Edmonton - December 13, 2011 - When Montreal Expos legend Tim Raines made his first appearance on the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, back in 2008, there was a wide range of opinions on if he was a legitimate candidate for enshrinement. Columnists and fans started to write articles and put together all sorts of numbers that revealed Raines as a worthy candidate. While he had zero chance of making it in on his first attempt, we are now looking at his name on the ballot for a fifth consecutive year. A player needs 75% of the vote to get the "Call to the Hall" and in the four previous years, Tim has fallen well short:
2008 - 24.3 % (132 votes and 8th on the ballot)
2009 - 22.6 % (122 votes and 8th on the ballot)
2010 - 30.4 % (164 votes and 8th on the ballot)
2011 - 37.5 % (218 votes and 7th on the ballot)
After somehow going down in votes, during his second year on the ballot, Raines has started to gain support but it has made next to no difference in where he sits at the end day. While one could always question who gets in opposed to who doesn't, there is no logical explanation that would have Raines as low as he has been, once voting has closed over the past four years. There have not been six or seven players on each ballot who have had better careers then him. Part of it, has to do with the politics involved in the voting process. For whatever reason, many voters want to make players wait before they are finally elected and while I don't agree with it, the system is what it is. That being said, many writers have decided to punish Raines for a mistake he made when he was very young and for playing the best years of his career in Montreal. With voting for the 2012 Hall of Fame just around the corner, I wanted to take the time to look at Tim Raines and examine the numbers that he put up during his 23 year playing career. Let’s start with who is on the 2012 Baseball Hall of Ballot.
This 2012 Hall of Fame Ballot link, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, shows all eligible players with their career totals and where they ended up on last year’s ballot. None of the newcomers have a legitimate shot of ever making it to Cooperstown, which should make it easier for the returning players this year. If I had a vote, I would punch the following names:
Raines, Larkin, Trammell, Morris and Smith
In my mind, the group of Bagwell, McGriff, Murphy, Walker and Martinez are on the bubble and can go either way. If you let in one of those guys, it's hard not to let in the others...with the lone exception being Martinez. Some would say the BBWA have already done so by letting in the likes of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson in recent years but that is an argument for another day.
With the newcomers being a weak class, Raines should have more attention drawn towards him and what he accomplished during his illustrious career. With so many people now taking traditional numbers, that were once looked upon as the "be all and end all" of baseball statistics and turning them into other relevant data, many old school writers have decided to look the other way at these "different numbers" and it has really hurt Raines and his chances to gain new voters. In their minds, all that matters are your "traditional" baseball statistics and bench marks. With that in mind, I want to focus on those "traditional" statistics and show how Tim Raines is still a Hall of Famer.
When you compare players that play similar positions, many do not take into account what type of player each one was. The vast majority think long ball and driving in runs when it comes to outfielders and in actuality that should not be the case. Where a player plays defence shouldn't determine the type of statistics that are expected from them when they are at bat. If you view a player like Tim Raines in this manner, it belittles the player he was and the effect he had on his teams and their abilities to score runs. Through the majority of his career and definitely during his best years in Montreal and Chicago, Tim was usually used as a leadoff hitter. The job of a leadoff man is different than that of a number three hitter or someone hitting cleanup. That guy at the top of the order needs to be a table setter and someone who can keep opposing teams on edge, by being a distraction.
There are three things all great leadoff men are able to do:
Get on base
Not only did Raines do all of these things well but he excelled at each one. While the 1987 All-Star MVP, fell short of reaching the magical 3,000 hit mark, he still managed to reach base at an alarming rate as the statistics point out.
Hits: 2,605 (T-76th all time) Raines was not a singles hitter like a Vince Coleman nor did he hit as many long balls as a Rickey Henderson did but what he did do was hit. Tim was a line drive gap hitter and would routinely be among the league leaders in doubles and triples while adding 10-18 homers a year. He could do it all at the plate and was the most feared hitter in the Expos lineup when the game was on the line.
Walks: 1,330 (35th all time) As I had mentioned earlier, the job of a leadoff hitter is to see pitches for the rest of the lineup and find a way to get on base. When it comes to getting on base via the walk and working a count, only Rickey Henderson did it better then Tim Raines, from the top of the order. Raines managed to end his career with .385 OBP which was only percentage points behind Tony Gwynn and his .388 mark and trailed only Henderson (.401) among leadoff hitters of the modern era.
