There has been much discussion concerning whether players known/suspected of using P.E.D’s should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. What has been lost in the debate is that there are a number of former players on the ballot that should be inducted at Cooperstown. Perhaps the player who has the most credentials, but is continually overlooked, is Tim Raines.
In 2009, Rickey Henderson, the “Man of Steal”, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, on 511 of the 529 ballots cast. One wonders what the 18 voters who didn’t include his name on the list were thinking at the time. The overwhelming consensus is that Rickey was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. He is the career leader in stolen bases, runs scored, 2nd in bases on balls, 4th in times on base, and 10th in runs created. But the question then comes up, who is the second greatest lead-off hitter of all time, presently eligible for the Hall of Fame?
There is little question that leadoff hitters are the least represented line-up position at Cooperstown. The reason for this is not hard to fathom – the fan, as well as the sports journalist, has for years been enamored with the slugger, and RBI’s and the long ball are prized over runs scored and OBP. For a leadoff hitter, or a hitter who didn’t belt 500 home runs, to be considered for the Hall, only two statistics previously had any real relevance; did he bat .300 and get 3,000 hits for his career? Although both of these stats are impressive (although less so, in certain eras of baseball history), they say little about the true value of a leadoff hitter. And people tend to forget that Raines played during an era when hitting statistics were at a nadir, and that he missed well over a year of ball due to player strikes, work stoppages, and owners’ collusion. (The relative importance of the leadoff hitter has been recognized in the last decade, especially with the emergence of sabermetrics, and there are now a number of excellent players at that position, some of which may/will eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame, including Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Hanley Ramirez. There is no doubt that this present era in baseball represents the Renaissance of the leadoff hitter.)
Tim Raines fails the H.O.F. litmus test, based on the traditional statistical analysis. He was not a power hitter, hitting only 170 home runs in his career, which stands out even more, as he was a left-fielder, a position where power is expected. His life-time BA was .294; close to the magic mark of .300, but not quite there. He also falls short on total hits, with 2605. Raines also had his peak years in Montreal, the black hole of baseball; fans rarely had a chance to observe his skills, except during the All-Star game, which he played in 7 consecutive years. His post-season play was came later in his career, with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, when his skills were diminished by injuries and age.
Of course, there was the matter of cocaine. An anecdote, recounted by Razzball’s Rudy Gamble, states that during that Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, Raines testified that he only slid head first so as not to break the vial that he kept in his back pocket which he didn’t want to risk stashing in his locker. (This bring to mind the hilarious story involving second baseman Frenchy Bordagary and manager Casey Stengel in 1935. During one game, Frenchy failed to slide into home and was thrown out. Casey asked him why he failed to slide, and Bordagary stated that he had several expensive cigars in his back pocket, and didn’t want to risk breaking them. Casey proceeded to fine him $100. The next day, Bordagary hit a home run and answered Casey’s fine by sliding into each base. Casey’s retort was to fine Frenchy $100, making the statement that “There’ll only be one clown on this club, and that’ll be me.”)
His ironic nickname of “Rock” was not related to his drug use, which was estimated at $40,000 in 1982. However, Raines came clean, admitted his use, and there is no evidence that he ever had a relapse afterwards in his career. And there are other Hall of Famers, including Paul Molitor, who had drug issues during the course of their career, and of course scores of immortals who were, and remained, full-blown alcoholics. This being said, Gamble states that Raines is arguably the third best lead-off hitter in the last seventy years behind Henderson and Joe Morgan, although I remember Morgan typically hitting 2nd or 3rd in the batting order of the Big Red Machine, with Pete Rose leading off.
Tim Raines ranks as the 4th leading base stealer in modern baseball history, behind Henderson, Brock and Cobb, quite an elite trio. A closer look reveals that of the quartet, Raines had the highest successful stolen base percentage, 84.7%, a staggering success rate when compared to these three immortals.
The essence of what a lead-off hitter does is two things:
a) Get on base
b) Score Runs
Raines led the league twice and was 2nd twice in Runs Scored. He led the league once in Runs Created, was 2nd 3 times, and 3rd once. He led the league in OBP once, was 3rd twice, 4th twice, 5th once and 6th once, with a lifetime OBP of .385, a most impressive figure. Led the league in SB 4 times. Led the league in doubles once. Raines was in the top ten in walks six times, nine times in triples, four times in OPS+, 4 times in total bases, four times in BA, and seven times in Adjusted win Percentage. In other words, he was among the league leaders in all or most of the categories tallied by sabermetrics, and did everything that one would hope for from a lead off batter. If Raines doesn’t have a clear cut case for the Hall of Fame, then the modern statistics don’t have any validity. Raines was also an excellent fielder, although he didn’t have a strong throwing arm. His speed was his greatest asset, allowing him to get to balls that would go for hits against most outfielders. He made only 54 errors during his entire career. His lifetime fielding percentage of .987 compares more than favorably with Hall of Fame outfielders.
Raines was likely the best player in baseball from 1985-87. In answer to the initial question, Bill James called Raines clearly the greatest lead-off man in National League history. In his book “Rain Delay” (1988, Baseball Abstract), James ranks Wade Boggs at that time as the greatest player in baseball, followed by Raines. After Raines were such luminaries as Ozzie Smith, Don Mattingly, Rickey Henderson, Kirby Puckett, Roger Clemens, Dale Murphy, and Darryl Strawberry, a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame. James believed that Raines deserved the MVP in the NL over Mike Schmidt in 1986. In the Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks Raines as the 8th greatest left fielder of all time.
Tim Raines is the prod for the BBWAA to begin looking at the candidacies for Cooperstown in regards to the modern statistical compilations, and for the sake of the sport once again honoring the true greats of the game, and not choosing those who reach arbitrary milestones.