Cooperstown needs a piece of “The Rock”

I have been waiting a long time for this day. Finally, Tim Raines is on the Hall of Fame ballot.

To get the obvious out of the way: Raines is a clear-cut Hall of Famer, in my opinion, based on both objective and subjective data. We have the numbers in historical context and I had the joy of watching his career from start to finish.

I’ll always remember the 1993 ALCS; the final play involved two of my favorite players. Joe Carter caught the final out in deep right field at new Comiskey Park off the bat of Tim Raines. It should be noted that “Rock” had a tremendous series, batting .444/.483/.556, and might have been series MVP had the White Sox won.

Although I am a rabid Blue Jays fan, I rooted hard for the Yankees in the 1996 World Series. I will always cherish the scene of Tim Raines dog-piling on the field knowing he finally would have the ultimate ring on his finger. Although he got another one in 1998, he wasn’t on the World Series roster even though he did play in the first two rounds of the postseason. It would have been nice to see him there, but he did contribute a .395 OBP in 321 AB to the Yankee juggernaut that year and certainly requires no apology for wearing both rings.

Of course, that was just the icing on the cake.

The real fun of watching Raines was during his years with the Expos, where he was considered the National League version of Rickey Henderson. That seems absurd now, considering that Rickey is now on the short list of all-time greats. His record makes that clear: 3,000-plus hits, almost 300 homers, more than 1,000 RBI from the leadoff spot and of course being first in major league history in runs scored and stolen bases and second in walks. Nevertheless, back in the 1980s when both men were in their primes, it was far from a deluded notion.

For seven seasons (1983-89) Rickey was (and is) the pre-eminent base thief, but Raines swung a slightly more potent stick:

Player   BA   OBP   SLG   Runs  RC  RCAA  SB   SB% 
Rickey .290  .401  .449   803  772  321  552  84.6
Raines .308  .398  .456   710  802  340  429  87.1

The hitting gap is actually a little bit wider when you consider how they fared versus their league averages. At that point, you would be hard-pressed to choose between the two players. While Henderson clearly had the superior career to Raines, it is easy to see that Raines was also far ahead of a similar type Hall of Fame leadoff hitter—Lou Brock:

Player   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS+  RC  RCAA   SB  SB%  PA    TOB 
Brock  .293  .343  .410   109  1519  223  938  75 11235  3833  
Raines .294  .385  .425   123  1645  516  808  84 10359  3977 

Yes, Brock has the modern NL record for stolen bases and has the luster of 3,000 hits, but a leadoff hitter’s job is to set the table: get on base for the batters behind him. Raines reached base far more often than Brock despite almost 1,000 fewer plate appearances. While he was not as prolific a base stealer, Raines was far more efficient. As we see from Lee Sinins’ Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) Raines was worlds apart from Brock as respects their peers.

Since we’re discussing peer groups, how does Raines stack up among his? I’ve taken a 30-year spread that will encompass Raines’ entire career (1976-2005); further, I will use measures that largely favor top-of-the-order type-hitters.

The categories used will be on base percentage (OBP), walks (BB), runs, runs created (RC), runs created above average (RCAA), reached base (TOB), stolen bases (SB) and triples (3B) … the latter two focusing on speed. We will compare Raines to all outfielders, then narrow the search and deal just with left fielders:

1976-2005  OBP   BB  Runs  RC  RCAA  TOB   SB   3B
Raines    .385  1330 1571 1643  516 3977  808  113
Among OF  15th   3rd  3rd  5th  7th  3rd  2nd  4th    
Among LF   7th   3rd  3rd  3rd  3rd  3rd  2nd  1st 

Among left fielders, Raines takes a back seat only to Henderson and Barry Bonds. He has an easy case of being among the top 10 best outfielders and a legitimate claim to being among the top five of the last 30 years. Despite unremarkable power (170 HR, career SLG .425) he still managed to be a top-flight offensive threat.

If you expand the group to include all players, including DHs, Raines is 15th in RC and RCAA, ninth in reaching base, eighth in runs and walks and seventh in triples. Bear in mind that some of the guys ahead of him in these categories have been linked with performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.

Probably the best I saw of Raines was from 1984-87. Coming into the ‘83 season, Raines had won the stolen base crown the two previous years. He was a lightning-fast kid who made pitchers’ lives miserable. Everybody talked about this speed merchant. His batting line to that point in his career was an OK .281/.364/.385—good contact, good batting eye—but his extra base hits were more due to his legs than his bat.

By the end of the 1983 season, it was hard not to notice that this speedster’s game had matured. Raines copped his third straight thefts crown but also hit .298/.393/.429. That wasn’t the most impressive thing. Raines finished August that year batting a respectable .290/.379/.416 with 63 SB. The Expos were in third at 66-64 but just 1.5 games out of the division lead. Raines got hot and I mean hot—he amped his game to another level. He blew through the rest of the season batting .328/.446/.484; he struck out just 10 times and coaxed 26 walks. On top of that, he swiped 27 of 30 bases. He was unstoppable.

It went for naught. Despite Raines’ heroics, the Expos played .500 ball through the end of the year.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

The thing is, it wasn’t a random hot streak. He played close to that level until the end of 1987! I’m not kidding; his batting line for 1984-87 was not far off his September 1983 production—.323/.409/.477. He stole at close to a 90% success rate, averaging 66 steals a year and 10 triples. He would never be a home run threat, although he would reach double-digits twice. In 1987 (a year of offense, it should be noted), Raines hit .330/.429/.526, scored 123 runs, launched 18 HR and swiped 50 of 55 bases. For good measure, he had the second-highest RBI total of his career (68). He also missed the entire month of April because he went unsigned due to collusion.

Raines missed 20 games and the Expos went 8-12. Once he returned, the Expos played .585 ball (83-59) and won 91 games—four back of St. Louis. If not for collusion, Raines might have won the MVP (he finished seventh) and les Expos might have won the NL East; a .585 April would have seen the Expos go 12-8, 95-67 and tie the Cardinals. MLB always seemed to find ways to screw the Expos.

But I digress.

Bottom line, Tim Raines was a phenomenon and is a deserving Hall of Famer.

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