When you add up his hits, walks and times hit by pitch, Tim reached base 3,977 times over his career. Some current Hall of Fame members that were similar players to Raines reached base less then Rock, despite having over 3.00 hits in their career. Gwynn reached base 3,955 while Lou Brock did it 3,833 times. Gwynn is regarded as one of the best, if not best, contact hitters of his era and Brock is someone many consider to be the best leadoff hitter next to Rickey Henderson this game has ever seen. Unfortunately for them, the stats show that Raines was a superior top of the lineup guy then Brock but I will delve into that later on in this piece.
Raines reached base almost 4,000 times yet certain writers continue to focus on the fact that he doesn’t have 3,000 hits. He could have had more hits if he wasn’t as selective at the plate but would that have been the best thing for his teams? Considering his spot in the batting order, I would have to say no. Whenever someone argues this point with me, I always ask the same question:
How are 3,000 hits and 977 walks + HBP any different than having 2,605 hits, 1,330 walks and 42 HBP?
They both add up to 3,977 times on base and the main function of the guy at the top of the order, is to get on base and score runs.
Runs scored: 1571 (51st all time) There are 70 players in baseball history that have scored 1500 runs or more. Fifty-eight of those players are currently in or eligible to be in the Hall of Fame and only eight of those players are not in. Those players are:
Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Jimmy Ryan, George Van Haltren, Bill Dahlen, Tim Raines, Tom Brown and Jeff Bagwell
Ryan, Van Haltren, Dahlen and Brown all played during the late 1800's and early 1900's while Rose and Palmeiro are both well known cases to those that follow the game. Which leaves Raines with the most runs scored that is currently eligible to be in the Cooperstown but remains on the outside looking in.
Tim was never considered a great defensive player but his work in the outfield has always gone unnoticed. Raines didn't have a great throwing arm but that wasn't terribly surprising when you consider that the Expos converted him from a second baseman to an outfielder, in their minor league system. Like most second baggers, his arm wasn’t very strong but his legs gave him a huge advantage in the outfield. His word class speed allowed him to track down balls that most outfielders could only dream of reaching. Raines made only fifty-four errors during his career as an outfielder, which works out to a fielding percentage of .987. Don't get me wrong, he will never be confused with the Ken Griffey's of the world but he was a much better with his glove, then he has ever been given credit for.
While I have taken all this time to point out what type of player Tim Raines was, I have yet to mention what set him apart from the almost every player to ever play this game...stealing bases. There is no doubt that Rickey Henderson was the best base stealer the game of baseball has ever seen but one could very easily argue that Raines was second on that list.
The native of Sanford, Florida was one of those rare players that had a skill that put him in very special company, in this great games history. His career total of 808 stolen bases ranks fifth all-time but in all actuality, he is fourth. While Billy Hamilton’s total of 914 is higher, he played in an era when a runner was credited with a stolen base if they’d take an extra base on a hit. In other words, if a runner would go first to third on a single he would be credited with a steal. That rule was changed in 1898 and Hamilton was done playing after the 1901 season. That leaves only four players in the history of the game that have stolen 800 or more bases during their career:
1. Rickey Henderson 1,406
2. Lou Brock 938
3. Ty Cobb 897
4. Tim Raines 808
An impressive achievement on its own merit but when you consider each players success rates over their careers, you realize how good Raines was at stealing a bag. I have listed the success rate of all four men, along with the amount of times they were thrown out stealing on the base paths during their career:
1. Rickey Henderson 80.8% (CS - 335)
2. Lou Brock 75.3% (CS - 307)
3. Ty Cobb 80.8% (CS - 212)*
4. Tim Raines 84.7% (CS - 146)
*Cobb’s caught stealing totals are not complete for every year he played so the actual total would be higher.
As you can clearly see, Raines was by far and away the most successful of the bunch when it came to not getting nabbed on the bases. In fact, Tim's mark of 84.7% is the best in major league history for players that have attempted to steal 400 or more bases during their career.
From the 1981 to 1987 Raines stole a minimum of seventy bases a season and is the only player in Major League history to steal that many bases in six consecutive seasons. Only Rickey Henderson has had more seventy plus stolen base seasons during his career and he had a total of seven. The biggest difference in Tim’s totals compared to the likes of Henderson, Brock and Vince Coleman, was Raines never went over the century mark during any season in his career. If not for the strike during the 1981 season, Raines would likely have done it as a rookie while possibly breaking Lou Brock's mark but that wasn't meant to be. As if almost on cue, Henderson would break that very mark the following season and the rest is history. One also needs to consider, that Rock was a player who stole bases when it meant something to the team. He would rarely, if ever, try to steal a base to just pad his stats. If a game was out of hand, either way, he wouldn't just run for the sake of running. There was no need to show up the opposition and that wasn't the type of player Raines was.
