court under a tent, a line of adults and children alike wished him well, sought his advice and got his signature on photos and postcards.
“This is a great community,” Baines told the crowd. “Keep doing what you are doing for the next generation. That’s what it’s all about.”
Baines grew up in St. Michaels, and for him, like a lot of Eastern Shore kids, baseball was a way of life.
He played backyard baseball, then for Little League and for St. Michaels High School. When he graduated in 1977, Baines batted .532 as a senior and was named high school All-American.
A month later he was chosen as a first amateur draft pick for the Chicago White Sox.
White Sox owner Bill Veeck had spotted him years before when he played Little League at the age of 12, according to Will Howard.
Baines’ career spanned 22 seasons between 1980 and 2001, playing for the White Sox, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.
He batted and threw left-handed, played right field and designated hitter positions.
When he retired, he ranked seventh in American League history with 2,830 games played, tenth with 1,628 runs batted in and is tied for seventh place in grand slam home runs.
Other career statistics include 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. Baines served from 2004 to 2015 as a coach for the White Sox.
He is a six-time All-Star player; a World Series Champion (2005) as a White Sox coach; a recipient of the Silver Slugger Award (1989); and a member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame. His number with the Chicago White Sox, 3, was retired in 1989.
Last month on July 21 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in front of an estimated crowd of about 50,000 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York.
Back in St. Michaels, more than 100 people watched the induction ceremony live on a big screen in the St. Michaels High School auditorium.
In high school Baines met his wife, Marla Henry Baines.
And even though he was going to be spending lots of time traveling around the United States and beyond, the two made the decision to keep their home and raise their family in St. Michaels.
In that sense, Harold Baines never left home.