This past November the Chicago White Sox announced that Harold Baines will make the move from First Base Coach to the newly created position of Assistant Hitting Coach where he will work alongside regular hitting coach Jeff Manto. Chicago’s south side team has been a place that the former member of the Smokies organization can call home since the beginning of his baseball career.
Baines was the number the #1 pick of the White Sox in 1977 . He moved up the minor league ranks quickly including one season with the Smokies organization with the Knoxville Sox in 1978 where he hit .275 with 13 Home Runs and 72 RBI in 137 games.
The first half of the 1978 season was managed by eventual Hall of Famer and 33 year-old Tony La Russa. It was one of the most successful seasons in Smokies history as the club would defeat the Savannah Braves 2-1 in the Southern League Championship series. The success on the field helped Knoxville bring in 81,000 fans to Bill Meyer Stadium, the largest total since 1962.
Baines would play one more season in the minors for Class-AAA Iowa before earning the call up to the White Sox. The outfielder was immediately placed into the starting lineup where he would spend 14 seasons (three different stints) with the South-Siders.
Baines held the club record for career home runs (221) from 1987 until 1990, which continues to be the club record for left-handed hitters. He currently ranks fourth on the team’s all-time RBI list with 981 and is fourth on the White Sox all-time extra-base hits list with 585.
By the end of his Major League career in 2001 the six time All-Star, racked up 384 Home Runs, a lifetime Batting Average of .289 and 1,628 RBI, the most for any player eligible player not currently in the Hall of Fame.
Baines played 22 seasons in the big leagues with five different teams (White Sox, Orioles, A’s, Rangers, and Indians). The number 3 jersey Baines wore with the White Sox would be retired in 1989, making the former number one overall pick one of nine Chicago players to have their jersey retired.
After four years away from Major League Baseball, Baines began his coaching career with the White Sox when he was named Bench Coach by then Manager Ozzie Guillen, earning a World Series ring in 2005. When Robin Ventura took over as manager last season Baines was kept on as First Base Coach.
“I think it kind of evolved a little last year with what Harold was doing,” manager Robin Ventura said to ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla of Baines’ new role. ”It’s one of those things where it’s more of his passion. I feel lucky to have him and what he has been able to be with the coaching staff. The way the game is going, a lot of different teams are doing it.”
Baines’ move to Assistant Hitting Coach should help improve a White-Sox team that ranked last in the AL in Doubles and 8th in team Batting Average that saw the team finish three games behind the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central title.
Baines has been dedicated to the White since the team drafted him out St. Michael’s High School in Maryland in 1977. The former outfielder brought Tennessee and Chicago a championship during his career, something current Smokies hope they can begin to replicate in 2013.
Jay Lifford is a Broadcast & Media Intern. Follow him on Twitter @JayLifford