He Shows Why Trade Was Big Deal : Athletics: Baines had something to prove when the Rangers gave up on him. La Russa had faith and it’s paying off.


Harold Baines was a teen-ager when Tony La Russa met him in the summer of 1978, a shy player with a wealth of promise and a decent half-season of Class-A ball behind him.

Others may have wondered whether Baines merited being the nation’s top pick in the 1977 draft, but La Russa was perceptive enough to realize that Baines’ quiet manner masked a remarkable poise that enabled him to thrive under pressure. It was a rare and valuable trait, one that La Russa helped nurture as Baines’ manager at double-A Knoxville in 1978 and later in the Chicago White Sox organization.

“It’s a real ability. I was able to see it when he was a baby, 18, 19 years old,” La Russa said. “Late in a game, some guys change. They’re not swinging as freely and maybe they’re not as aggressive. Harold has his best swings late in the game.”


Late in a solid and fruitful career, Baines has been reunited with La Russa. And at 31, Baines is again showing the presence that La Russa saw from the beginning, this time using it to spark the Oakland Athletics’ drive to their third consecutive World Series appearance.

Barely a year after the White Sox dealt him to Texas, Baines was traded to the A’s on Aug. 29 for pitchers Joe Bitker and Scott Chiamparino. The Rangers needed pitching more than they needed a designated hitter who batted .257 in August and seemed to be fading; the A’s needed a left-handed hitter for balance and for the right-handed pitchers Toronto or Boston would throw at them in the playoffs. Baines said he needed a chance to prove he could still produce, and he has proved it emphatically.

Baines hit .266 for the A’s in 32 games, driving in 21 runs in 94 at-bats--a pace that would project to 120 RBIs over a full season. He hit .357 in Oakland’s American League playoff sweep of the Red Sox and had three RBIs in Game 2, in addition to making other subtle contributions during the series that were equally crucial.

Baines’ sacrifice in Game 1--his first in six years--moved Jose Canseco into position to score the tiebreaking run in Oakland’s eventual 9-1 victory. His steal of second base in Game 3--his first in four years--put him in position to score the go-ahead run in Oakland’s 4-1 victory.

“When I left Texas, I had a down feeling that they thought I couldn’t hit anymore. I came here wanting to play a part,” Baines said. “I came here to prove a point. Hopefully, I’ve shown people I can still play the game of baseball.

“This is a big deal for me. Texas wrote me off--not in so many words, but that’s the feeling I got when I was there. I never doubted my ability, but I guess they thought I wasn’t using it as much as they thought I should.”


La Russa thought Baines could still hit, but he needed to be sure. Baines quickly demonstrated that his skills hadn’t eroded.

“All I had to do when he came over was see him swing, and I knew there was life in his bat,” La Russa said. “I really believe he’s got several years of productivity left.”

Producing a sacrifice and a stolen base are hardly his trademarks, but Baines didn’t think they merited special praise. “I don’t consider that a steal because it was on the back end of a double steal (with Canseco) and the throw went to third,” said Baines, who hit .125 in his only previous postseason experience, the White Sox’s four-game loss to Baltimore in a best-of-five AL championship series in 1983.

“It’s just fundamental baseball, and you just hope you get the job done. You don’t need to analyze it. He (La Russa) stayed ahead of the game pretty much, and the bottom line is that if he tells you to do it, you hopefully get it done. I really respect Tony. He knew my abilities, what I can do . . .

“Everyone tries to do the fundamentals, but we just execute more than the other teams. We’ve got pitching and defense and we’ve got long-ball hitters, but defense is big.”

Because the opportunity to play for the A’s was so unexpected, Baines is enjoying himself more this season than he did with Chicago in the 1983 AL playoffs.


“I assumed I’d be in Texas three years (until the expiration of his contract); I never thought it would work out any other way, really,” he said. “Usually, this time of year I’m home watching it and I got tired of watching it on TV. I’ve been missing a lot.”