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Wallach recalls superiority of Hall of Famer Raines

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Tim Wallach joined the Expos' Double-A affiliate in late June 1979, having been the 10th player selected in that June's draft and coming off a season at Cal State-Fullerton in which he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball after he helped the Titans to their first College World Series title.

It did not, however, take Wallach long to realize that professional baseball, even at the Double-A level, was a step above college. All he had to do was watch a 19-year-old Tim Raines play a couple of games.

Tim Wallach joined the Expos' Double-A affiliate in late June 1979, having been the 10th player selected in that June's draft and coming off a season at Cal State-Fullerton in which he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball after he helped the Titans to their first College World Series title.

It did not, however, take Wallach long to realize that professional baseball, even at the Double-A level, was a step above college. All he had to do was watch a 19-year-old Tim Raines play a couple of games.

The two were teammates for a decade -- the year at Double-A, then a year at Triple-A Denver, and then in the big leagues in Montreal. Wallach never tired of watching Raines play the game.

The only puzzle for Wallach was how it took 10 years before Hall of Fame voters finally gave Raines the 75-percent support he needed to be inducted into Cooperstown. He will be inducted later this month, along with fellow players Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell, former Commissioner Bud Selig and executive John Schuerholz, who was general manager of the Royals and Braves.

Raines will be the fourth Hall of Famer whom Wallach had as a teammate in his days with the Expos, the others being Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Randy Johnson. Now a coach for the Marlins, Wallach reflected on Raines in this week's Q&A:

MLB.com: Did Raines get your attention right away?

Wallach: I signed after the `79 draft and joined the Memphis team in the middle of the year. It didn't take long to find out how good he was. He was so strong and fast. Also there haven't been many switch-hitters as successful as he was from both sides. It's tough enough to keep a swing from one side of the plate. The way he did it was really impressive.

MLB.com: Ever marvel at his durability despite the beating a basestealer endures?

Wallach: I never got to see Rickey Henderson. Rock was the best I ever saw. Everybody in the ballpark would know Rock was going to run, and (the opposition) couldn't do anything about it. To me, that was the biggest testament to how great he was stealing bases. He could have had a lot more stolen bases. He wasn't a guy who stole third base with two outs to run up a total. His stolen bases, more times than not, meant something. The thing that got your attention was it didn't matter who was on the mound or who was behind the plate. If we needed a bag, Rock would get it. Everybody in the ballpark knew he was going to run, and it didn't stop him.

MLB.com: Quick as he was, it took him 10 years on the Hall of Fame ballot to be elected. Does that surprise you?

Wallach: Yes. I thought he was a Hall of Famer. Like I said, the things he did, the way he could steal bases when they were important for the team, and the consistency he had as a switch-hitter couldn't be ignored. He could win a game so many ways. Not just his bat or legs, but defensively.

MLB.com: So often it seems the defensive efforts of a player are overlooked.

Wallach: I don't think most people realize that as good of an athlete as he was, and he was a great one, he worked as hard as anybody. That's all you need to know about him.

MLB.com: Was there a moment that sticks out when Raines' name is brought up?

Wallach: The 1987 season. That was back in the days of collusion. He became a free agent after 1986. He was given a couple take-it-or-leave-it offers. He didn't take them. He finally re-signed with the Expos, but because he was coming back to his old club, he couldn't play until May 2. He shows up, no real Spring Training, and first day against the Mets, he goes 4-for-5 with three runs scored. He triples in the first inning, and hits a grand slam in the 10th off Jesse Orosco to win the game. That was the testament to how great he was. We go to Spring Training in February, but he has to sit out until May and right away, the impact was there.

MLB.com: He was a big-time football player in high school, too. Did he ever talk about football, and why he chose baseball?

Wallach: Oh, he talked about football all the time. He said he could've been just as good, or better, at football, which didn't surprise me. I mean the way he was built, and the way he ran, I'm sure he could've been. He definitely wouldn't have played as long. That's probably the main reason he decided to play baseball, the longevity, so he made a good choice.

MLB.com: From a media standpoint, it was impressive with the consistency of his personality, good times or bad, even when he had to deal with the cocaine issue early in his career. He didn't take it out on other people.

Wallach: He was the funniest guy in the clubhouse, the most talented, but in the clubhouse and a good person. I still consider him a friend. He just wanted to be great. He was one of the best guys I played with in my (17-year Major League) career. He treated everybody like a friend. He had fun. He laughed. He loved playing. That's the biggest thing. He loved to play and loved his teammates.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com.