A Rock-solid case
Raines likely will have to wait, but he belongs in Hall
Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2007 12:35PM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 1:25PM
When Derek Jeter broke into the major leagues as a regular with the New York Yankees in 1996, the team made certain to assign Tim Raines a locker nearby to their future franchise player. It wasn't long before Jeter was telling people that Raines was his favorite player. Why?
"Because Tim Raines never has a bad day," Jeter would say. "Every single day, whether it's a day game after a night game, whether he's playing or not, whether he's hitting or not, Rock always has a smile on his face."
Raines was 36 then, and though he had posted a .374 OBP over 501 at-bats in the previous season for the White Sox, he was destined to be a role player for what was left of his career. The Yankees got themselves the perfect complementary player for a winning team: a switch-hitter who could get on base, run, counsel young players and accept a diminished role. It might not have been apparent at the time to many people, but the Yankees also got themselves a future Hall of Famer to show players like Jeter how to be a professional ballplayer.
Raines doesn't have 3,000 hits to show for his long career, in part because he lost 148 games to collusion (1987) and player strikes ('81, '94, '95), and also because of his part-time role with the Yankees. But Raines' Cooperstown resume was assembled rather quietly before his New York years, especially while Montreal teammates Andre Dawson and Gary Carter drew attention with their power. Raines is that rare Hall of Famer you might not have seen coming.
Raines is the only first-time player on the Hall of Fame ballot this year who deserves enshrinement. He is not likely to be elected this year, however. It may take several ballots for enough baseball writers to appreciate a guy who played his first 12 seasons in Canada for a team that never won a playoff series, a guy who never received a single first-place vote in MVP balloting, who started just two All-Star Games and made none of them after turning 27, who never managed to get 200 hits in a season, and who wound up with fewer career hits (2,605) than Dawson and Al Oliver, another former Montreal teammate.
But why wait to appreciate Raines? Shouldn't we know by now that Hall of Fame greatness doesn't always have to be about MVP awards and the big, round numbers? Even without the fancy hardware, Raines, for an extended prime, was one of the most dominant players in baseball (especially as a leadoff hitter), which is as good of a beginning as any when you start defining Hall of Fame players.
I don't understand why Goose Gossage has waited to get into the Hall for so long. He had the longer and better career when compared to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, for instance. But it looks like this year, his ninth on the ballot, will finally see Goose get over the needed 75 percent threshold.
Here's hoping Raines isn't staring at a similar wait -- not when he put up this kind of career:
He stole bases with astonishing frequency and ease. He was successful on 84.7 percent of his attempts. No one with at least 300 attempts has ever been better at stealing bases.
He hit .294 vs. left-handers and .293 vs. right-handers in his career. Ask any manager the value of a guy who can hit equally well from both sides of the plate, especially in an era that gave rise to the specialized bullpen. Only three switch-hitters ever reached base more times or scored more runs than Raines: Pete Rose, Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle.
Only 39 players in history have reached base more times than Raines -- and all of them who are eligible are in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Rusty Staub.