Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Tim Raines

Claim to fame: In the 1980s, Raines may have been the National League’s answer to Rickey Henderson. Raines led the league in stolen bases 1981-1984 and had 578 of his 808 career steals in the decade. He also made seven consecutive All Star teams and, together with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and others, helped make the Montreal Expos contenders. Raines declined in the ’90s and was a role player by the end, though he remains popular among baseball researchers.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Raines has made three appearances on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America, reaching a high of 30.4 percent of the vote this year. He has 12 more tries with the writers.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In a word, yes. Together with Lou Brock and Henderson, Raines rates among the best base thieves ever. I devoted one of these columns in June to another stolen base champ, Maury Wills, and I said that before Wills goes in, Raines must be honored first. After all, Wills is 19th on the career steals list while Raines is 5th and has the most steals of anyone not in Cooperstown.

Raines also scored the fourth-most runs of any eligible ballplayer not enshrined, and he finished with 2,605 hits and a .294 batting average. Imagine if instead of sitting the Yankee bench in later years, Raines started for a lesser team and made 3,000 hits. He’d have been a first ballot selection, no question– since 1952, no eligible player with 3,000 hits has failed to make it on his first try.

Who knows when Raines will get a plaque, though? Tom Verducci wrote in a Sports Illustrated piece in January that ’80s stars like Dale Murphy, Jack Morris, and Raines may lose their opportunity as many recent greats become eligible.

Verducci wrote:

In 17 years I never have voted for a player who did not eventually make the Hall of Fame. I fear Raines might be the first. He was the greatest offensive weapon in his league in his prime, once scoring an NL-record 19.6 percent of his Montreal team’s runs. He was a better player than Lou Brock (easily; look it up) and reached base more times and scored more runs than Tony Gwynn. He stole bases nearly at will — succeeding on 85 percent of 954 attempts. He is harmed as a candidate by issues that have nothing to do with his greatness: a low profile in Montreal, part-time roles in New York and Chicago, and two player strikes, especially in 1981, when his rate of stolen bases (71 in 88 games) put him on pace for the glory Rickey Henderson received the next year for smashing Brock’s record of 118.

Raines’ candidacy also was probably hurt by a drug problem. Ken Burns noted in his Baseball series that Raines said he “always slid headfirst because he didn’t want to break the cocaine vials he kept in his pants pockets.” As I wrote about Dave Parker, if a minority player is perceived to have character issues, his chances of making Cooperstown plummet.

Raines certainly has support. I named him one of the 10 most underrated players, and Raines is in Baseball Think Factory’s Hall of Merit. In a forum discussion, one member wrote in 2007:

I’ve thought for a while that Raines is a guy who, maybe more than any other upcoming Hall of Fame candidate, would benefit from some sabermetric types with a bit of mainstream exposure talking up his credentials, similar to what has happened with Bert Blyleven.

History would suggest Raines has slim odds with the writers. Of the 67 players the BBWAA has enshrined since modern voting procedures were instituted in June 1967, Raines received more votes his third year on the ballot than just seven men: Luis Aparicio, Lou Boudreau, Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon, Joe Medwick, Duke Snider, and Bruce Sutter.

Then again, Blyleven got 17.4 percent of the vote his third year and didn’t crack 30 percent until his seventh year. Something has happened since, and it appears Blyleven may get a call for Cooperstown in January. So perhaps Raines has a chance. But I’m guessing Raines’ honors will come from the Veterans Committee, which has tapped many players with inferior career numbers and far less support from the BBWAA.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Tim Raines”

  1. I definitely agree. His career value and peak value are both Hall of Fame caliber.

    Interesting point about minority players who are perceived to have character problems. When I analyzed voting, I put in a dummy variable for white/nonwhite. It was not close to being significant, changed the other varibales and the overall results very little and, in fact, went slightly against whites.

    That is a pretty simple way to do it. I didn’t think I knew enough about each player to put some kind of scandle variable in the regression. Raines actually got pretty close to his predicted pct (24 vs. 28) in his first year (that is all I looked at, first year). That was the model without race in it.

    Parker is someone who seems like he might have been good enough to get in. He was predicted to get about 27% in his first year but got 17. He is one of the highest players in MVP win shares not in the hall. So the writers liked him at one time.

    Do white players with character issues not get penalized or get penalized less? I would love to see someone analyze that. What keeps Garvey out? My model has him getting 52% in his first year but he got about 42. Players who do that well in their first year usually end up making it. I would not voter for him but he seems to have the stats/accomplishments that the writers like or have liked based on my regressions and you could make his career sound impressive on his plaque

    1. Hi Cyril, thanks for weighing in.

      I didn’t know it was possible to predict the percentage of votes a player will get in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. We must talk more about this.

      To touch on another thing you said, I think I may be surprised if Steve Garvey is not a Veterans Committee pick at some point. He seems like the kind of player the committee would love: long career, All American image (if revealed to be somewhat untrue), oddly low vote totals after his first year on the BBWAA ballot.

  2. He’s a no brainer, and will without a doubt benefit from the saber community. Morals have nothing to do with hall of fame candidacy, just ask Ty Cobb. It’s about chronicling the game and it’s best players, and he was simply one of the best. His ability to get on base and score was almost unmatched by any other player in history. OBP will emerge in the Hall votes soon enough.

  3. I think the Vick / Rothlisberger is an interesting comparison to this. Non-white players are definitely looked on more harshly, for both on field and off field reasons. Bonds practically took the bullet for the entire steroids era, and I don’t think there’s any doubt his being black didn’t have something to do with it.

  4. Yes.
    Raines was the best base stealer of his time, Henderson was a better all around player, but Raines was a best base stealer, he only got thrown out around 15% of the time, compared to 19% for Henderson, and 25% for Brock.

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