Politicians push for former Expo Tim Raines to be voted into Hall of Fame

It's the one-time Expos outfielder's last chance to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and politicians are campaigning for Tim Raines to take what they believe is his rightful place in Cooperstown.

'Only knock against Raines is that he played his best years for the Montreal Expos,' deadpans MP Chris Bittle

Tim Raines, shown here in this 1989 file photo, is a seven-time all-star who won two World Series as a player later in his career and added a third title as a coach. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

Chris Bittle isn't a Tim Raines fan, per se. He isn't even a Montreal Expos fan.

Bittle is the Liberal MP for St. Catharines, a Blue Jays fan, and a fan of Canadian baseball.

It was that love of the game and a nudge from a colleague that set the wheels in motion for a statement that's drawing attention around the baseball world.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Bittle urged the baseball writers who cast votes in the Hall of Fame balloting to finally vote Raines in.

This year is the former Expo outfielder's last chance for a place in Cooperstown. He has been on the ballot for 10 years.

"Raines is one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, and fifth all time in stolen bases. So why isn't he in the Hall of Fame already? The only knock against Raines is that he played his best years for the Montreal Expos," Bittle said, pausing for a split second for the inevitable laugh.

MP Chris Bittle's statement in support of Tim Raines' place in history, in Parliament on Nov. 23:

Basically a dare

Bittle said the idea came from colleague Kent Hehr, the Liberal MP for Calgary Centre and minister of Veterans Affairs. Hehr couldn't do it himself because he's a cabinet minister.

"It was not quite a dare, but maybe a little bit," Bittle said.

His comment about Raines being an Expo wasn't a dig.

Bittle said he believes the fact that some of Raines' best seasons were played for a Canadian team is keeping him from being voted in.

"Though there are incredible injustices around, as far as baseball goes, this is a great injustice and something I thought warranted speaking out," he said.

Humble hero responds

The ever-humble Raines caught wind of Bittle's statement and sent a tweet thanking him for the support.

Raines was drafted by the Expos and played with the team from 1979 to 1990 and again in 2001.

Raines hit .294 in a 23-year career in which he walked 1,330 times and stole 808 stolen bases. He was a seven-time MLB all-star with the Expos.

Montreal Expos Tim Raines in action, doing one of the things he did best - steal bases. (Marcos Townsend/Canadian Press)

Montreal politicians taking up cause

Bittle isn't the only politician speaking up on Raines' behalf. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre also thinks he deserves the recognition.

"He was one of our greatest players. Not only for the Expos, but as a baseball player he was one of the greatest. The guy was fast, he was a great hitter," he said.

Montreal Coun. Marvin Rotrand also called on Raines fans across North America to contact sports writers to lobby for his induction.

But does he deserve it?

Those convinced Raines belongs in the Hall of Fame point to his statistics.

Former Expos broadcaster Terry Haig says Raines' statistics are more than comparable to those of other players who have already been inducted.

His problem is he played too long in Montreal, which wasn't a high-profile baseball town, said Haig.

If he had been playing those years at Yankee Stadium or at Shea Stadium, he would be in the Hall of Fame right now.- Former Expos broadcaster Terry Haig

"If he had been playing those years at Yankee Stadium or at Shea Stadium, he would be in the Hall of Fame right now," he said.

Raines wasn't an elegant player, Haig said.

He didn't make highlight-reel catches. He used his speed to catch up to balls and make hard catches look routine. That may also have had an impact.

Still, Haig sounds confident that this will be Raines' year.

"There will be great joy in his heart when he gets it, because he finally will be recognized for the great ball player he was, something the Montreal fans always realized."

Tim Raines was a great late-inning hitter and made tough catches look easy. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

with files from CBC's Minaz Kerwala

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