'Rock' the vote? Raines looks to gain steam
In fifth year on HOF ballot, switch-hitter seeks enshrinement
WASHINGTON -- Will Tim Raines join former Expos teammates Gary Carter and Andre Dawson in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility? Raines will know in a matter of days, once the results are in.
Raines appears to be gaining some momentum. In 2010, for example, the switch-hitting outfielder received 37.5 percent of the vote, compared to the 30.4 percent he received the previous year.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Second baseman Roberto Alomar (90 percent) and pitcher Bert Blyleven (79.7 percent) earned their tickets to Cooperstown on the 2011 ballot. Former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1 percent) and starting pitcher Jack Morris (53.5 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. Results of the 2012 election will be announced on Monday, Jan. 9.
Raines played during an era when Rickey Henderson was the dominant leadoff hitter, but the man known as "Rock" was a difference-maker himself.
Most of the damage he did at the top of the batting order was as a member of the Expos and White Sox. From 1981-92, he scored 90 or more runs eight times, led the league in stolen bases four times, was an All-Star seven times and hit .290 or better seven times.
Overall, Raines played 23 years. He ranks fifth all-time in stolen bases (808) and ended with 2,605 hits and 1,571 runs scored. Even when his days as an everyday player were over, Raines proved to be a valuable reserve, helping the Yankees win World Series titles in 1996 and '98.
Asked last year if he was overlooked because he played in the same era as Henderson, Raines said, "Somewhat, but I think the difference was he played in the American League and I was in the National League, which kind of helped a little bit. We were kind of like rivals, but we never really played each other. If you look at the National League side, people would probably be saying the same thing about me like they said about him in the American League."
Dawson, who played with Raines for eight years in Montreal, believes Raines belongs in Cooperstown.
"You are talking about a player who played 20-something years. He was consistent and steady. He was a catalyst. For what his requirements were, he did it real well," Dawson said two years ago. "He was Rickey Henderson, minus all the leadoff home runs. He was probably better defensively -- more so with a strong throwing arm."
Among Raines' many dominant seasons during the '80s, his 1987 campaign stands out -- and he had a lot to prove that year. Raines became a free agent after winning the NL batting crown the previous season, but he didn't have a true chance to test the market because he was affected by what was ultimately deemed by an arbitrator to be collusion by the owners.
The leadoff hitter couldn't return to the Expos until May 1, but he made up for lost time. He played his first game of the season the next day against the Mets and went 4-for-5, hitting a 10th-inning grand slam off left-hander Jesse Orosco.
"He had no Spring Training, and we were playing in New York," said Jim Fanning, who was a general manager, manager and broadcaster during Raines' time with the Expos. "It's his first game back. He hits a home run right-handed. He was an absolute star of that game. I remember [broadcaster] Dave Van Horne and I were saying, 'What is this Spring Training business all about anyway? Everybody can get in condition on their own. Who needs it?'"
Raines ended up leading the NL in runs scored and finished third in the Senior Circuit with a .330 batting average.
Raines almost didn't become the player fans grew to know. After he was taken by the Expos in the fifth round of the 1977 First-Year Player Draft, Fanning, then the GM, envisioned Raines to be the next Joe Morgan. Raines was drafted as a second baseman, and the team believed that, like Morgan, Raines would become a player who displayed a lot of power.
But the predictions about Raines being another Morgan proved premature. Raines had a tough time playing defense in the infield. He didn't have the range to play second base and had trouble turning the double play. Switching to left field in '81 was the best thing that happened to him.
"It was not a difficult switch to put him in the outfield. In fact, it was easy," Fanning said. "I'm not surprised by the career he had. He had a knack on how to play this game. He was a delight to watch. It didn't make a difference who the pitcher was."