Day 6

Tim Raines is down to his last chance to make the Baseball Hall of Fame

In just five days, the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce this year's crop of Hall of Fame inductees. It's legendary Expo left-fielder Tim Raines' last chance to get the call to the hall. Baseball writer Jonah Keri makes the case for Raines, by the numbers.
Former Montreal Expo Tim Raines is in his last year of eligibility for the baseball hall of fame.

Tim Raines was one of the best baseball players of the 1980s. He was a fan-favourite with the Montreal Expos, a seven-time all-star and one of the best leadoff hitters of all-time. He was so fast, he ranks fifth all-time in stolen bases.

But he's not in the Hall of Fame.

This is Raines' tenth and final year on the ballot. If he doesn't get in this year, he never will.

We'll find out on January 18th whether or not Tim Raines gets the call to the hall. But in the meantime, fans of "Nos Amours" are rallying behind him.

Jonah Keri is a big Raines booster. He was born and raised in Montreal and grew up a huge Expos fan. Now, he's one of the top baseball writers in the world.

Here's his case for why Tim Raines deserves a place in Cooperstown.

Tim Raines wore 30 on his uniform most of his career

It's common to see professional athletes as the the fire-and-brimstone type — the kind to get their teammates fired-up with rousing speeches. Raines wasn't like that, he was a joker.

When you talk to ex-teammates of his, the thing that stands out is how beloved he was. He was the kind of guy who was always making people laugh, making them smile, and he always seemed loose.

Montreal Expos Tim Raines is congratulated by teammates after scoring the go-ahead run late in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001. (Associated Press/Miles Kennedy)

This was the case as a young player in Montreal, and when he joined the New York Yankees in 1996, when Raines was in his 30s and more than a decade into his major league career.
He was a veteran surrounded by future stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, all of whom speak about Raines' easy-going manner and leadership.

Tim Raines (31) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the Yankee's first run in game three of the 1999 World Series. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

Tim Raines recorded 808 steals in his career

He was absolutely dynamic. There was a debate about whether he would break the stolen base record in his rookie year until the strike hit.

Basically, he could steal anytime he wanted to and nobody could throw him out. He was that hot.

There are only five other players in the history of baseball who have stolen 800 or more. Four of them are in the hall of fame, and the fifth is Tim Raines.

Tim Raines takes a lead off the base during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Raines is the club's all-time leader in steals with 635. (Jonathan Daniel/Allsport /Getty)

When you consider Raines' 808, it's not just the volume — though that is impressive — but it's also the infrequency with which he got caught trying to steal.

Over his career, Raines would slide safely into second or third base 84.7 per cent of the time.

If you compare that to all the players in professional baseball history with at least 400 attempts, Tim Raines is the highest percentage base-stealer ever.

Tim Raines collected 2,605 career hits in his career

This, of course, is not 3,000; and the thing about hall of fame voters is they tend to fixate on round numbers. Five hundred home runs has long been a benchmark, and so has 3,000 hits.

But look past 2,605 career hits and look at the number of times Tim Raines reached base.

Do you remember that saying from little league that a walk is as good as a hit? Tim Raines walked 1,330 times. He was also hit by a pitch a handful of times. That adds up to 3,977 times on base.

Tim Raines is considered one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball history. He was a 7-time all star and won the 1986 National League batting champion.

Raines reached base more times than Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew; you could go on and on. Also, all those guys are in the hall of fame.

Once you change your mindset from hits to times on base, Tim Raines' hall of fame case becomes crystal clear.

Raines' core success happened with a team that no longer exists

Raines played 13 of his 23 seasons in Montreal and it's no secret that if Tim Raines is elected to the baseball hall of fame, there will be an Expos cap on his plaque. 

In some ways, it will feel strange to celebrate a team that folded more than 13 years ago, but it would be in keeping with the Expos resurgence that's happening right now.

Tim Raines acknowledges the crowd at a Montreal Expos home game against the New York Mets in September 2004. The team relocated to Washington D.C. the following year. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

We're seeing exhibition games by the Blue Jays sell out Olympic stadium. We're seeing an underground movement from local corporations who are trying to get money together to buy another team, and we're seeing lots of Expos hats.

Kids on the streets of Montreal who are too young to even remember the team are wearing Expos caps.

So rallying behind Raines' and this last chance to get into the hall of fame is just another opportunity to celebrate this defunct baseball team.

Inductees will be announced January 18

We're still a few days out, but it looks like Raines has a good shot. This is his tenth year on the ballot. If you look at how members of the the Baseball Writers' Association of America have voted in the past and compare it to this year, you can see how support for the former left-fielder is mounting.

According to the math, Raines needs a total of 20 voters who didn't select him last year to add his name to their ballot.

Raines has a lot of momentum ahead of Wednesday's announcement. So far, early returns indicate 25 have flipped.

Patterns show a tendency to recognize talented players in their last year on the ballot. On average, players in their final year of eligibility see an increase of six per cent. Raines had better than 69 per cent of the vote last year.

If you add six per cent, you get to 75 per cent — the minimum requirement — and Tim Raines is a hall of famer.

If you're an Expos fan, or a Tim Raines fan, or you're Tim Raines, that's the hope this time.

Jonah Keri is the author of the New York Times bestseller Up, Up and Away, about the history of the Montreal Expos. He's also host of the appropriately named Jonah Keri podcast.