Tim Raines says that, with 500 or more at bats, he will steal 40 to 50 bases this season. Seriously. Yes, this is the same Tim Raines who until last week hadn't played a big league game since July 1999, who last surpassed 20 steals eight years ago, who failed to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, who is 41 years old and who suffers from systemic lupus erythematosus.
This is the same Tim Raines who, despite the odds, reported to Expos spring training as a nonroster invitee, hit .414 and forced manager Felipe Alou to take him as Montreal's fifth outfielder. Fifty steals? How about 60?
With the Expos in a full-speed-ahead youth movement, the chance of Raines getting more than 250 at bats is slim at best. (At week's end he had a single and a double in six at bats.) That, however, shouldn't diminish his stirring comeback. On July 16,1999, Raines, at the time the Athletics' leftfielder, jogged to his position for a home game against the Giants. As he reached the outfield, the world began to spin. "I'd made that run thousands of times," says Raines, who was drafted by Montreal in 1977, spent 11 seasons with the Expos, then played for the White Sox and the Yankees before landing in Oakland. "This time I was exhausted." That day Raines went to a hospital. His ankles and knees were swollen. He was 15 pounds over his playing weight of 195. Urine and blood tests were normal. Then a doctor suggested a kidney biopsy.
The tests showed Raines had lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack normal tissue. It is incurable but treatable. In Raines's case the lupus attacked his kidneys, causing excessive water retention.
For the next eight months Raines struggled. "I was in jail," he says. He was subjected to radiation and large doses of medication. Pasta and salt were removed from his diet. He dropped to 170 pounds. "My jeans would hang off my body, like the kids today wear them," he says, "but it wasn't on purpose."
Three weeks before 2000 spring training began, Raines began to feel better. His medication was reduced, and he attended camp with the Yankees. Although he didn't make the club, Raines got a call from former New York general manager Bob Watson, who as selection committee co-chairman was looking for veterans to buoy the young Olympic team. Raines spent part of his summer with the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League but didn't make the Olympic team because the U.S. chose to keep an extra pitcher. Though miffed, Raines, whose nickname is Rock, refused to give up on his comeback.
Last Aug. 12, when he went to Olympic Stadium to be inducted into the Expos' Hall of Fame, Raines told Jeff Loria, the team's owner, that he'd like a crack at the 2001 roster. "I'm not sure he thought I was serious," says Raines, "but here I am"—with his .295 lifetime batting average and 807 stolen bases. He ranks among Montreal's top 10 all time in 15 offensive categories, and now he's back adding to those numbers.
While Alou says that Raines's primary value is his bat, Raines has quickly become something of a player-coach, taking second-year outfielders Peter Bergeron and Milton Bradley under his wing. "He never makes you feel like you're talking to the Tim Raines," says Bradley. "He's more like a buddy with a ton of knowledge."
Not to mention resilience.