Edmonton - December 27, 2013 - The fact we are now into year number seven of the Tim Raines Hall of Fame watch is more than a little disappointing.
Anyone who watched him play throughout his 23 year career, knows exactly just how good and dominant a ball player he was.
Had Raines played for any other team than the Montreal Expos during his first ten years in the big leagues, this would all be a moot point...as he would have been enshrined in Cooperstown long ago..
This is the third straight year and fourth article overall (see others here, here and here), in which I have had the privilege of writing on the merits for Mr. Raines’ inclusion into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For the most part, we have seen his percentage of the vote steadily climb on a yearly basis, since his debut appearance back in 2008. That year would see the seven-time all star receive a rather disappointing 24.3% of the vote but that total would actually be slightly higher than the 22.6% he picked up in 2009, ironically, the same year in which Rickey Henderson was inducted.
Since then, we have seen the 54 year old's vote increase each and every year. In 2010, he finally eclipsed the thirty percent mark with 30.4% of the vote and has followed that up with 37.5%, 48.7% and 52.2% over the last three years. As encouraging as those numbers seem to be, don’t be surprised to see the former Expos legend stay right where he is at, if not take a small step back in 2014.
With the likes of Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas all making their debut on the ballot and the duo of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens expected to see a bump in their first year totals of 36.2% and 37.6%, votes could be tough to come by for those so-called “bubble guys”. Not to mention the quartet of Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza who all finished ahead of Raines last year but also failed to gain entrance into the Hall.
As of right now, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are allowed to vote for a maximum of ten players per ballot. If you include Raines, I have already mentioned twelve eligible players and that does not include the remaining ten names that have been carried over from last year. That group includes Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.
As far as first time guys go, Maddux is the only shoe-in of the group but his former Atlanta Braves running mate could quite easily find himself making it in on his first kick at the can. The trio of Kent, Mussina and Thomas should all do well but none will be deemed worthy enough in the eyes of voters to receive “First Ballot” status. Like Bonds and Clemens, most are expecting Biggio and Piazza to both see a bump in their second year on the ballot…albeit for different reasons.
Meaning both Bagwell and Raines could be left on the outside looking in. As far as the former Houston Astros slugging first baseman goes, this is only his fourth year on the ballot and with the process being what it is to gain entrance Bagwell will likely have to wait a little while longer before earning enshrinement. While he has impressive career stats, his box score numbers fall short of a .300 batting average, 3,000 hits and 500 HR…essentials in the eyes of many voters.
I am no different than anyone else who regularly pushes for the former fifth round draft pick of the Expos to finally get the recognition he deserves. All of us point to the fact he reached base more times during his career than Tony Gwynn (3,977 to 3,955), sits 53rd on baseball’s all-time runs scored list with 1,571 and of course, his 808 stolen bases which was good enough for fourth all-time…regardless of what the record books tells us.
With all due respect to Billy Hamilton and his 937 stolen bases, being awarded a steal for taking an extra base via sacrifice, error or going first to third on a single, should all but eliminates that total from the all time leaders list. Granted, stolen bases were awarded differently pre-1900’s but including that number alongside those of Henderson, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb and Raines is frankly laughable.
Like most sports, every era in the game of baseball is somewhat different from the next. Be it athletes being in better condition, superior coaching, technology or a combination of three. The game is always evolving but certain aspects remain the same. For example, the job of a leadoff hitter has always been to set the table for the heart of the order and make life as difficult as possible for the opposition.
Brock took that to another level during his playing days and the duo of Henderson and Raines went a step further during the 1980’s. At no point had the game ever seen a pair of more dominant players a top a major league batting order. While Henderson had more pop in his bat, Raines was the better all around hitter and both would drive opposing mangers crazy.
Difference being, one did on the national stage and the other did it in the Great White North on a team that never quite reached its full potential and became nothing more than an afterthought across the vast majority of the United States. There is no questioning Rickey had the better career, as his first ballot status quite clearly states. However, that should not diminish in any way shape or form the accomplishments of one Tim Raines.
As far as leadoff hitters go, good luck finding me someone not named Henderson that was better than Raines. A guy like Paul Molitor could get on base but he could only dream of wreaking the sort of havoc on the bases that the six-time 70 + thief could. Whereas a Vince Coleman was a demon on the base paths, he was not even in the same stratosphere at the plate. Simply put, next to Rickey, he had no equal.
Over the last thirty plus years, only Kenny Lofton and Ichiro Suzuki have come close to equaling what Raines has accomplished out of the leadoff spot. In my mind, Lofton falls into the Willie Wilson category and is clearly a step below the greatest table setters in the history of the game. Lofton’s numbers do compare favourably to Raines in certain areas but his prime years did come during a higher scoring era and his totals still fall short of the man affectionately known as the Rock.
As for Ichiro, he has always been more of a Gwynn-type hitter than a Henderson or Raines sort of player but he did manage to get on base and steal bags. However, the frequency in which he reached base was nowhere near Raines and his career .385 OBP, never mind Henderson’s eye-popping total of .401. Great ballplayer, just not as good as the other two when it came to setting the table.
As previously mentioned, when it comes to Tim Raines, writing this column is nothing new but with each passing year, it becomes more of a head scratcher for me. Clearly the BBWAA has no issue voting in the likes of say Barry Larkin or Ryne Sandberg, despite both having less statistical data to support their case than Raines. While their totals were still very good, both are in the Hall because of the position they played on defence.
Even Roberto Alomar, who’s in a different category because of how good he was with his glove, from an offensive numbers standpoint, he and Raines are almost identical. Again, Alomar’s defence and post-season success is what made him a second ballot guy but how is he looked upon as being an almost automatic when Raines is still nowhere close to earning a plaque in Cooperstown?
Just look at some of the positional players who have received at least 75% of the vote since Tim retired following the 2002 season and you will see more examples of guys getting in because of the position they played and others who fall well short of #30’s resume. Yet Raines can’t get a sniff for being arguably the second best leadoff man of all time. Confused? You should be.
Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Sandberg, Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr, Henderson, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Alomar and Larkin
In my mind, all thirteen of those names I just listed belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Raines had a better all around career than, at the very least, a third of that list. It is funny how his two former Montreal teammates found their way into Cooperstown but much debate was made as to whether they would appear on their plaque with an Expos cap or a Mets and Cubs hat. There would be no such debate with 1987 NL Batting Champ, as his standout years were up in Canada.
What’s that old saying again? Out of sight and out of mind. In a nutshell, that is what has hurt Tim Raines more than anything else, when it comes to his Hall of Fame candidacy, There is no question his battle with cocaine during the 1982 season has blurred the memories of some voters, though it surely didn’t seem to hurt Molitor when his name appeared on the ballot.
However, when I hear numerous veteran baseball writers refer to Raines as never being among the best players in the game, it tells me they truly never watched him play. It’s a real shame because they missed out on watching one of the most electrifying players to set foot on a Major League Baseball diamond over the last thirty plus years.
The chance of Tim Raines receiving a call on the morning of January 6th to inform him he has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is basically none existent. With the likes of Ken Griffey Jr, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz all being added to the ballot over the next couple of years, Mr. Raines may have to wait some time before he finally gets that phone call.
I have absolutely zero doubt in mind that Tim Raines will eventually find his rightful place into Cooperstown. Unfortunately for him, it won’t happen anytime soon and the BBWAA should be thoroughly embarrassed. Let’s hope they come to their collective senses, on at least one occasion over the next eight years, and finally place him among the greatest names to have ever played the game.