Being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame proved to be a good omen for Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
After being honoured at the St. Marys, Ont.-based ball shrine, both of the former Montreal Expos stars were later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Their longtime teammate, Tim Raines, is hoping for a similar fate. Announced as a member of the Canadian ball hall’s class of 2013 last Thursday, the speedy ex-outfielder remains cautiously optimistic about his chances for a plaque in Cooperstown.
“I just keep hoping and praying that it will happen,” said Raines, when asked about his Cooperstown chances during the Canadian ball hall’s media conference call last week. “If it doesn’t, so be it. But I just keep my fingers crossed, hoping that one day it will finally happen. If not, I’m a Canadian Hall of Famer now and I feel pretty good about that.”
Raines was named on 52.2 per cent of baseball writers’ Cooperstown ballots (75 per cent is required for induction) in his sixth year of eligibility.
Born in Sanford, Fla., in 1959, Raines blossomed into one of the best leadoff hitters in major league history. A fifth-round pick of the Expos in 1977, Raines excelled for parts of 13 seasons in Canada. From 1981 to 1987, the fleet-footed outfielder was selected to seven consecutive all-star teams and was named the MVP of the 1987 Midsummer Classic. During that same period, he also won a National League batting title in 1986 and topped the Senior Circuit in runs twice and stolen bases four times.
In 1,452 games with the Expos, Raines set franchise records in runs (947), stolen bases (635), triples (82), walks (793) and singles (1,163). He also ranks second in Expos history in batting average (.301) and hits (1,622).
In December 1990, Raines was dealt to the Chicago White Sox, where he toiled for five seasons, before being traded to the New York Yankees, where he earned two World Series rings (1996, 1998). In 2001, he returned to the Expos and hit .308 in 47 contests. In all, in a 23-year big league career – that also included stints with the Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins – Raines collected 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases (fifth all-time).
But despite career stats comparable to Rickey Henderson’s and, for the most part, better than Lou Brock’s, Raines has yet to garner enough support from Hall voters. Many attribute this to the fact that Raines enjoyed his best seasons in the relative obscurity of Montreal. Others contend that Henderson, the best leadoff hitter in major league history, overshadowed Raines.
“We’re similar types of players, but we’re different in a lot of ways,” said Raines, when asked about comparisons to Henderson. “We’re similar in that we’re leadoff guys. We’re guys that stole a lot of bases. We’re guys that made things happen. I didn’t care one way or another about the comparisons, but . . . I think when you compare us, there are a lot of things that he did a lot better than me and there are things I did as well or better than him . . . But I don’t mind it (the comparisons). He’s in the Hall of Fame, so I kind of hope people continue to compare us, so maybe I’ll get a chance to get in there as well.”
There’s no question among many of those who shared the field with Raines that he warrants a plaque in Cooperstown.
“That’s one guy that I’m amazed that folks didn’t realize how great he was. He could do anything he wanted on the ball field. And I hate to make comparisons because I get in trouble, but if Rickey Henderson is in the Hall of Fame, Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame,” said former Expos teammate, Wallace Johnson, in a January 2012 interview. “I think ‘Rock’ brought much more than just base-stealing. He was a switch-hitter that won a batting title. He could do all kinds of things. I think without a doubt he should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m his No. 1 booster here in Gary, Indiana. We’ve got Andre in there, we’ve got Gary (Carter) in there, Dave Van Horne and now we need to get ‘Rock’ in there.”
Expos legend Jim Fanning, who managed Raines for parts of three seasons in Montreal, agrees.
“Tim had a long career. He played long enough to have compiled all kinds of stats from base-stealing to extra base hits to home runs for a little guy,” said Fanning in a January 2012 interview. “He is truly for me a Hall of Famer. I think very definitely. He’s one of the top base-stealers in the history of the game, and he has done all of those other things with his offence and what he could do as a player, he could just churn things up. We didn’t have a steal sign with Timmy Raines, he’d just go. I don’t know of a greater baserunner . . . He was a great physical specimen and a really great guy.”
Raines’ Hall candidacy has also been championed in Cooperstown in recent years. In his 2010 induction speech, Dawson expressed his desire to see Raines inducted, as did legendary Canadian baseball writer Bob Elliott, who put in a plug for Raines during his Ford. C. Frick Award acceptance speech in July 2012.
For his part, Raines says he respects the baseball writers who do the voting.
“I just always thought that the Baseball Hall of Fame was probably the toughest Hall to get into. It’s a different animal compared to all of the other major sports. As you know, this year there wasn’t one player that was inducted,” he said. “I’ve always respected the vote from the sportswriters . . . I pray to God that the day will come (that he’ll be inducted), but if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy to get up to 50 per cent of the vote.”
It was clear during last Thursday’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame media conference call that Raines maintains a special place in his heart for Montreal and for Canada. Last year, he returned to Montreal for a reunion of the 1981 Expos and he recently accepted a position to be a minor league baserunning and outfield instructor with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“My wife is from Ottawa, so I kind of have half a Canadian family right now,” he said. “I have twin daughters that are half Canadian and half American, and for all those years that I was in Montreal, I felt like I was part of Canada. I had the greatest times of my career in Montreal.”
Raines also appreciates the support he has received from north of the border over the years and is looking forward to seeing many of his Canadian fans on June 29 when he gets his plaque in the Canadian ball hall in St. Marys alongside Carter and Dawson.
“The emotions of not getting into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is something that I’ve been dealing with for five years, so to get into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, I feel jubilation,” said Raines. “It’s the highest honour I’ve gotten since I’ve played professional baseball, so this is a great moment for me and my family, and I was ecstatic to hear about it.”
For a list of the eight players that are members of both the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, please visit my Cooperstowners in Canada Facebook page.