MLB

Opening day 1981 changed fortunes of Hall of Famer Raines

Tim Raines played in the major leagues for more than two decades, and yet one at-bat still sticks in his mind. Nervous about making the Montreal Expos' roster after two brief call-ups that didn't work out so well, his performance on Opening Day 1981 in Pittsburgh erased any doubt.

Ex-Expo will be inducted into Cooperstown on Sunday

Tim Raines, centre, will be inducted into Cooperstown this Sunday alongside Jeff Bagwell, left, and Ivan Rodriguez, right. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Tim Raines played in the major leagues for more than two decades, and yet one at-bat still sticks in his mind.

Nervous about making the Montreal Expos' roster after two brief call-ups that didn't work out so well (one hit in 20 at-bats), his performance on Opening day 1981 in Pittsburgh erased any doubt. Raines led off the game with a walk, stole second on the first pitch to the next batter and scored after the errant throw to second eluded the outfielders.

A star was born.

"I think that was the beginning of the type of player Tim Raines could be," Raines recalled. "It kind of got me going. I think if I would have struck out and not do anything offensively that game, I'm not sure what would have happened to my career. I hadn't really proven to anyone what type of player that I was. It kind of just took off from there."

End of a journey

His baseball journey ends Sunday in Cooperstown, when the 57-year-old Raines will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joining him are Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, both elected by a veterans committee.

Raines received 86 per cent of the vote by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to easily top the 75 per cent threshold needed. That tally came on his final year on the ballot, an oversight that's difficult to fathom in retrospect.

The switch-hitting Raines batted .294 and had a .385 on-base percentage in his 23-year career, finishing with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases. The stolen bases is the fifth-highest total in major league history and includes 70 or more steals in each season from 1981-86, a streak that stands alone in baseball history. Take a closer look at his accomplishments on the basepaths, and they are quite remarkable — his 84.7 per cent success rate tops the list among players with at least 400 steal attempts.

Raines credits his fortune to the increasing popularity of sabermetrics, advanced statistics that give greater insight into a player's worth.

"I think they kind of looked at the numbers on the baseball cards," said Raines, who overcame a recreational drug addiction that hampered his production early in his career. "There's more to the game than just those numbers. Guys can be just as important to a team and an organization in a lot of different ways."

Rodriguez, Bagwell join Raines

Rodriguez, who holds the major league records for games caught (2,427) and putouts by a catcher (12,376), hit 311 homers and batted .296 in his career. No surprise that he's only the second catcher elected on the first ballot, following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, former Cincinnati Reds star Johnny Bench.

In 21 seasons spent mostly with the Texas Rangers, Rodriguez was a 14-time All-Star, won a record 13 Gold Gloves and took home seven Silver Slugger awards.

"I think I just prepared myself," said the 45-year-old Rodriguez, affectionately known as "Pudge." "I'm talking about blocking thousands of balls, making thousands of throws to second base, trying to throw the ball to the right side of the base.

"You can have ability, but if you don't have discipline, if you don't work on things you have to do, it's going to be hard for you to do it in your career."

The 48-year-old Bagwell, who played his entire 15-year career with the Houston Astros, was elected in his seventh year on the ballot. He's the only first baseman in history with 400 career home runs and 200 stolen bases.

"This is all overwhelming to me," Bagwell said. "Parts of me wonder, 'Why am I in here?"'

Bagwell ended his career with 449 home runs, was 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and in the strike-shortened 1994 season hit .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in just 110 games to unanimously capture MVP honours.

Just as impressive: From 1996-2001, Bagwell had at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs per season, only the sixth player in major league history to reach those marks in at least six straight years.​​

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