Tim Raines: Hall of Famer 'one of the greatest leadoff hitters'

Former left-fielder Tim Raines on Wednesday became the third Montreal Expos player voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, appearing on 86 per cent of the 442 ballots cast.

Former Expo electrified crowds with base-stealing ability, all-round game

Former Expos outfielder Tim Raines was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, appearing on 86 per cent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images/File)

Tim Wallach remembers the uneasy feeling when reporting to the double-A Memphis Chicks three months into the 1979 season and quickly being greeted by his new teammates, most notably a second baseman named Tim Raines.

"I was a new guy coming out of college [California State University, Fullerton] and it was awkward because you've taken somebody's job. He just made me feel welcome from the second I got there," Wallach, the Montreal Expos' first-round pick (10th overall) that year, said in a recent phone interview with CBC Sports.

"His laugh stood out to me. He was funny, a genuinely good guy that cared about his teammates and people."

Raines, now 57, was having fun again Wednesday after being voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 10th and final year of eligibility along with first baseman Jeff Bagwell (86.2 per cent) and catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez (76 per cent). They will be inducted on July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Raines, who moved to the outfield prior to the 1981 strike-shortened season with the Expos and played 13 of his 23 pro seasons in Montreal, was named on 86 per cent of the 442 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America after narrowly missing the requisite 75 per cent threshold last year (69.8 per cent).

"I always thought he should be a Hall of Famer. He's one of the most dynamic players I played with," said the 59-year-old Wallach, a third baseman for the Expos in the 1980s and early '90s and now bench coach for the Miami Marlins.

Tim Raines' career stats

  • Seasons: 23
  • Batting average: .294
  • Hits: 2,605
  • Walks: 1,330
  • Runs: 1,571
  • Stolen bases: 808
  • On-base %: .385
  • On-base-plus slugging %: .810

Raines, drafted by Montreal in the fifth round in 1977, is the third Expos player named to the Hall of Fame, joining the late Gary Carter (2003) and Andre Dawson (2010).

Wallach, who broke into the majors in 1982, was confident the switch-hitting Raines would reach the big leagues a week or two after they met in Memphis. "He stood out amongst everyone in the league."

Wallach still laughs at an interview featuring Raines, who told the reporter his teammates nicknamed him "Rock" because he was so strong.

"I know better than that," Wallach said. "There's another reason he got moved to the outfield. His hands weren't the greatest in the infield. But I think if he would have stayed [at second] he would have figured out how to be a very good second baseman because he worked so hard."

He had great instincts on the bases. He could see things other guys couldn't see.— Tim Wallach on former Montreal Expos teammate Tim Raines

Besides his work ethic, if there were two constants with Raines, it was his desire to have fun and crack jokes along with an ability to get on base, most notably by drawing walks.

In his rookie season, a 21-year-old Raines seemingly didn't require an adjustment period to major league pitching as he posted a .391 OBP and 71 stolen bases in 88 games.

"That's just who he was," Wallach said. "He had great instincts on the bases. He could see things other guys couldn't see."

Fellow outfielder Dawson was 26 and in his fifth major league season when Raines arrived full-time in Montreal. "Hawk" took Raines under his wing and showed him how to handle the media.

Dawson, who stood an intimidating seven inches taller at six-foot-three and had already recorded back-to-back 25-homer seasons, thought of Raines as a "little brother."

Shortly after signing with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent in 1987, Dawson became more impressed with Raines' work ethic, determination and drive.

"He was easily becoming one of the greatest all-time leadoff hitters," Dawson told CBC Sports, adding Raines earned his respect by making a big impact at such a young age. "He was green in a lot of areas but not baseball talent-wise."

Raines' notable MLB feats

  • He ranks fifth all-time in steals with 808, trailing only fellow Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson (1,406), Lou Brock (938), Billy Hamilton (914) and Ty Cobb (897).
  • From 1981-92, he scored 90-plus runs eight times, led the National League in stolen bases four times, was a seven-time all-star and hit .290 or better seven times.
  • As an everyday player, he posted an on-base percentage of .390 or greater eight times.
  • He is the only player in major league history with more than two seasons (four) of at least 50 extra-base hits and 70 stolen bases.
  • Had five seasons with a minimum 70 walks and 70 steals. Only Hall of Famers Billy Hamilton (six) and Rickey Henderson (seven) had more.
  • He stole a record 27 straight bases without being caught to begin his career.

Jonah Keri grew up in Montreal and was six-years-old in Raines' rookie season when he attended Expos games at Olympic Stadium with his grandfathers. It didn't take long for Raines to grab the youngster's attention.

"He was such an electrifying player, not only in terms of numbers but the way he played," said Keri, author of the Expos history Up, Up and Away and one of the main people behind the push to get Raines elected. "The idea that base-stealing and risk-taking could play a role was so captivating for somebody that young."

With 2,605 hits and 1,330 walks, "Raines reached base more times than [Hall of Famers] Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, Mike Schmidt, Lou Brock, Roberto Alomar and a whole bunch of other players," Keri said.

Raines got the better of many strong defensive catchers through the years, including Bruce Benedict of the Atlanta Braves, who caught would-be basestealers at a 32 per cent clip over 12 seasons, but caught Raines just three times in 30 attempts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I only recall one [of the times] and it was in Montreal against one of our slowest pitchers, [right-handed reliever] Jeff Dedmon," the former catcher said from Atlanta. "It just happened to be [a time when Raines] didn't get his best jump. [The ball] fell right on the base when he was getting [to second].

All-round player

"We threw him out and he stood up and had the biggest surprised look on his face. It was probably the biggest shock to him in his professional career. Everything had to be perfect to get him."

Speed was a big part of Major League Baseball in the 1980s, but Benedict and other backstops also needed to be wary of Raines' ability to impact the game in other ways.

"He had very good pitch recognition so he could run deep counts and make you pay with his bat," said Benedict, who will soon enter his fourth season as an Atlanta-based scout for the Chicago White Sox. "He was an all-round player that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

Raines, though, might never have reached his vast potential if Dawson didn't offer his teammate support to overcome a cocaine addiction that affected his performance in 1982. Raines' average dipped to .277 that season, but he rebounded to score 133 runs and steal a career-high 90 bases the following year.

"He was still a kid, but you gotta learn how to live away from the field. He was man enough to admit what his problem was," Dawson said. "Timmy said, 'I need help. I can't do this by myself.' That went a long way with me courage-wise."

Raines spent the next seven seasons in Montreal before signing as a free agent with the White Sox and later the New York Yankees, with whom he won World Series titles in 1996 and '98 as a productive role player. Raines returned to Montreal in 2001 and also had stints with Oakland, Baltimore and Florida.

"He never showed any degree of pressure," Dawson said. "He seemed to be happy-go-lucky every day. He just went out and showed you how you're supposed to enjoy the game."