Edmonton - December 28, 2015 - As much as it pains me to say it, when results of the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame voting are revealed on January 6, 2016, Tim Raines will not hear his name called as one of the newest members to enter baseball's hallowed grounds. Despite having the career totals that should have easily granted him enshrinement into Cooperstown many a year ago, the Montreal Expos legend will have to wait one more year before taking his rightful place among the greats of the game.
Despite receiving 55% of the vote in 2015, in what was his strongest showing to date, the chances of Raines adding an additional 20% to his total over the course of a single calendar year are essentially nil. While the process makes little sense, this is how these things tend to work. However, it does look as though there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the seven-time National League All-Star.
Considering the now 56-year old roving baserunning/outfield instructor of the Toronto Blue Jays hasn’t played a game since 2002, it does seem rather odd that it has taken the better part of a decade for his candidacy to pick up steam…especially when you look at his overall body of work and see just how good his numbers are. They speak for themselves and at the end of the day, should that not determine whether or not a player ends up in the Hall of Fame?
Unfortunately for Raines, the combination of playing his prime years in Canada and dealing with a drug problem during the early part of his career seems to have erased just how dominant a player he was during the decade of the 1980's. Instead, many continue to put the focus on his battle with cocaine during the 1982 season and the fact he repeatedly “slid headfirst into bases so he didn't break the vials of cocaine he had in his back pocket”. The guy beat his problem, became a model citizen for the remainder of his career and yet for whatever reason, certain members of the Baseball Writers Association of America simply refuse to let it go.
Back in 2012, I wrote a piece on just how good the Sanford, Florida native was during his time with the Expos. Do yourself a favour and take a moment to click on the link and see how he fared against his contemporaries. Whether one wants to admit it or not, the former NL Batting Champion was arguably the best player in Major League Baseball from 1983-1987. Not Rickey Henderson. Not Mike Schmidt. Not Wade Boggs. Not George Brett. Not Tony Gwynn. Tim Raines was better than all of them and yet many voters seem uninterested in giving him his due.
Had he done the same thing playing in a major American market, which he did later in his career during stints with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, we would not even be having this discussion...as he would have received his plaque long ago. Now does five amazing seasons make one worthy for entry into Cooperstown? No but there is far more to Raines' resume.
Whether it is myself or the countless others who have penned comparable pieces over the last number of years in support of the 106th selection of the 1977 MLB June Amateur Draft, for anyone to look at his career totals and not recognize his impact on the game is downright frightening and simply inexcusable. In case you are not familiar with them, here is a small sampling for your enjoyment (courtesy CBS Sports Baseball writer Mike Axisa).
Raines played parts of 23 big league seasons from 1979-2002, 13 of them with the Expos. He also played for the White Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Orioles and Marlins. Raines retired as a .294/.385/.425 (123 OPS+) hitter with 2,605 hits, 170 home runs, 808 stolen bases, 69.1 WAR and far more walks (1,330) than strikeouts (966). He won World Series titles with the 1996 and 1998 Yankees.
During his peak from 1981-87, Raines hit .310/.396/.448 (135 OPS+) while averaging 195 hits, 116 runs and 82 stolen bases per 162 games. During that seven-season stretch, he led baseball in hits (1,202), times on base (1,772) and triples (63), was second in runs (719) and steals (504), third in on-base percentage (.396) and doubles (296), fourth in WAR (38.4) and fifth in batting average (.310).
Raines reached base 3,977 times over the course of his career, which was more than both Gwynn (3,955) and Lou Brock (3,833). He is the only player to have ever swiped 70 or more bags in six consecutive seasons (1981-87). His 84.7 SB% remains tops in history among players with a minimum of 375 career attempts, sits fifth all-time with 808 steals and scored 1,571 runs over the course of his career.
With former Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. the only "lock" among newcomers on the ballot, this will be the year the trio of Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Raines make a serious run at gaining enshrinement. While the chances of the most prolific slugging catcher the game has ever seen making it in are quite good, the other two will have to settle for inching closer to the magical 75% benchmark. It may not seem fair but at this stage of the game, all that matters is ensuring players who do not get in continue to trend in the right direction.
According to Ryan Thibs' fantastic Hall of Fame Tracker, we already know how roughly 25% of the voting body filled out their ballots and it looks as if that is exactly how things will play out. Again, does it make any sense whatsoever? Of course not but that is how this process works and because of it...we will have to see the name of Tim Raines appear on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for a tenth consecutive time.
As ridiculous as that may seem, perhaps it will be fitting for the Montreal Expos legend to finally earn his way into Cooperstown in his final kick at the can. After all, let's not forget we are talking about one of the most under-appreciated players this game has produced in the modern era and for him to not take his rightful place among the greats of the game would almost be criminal. While it has taken some time to get this train headed in the right direction, my guess is we will get the opportunity to celebrate the career of Tim Raines in 2017 and in the process, make the fact it took a decade to get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame nothing more than an interesting footnote in baseball history.