Montreal

Expos great Tim Raines in scoring position on 2017 Hall of Fame ballot

With 42 per cent of the ballots in, Raines is running a 91 per cent approval rate, according to the man behind the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker.

It's the Expo left-fielder's last year on the ballot, and the numbers are finally leaning his way

Tim Raines played 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos, and if elected, would go into the Hall of Fame wearing the team's colours. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

Few baseball players know the anticipation of getting batted in better than Montreal Expos great Tim Raines.

In typical style, the base-stealing dynamo has once again battled his way into scoring position — this time on the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

With 42 per cent of the ballots in, Raines is running a 91 per cent approval rate, according to the man behind the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker.

Ryan Thibodaux's online spreadsheet is considered the go-to source for fans charting a player's chances of making it into Major League Baseball's pantheon in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Thibodaux tracks the known votes of baseball writers eligible to vote in the selection process, and he said Raines couldn't be in a better position to finally get inducted in this his tenth and final year on the ballot.

"Everything is going exactly as he needs it to, and maybe a little better," he told CBC News.

If elected, Raines — who played 13 of his 23 pro seasons in Montreal — would join Gary Carter and Andre Dawson as the third Hall of Famer wearing an Expos cap. 

Altogether, seven former Expos are in the Hall of Fame.

Beware the Biggio factor

To get inducted, a player needs the nod on at least 75 per cent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Last year, Raines fell just short with 69.8 per cent.

By Thibodaux's calculations, Raines needs the backing of at least 20 BBWAA members who didn't vote for him last year.

At last count, Thibodaux said, 25 had already come around.

And yet, because he knows what a player like Raines means to his fans, Thibodaux said he wasn't making any predictions.

"I don't want to break any hearts if something goes wrong. And it certainly has for other candidates in the past," he said.

Craig Biggio is a case in point. Three years ago, it looked like the long-time Houston Astro was well on his way to being inducted, only to come up two ballots short in the final count.

Biggio got the votes he needed the next year, but Raines doesn't have that luxury. Players have a ten-year window to be inducted following their first appearance on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. 

"If a couple of ballots come along in the next days where he loses votes, things could get a lot more interesting," Thibodaux said.

The final vote tally should be revealed Jan. 18.

His high success rate on the basepaths, along with a .385 career on-base percentage, have made Raines a cause celebre of sorts in the baseball analytics community. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

Fans celebrate 'Mr. Expo'

Numbers have never stood in the way of Expos fans; many were shaking up the champagne over the news that Raines had effectively rounded second base in the ballot count and was burning his way towards third.

Jonah Keri, author of the Expos history Up, Up, and Away, is often credited with fuelling the campaign to get Raines inducted in the Hall of Fame.

He said news of the numbers is "great," but refused any of the credit.

"It has nothing to do with me. This is about a really accomplished player, and just a good person, getting the acclaim that he deserves," Keri said.

Keri said Raines always had Hall of Fame-worthy numbers — just not the right ones in the eyes of some voters.

"He didn't have 3,000 hits, instead he had a whole bunch of walks, and that can throw people. He didn't have 500 home-runs and he played his best years in Montreal," Keri said.

"Sometimes a candidate like that, despite the fact that by the objective standards of the Hall of Fame should be worthy, it requires a little bit of nudging."

The baseball analytics community has played a key role in pushing for Raines, underscoring his career record of 808 stolen bases, 1,571 runs scored and .385 on-base percentage.

Former Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines salutes the crowd as he was honoured in a pre-game ceremony at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in April 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

'It's going go be electric in Cooperstown'

Expos Nation, the group spearheading efforts to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal, has also been among those not-so-subtly nudging votes in favour of Tim Raines.

The group's president, Matthew Ross, said it will be hard for Raines to fall short given the way the ballots are shaping up.

"When you're tracking at 91 per cent on 40 per cent of the ballots, it's pretty much a done deal," he said. 

Ross said Expos Nation will be out in force in Cooperstown for the expected induction of Raines, as they were for former Expo Pedro Martinez in 2015.

"Tim Raines was essentially Mr. Expo. His career spans from Rusty Staub in 1979 to playing with Vladimir Guerrero in 2001," Ross said.

"I think it's going to be electric in Cooperstown next year and it's just going to be littered with Expos fans."

If Raines is voted in, and with Guerrero pulling high numbers in this his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Ross said it's going to be hard to ignore the call to bring big league baseball back to Montreal.

"It continues to keep Montreal in the consciousness of Major League Baseball. Vladimir Guerrero might miss this year but hopefully he'll get in next year. It's just a great overall boost to the efforts."

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