01/03/10 11:10 AM ET
Will third time be charm for Raines?
One of best leadoff hitters in history hoping for Hall bid
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Outfielder Tim Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters of all time. Most of his damage at the top of the lineup was done as a member of the Expos and White Sox. From 1982-92, 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 six times.
Overall, the switch-hitting Raines played 23 years. He ranks fifth all-time in stolen bases and ended up 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.
Will Raines' success on the field be enough to put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame? It wasn't the case in his first two years of eligibility. He received 122 votes, or 22.6 percent in 2009 after receiving 132 points or 24.3 percent in 2008.
A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with former slugger Andre Dawson (67 percent), former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (62.7 percent), and former closer Lee Smith (44.5 percent) standing as the top three returning vote-getters.
In an interview with ESPN.com two years ago, Raines stated his case of why he should be a Hall of Famer.
"I would probably say that when it comes to players that made an impact on a team and a league for an extended period of time, if that's what you're looking for, that's what I was," Raines said. "It's not so much getting 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins. It's also about longevity, the era that you're playing in, being one player that I think many teams feared for a long period of time. I think all of that gives me a chance."
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. "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, the 1987 campaign stands out, and he had a lot to prove that year. After winning the National League batting title the previous season, Raines became a free agent, 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, hit a 10th-inning homer 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 his 15-plus years 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 National League in runs scored and finished third with a .330 batting average in '87.
Raines almost didn't become the player whom fans grew to know. After he was drafted by the Expos in the fifth round of the 1977 First-Year Player Draft, Fanning, then the general manager, envisioned Raines to be the next Joe Morgan. Raines was drafted as a second baseman and the team believed, like Morgan, that he 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 on the infield. He didn't have the range to play second base and had trouble turning the double play. Switching to left field in 1981 was the best thing that ever happened to Raines.
"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."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.