There is no debating that Rickey was the better player and leadoff hitter but the two of them revolutionized the role of the leadoff man. During Tim's prime years in Montreal he was the better all round hitter and arguably player but Henderson was the one who broke the steals record and got all the press. While Rickey did his thing in Oakland and New York, Raines did his in Montreal with little to no fanfare. One would think being the second best leadoff hitter of all time, would be enough to get a player into the Hall of Fame. That being said, there are those who would debate that Raines was second best and that brings us to the comparison with the St.Louis Cardinal great, Lou Brock.
The Cardinals superstar had a tremendous career and in my mind, is a deserving member of the baseball Hall of Fame. Having said that if you were to compare his totals to those of Tim Raines, the former National League batting champion, has the better numbers.
Brock - 11,235, Raines - 10,359
Brock - .293, Raines - .294
On Base Percentage:
Brock - .343, Raines - .385
Brock - .410, Raines - .425
Brock - 1,610, Raines - 1,571
Brock - 3,833, Raines - 3,977
Brock - 3,023, Raines - 2,605
Brock - 761 Raines - 1,330
Brock - 1,730, Raines - 966
Extra Base Hits:
Brock - 776, Raines - 713
Brock - 900, Raines - 980
Brock - 938, Raines - 808
Brock - 307, Raines - 146
Brock - 196, Raines - 54
Brock - .959, Raines - .987
After looking over those numbers, it demonstrates the two players had very similar careers but Raines went about it in a much more efficient manner. Brock had over 400 more hits then Raines but the former Chicago White Sox had nearly 600 more walks, then Cardinal great. Lou stole 130 more bases then Tim but was thrown out attempting to steal 161 more times than Raines. Which was more times than Rock was thrown out during his entire career. Add to that, the massive difference in strikeout totals and you tell me who was the better leadoff hitter was. Remember the job of a leadoff man and looking at just the plain numbers, there isn't a doubt who had the better career. That’s without even mentioning their difference in numbers when it come to defence. Brock made almost four times as many errors as Raines while playing the same position but obviously not nearly as well.
Brock does have World Series success on his resume, which Raines does not but Lou was part of some great Cardinal teams. Tim managed to reach the playoffs only twice during his time with the Expos and White Sox and performed pretty well. In the 1993 ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, Raines set a then ALCS record for hits in the series, with twelve and reached base seventeen times in the six game series. Chicago didn't get the production they needed from the middle of their order and managed to get Raines home only five times. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays dismissed the White Sox in six. Playoff numbers are a nice addition to career totals, if you had the opportunity to play at that time of year but they alone should not determine if a player get the call to Cooperstown.
Unfortunately for Tim, he does have a big skeleton in his closet that has always been an issue. His well publicized battle with cocaine during the 1982 season, his second full season in majors, was and still remains, an issue for some. Raines formed a severe cocaine habit and his play dropped off dramatically because of it. Instead of allowing it to become an ongoing issue, like many players did during that era, he dealt with it that off season and came back a different person and an even better player. If anything, he should be applauded for facing his problem like a man and not making excuses and trying to hide. Instead, many media members still hold this against him and regularly bring up him “sliding headfirst into bases so he didn't break the cocaine vials in his back pocket” during the 1982 season. The guy beat his problem and for whatever reason, many do not want to let it go.
It is funny how Paul Molitor's drug abuse, during the same time period, never really came up when it was time for Hall of Fame voting for the former Milwaukee Brewer great. Sure seems like a double standard to me and there is no good reason as to why that would be. Raines was never one to be surly with the media, ala Jim Rice, and that's why the apparent grudge that some writers hold towards him is rather perplexing. Ask almost any player that was involved with Rock during his playing days and nearly all of them will say that Tim Raines was one of, if not the best teammate, they ever had. He became a clubhouse leader over the years and was a big part of those great New York Yankee teams from 1996-1998. While he was nowhere near the player that he was in his prime, he did whatever was asked of him for the betterment of the club. Tim was always a player that had a good time at the ball park and kept the atmosphere upbeat for all, be you a rookie or a veteran. The testimonials of Yankee players from those teams are endless, and they all focus on how important Raines was to their success and how much he was missed when he left.
Tim Raines was a special player with a unique skill set that very few players have ever brought to a Major League Baseball diamond. In my mind, this is what too many voters continue to ignore when it comes time to punch their Hall of Fame ballot and because of that, one of the best ball players of his era remains on the outside looking in. Let’s hope they get it right this time and elect the former Montreal Expos legend to his rightful place, among the greats to have ever played this game.