Let’s get this out of the way — Tim Raines is not Rickey Henderson.
You know that and I know that. But 45 percent of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America hold “not being Rickey Henderson” against Tim Raines.
This is backwards.
Henderson is unquestionably the best leadoff man in baseball’s history, but that fact should not count against Raines’ career and his case for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Is the BBWAA going to hold it against Trevor Hoffman for not being Mariano Rivera on the 2016 vote? I doubt it.
So allow me to explain why Raines deserves to be in Cooperstown, even as “the second greatest leadoff man.”
The 5-foot-8, 160 pound, switch-hitting Raines became an everyday player with the National League’s Montreal Expos in 1981, turning heads with his basepath dominance and noticeable bat skills for a player just 21 years of age.
Raines spent 13 seasons north of the border as the Expos' offensive impetus and everyday left fielder. Of those 13 seasons, it was in his first full one in Montreal that Raines began to turn heads. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Raines led the NL with 71 stolen bases, posting a slash line of .304/.391./438, an OPS of .829, 135 OPS+, and piling up 137 total bases in just 88 games.
The first seven years of Raines' career would be nothing short of exemplary. From 1981 to 1987, Raines would post a slash line of .310/.396./448 with an OPS+ of 135, and would average 172 hits, 31 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, 79 walks, and 72 stolen bases. During that seven-year run, Raines would make the NL All-Star team each year and receive MVP votes in six of those seven seasons.
Raines made his living on the basepaths, leading the NL in stolen bases four years in a row (1981-71SB, ’82-78SB, ’83-90SB, ’84-75SB) and stealing 70 or more bags six times, and 50 or more bags eight times. Raines' seven-year average from 1981-87 of 72 stolen bases is more than seven MLB teams had in all of 2014. Raines' 808 career steals rank fifth all-time, and his 85.1 stolen base percentage is first all-time for players with at least 300 attempts, making him arguably the most efficient base thief ever.
In his 13 seasons as an Expo, Raines amassed 2,355 total bases, 793 walks, 635 stolen bases, 281 doubles, 947 runs, a .829 OPS, an OPS+ of 131 and a slash line of .310/.391/.497.
According to baseball-reference.com, Raines’ career numbers compare closest to Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Max Carey, Enos Slaughter, and Fred Clarke. When compared to Brock, a first-ballot inductee, Raines has more home runs, RBIs, and walks, along with a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, with 764 fewer strikeouts, a higher OPS+ and WAR rating, and was caught stealing 161 fewer times.
When compared to Carey, Slaughter, and Clarke, Raines’ case is even more concrete. Raines has more doubles, home runs, stolen bases, walks, and a higher WAR rating than all three.
Using the JAWS metric (created by Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe), Raines should have been put in the Hall long ago. JAWS uses career and seven-year peak WAR totals to show the worthiness of a player’s candidacy compared to those players who are of the same position and already in the Hall.
Raines is eighth in JAWS for left fielders, behind the likes of Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Ed Delahanty, and Al Simmons. Aside from Bonds and Rose, all of those players are in the Hall. Raines’ 55.8 JAWS rating is better than 14 other Hall of Fame left fielders, making his vindication all the more definite.
Raines’ career totals feature a slash line of .294/.385/.425, an .810 OPS, 123 OPS+, 3,771 total bases, 1,571 runs, 1,330 walks, 2,605 hits, and 430 doubles over 23 seasons and six teams.
It’s unfair that Raines’ career is often overlooked in comparison to Rickey Henderson’s. It’s also unfair that many voters withhold their votes for Raines because of his admitted cocaine use. Raines has acknowledged usage prior to and during games, and sliding head first for fear of breaking the packages kept in his back pocket of his baseball pants. Sadly, the use of drugs in the 1980s was not limited to only Raines, as use was rather widespread. Thankfully, Raines was able to ditch his habit early on in his career.
While the admitted drug abuse has seemingly hurt Raines, voters have also been shy about Raines’ lack of any major-season awards, and career milestone achievements aside from stolen bases. Raines lacked any raw power, never hitting more than 20 home runs in a season, and missed the 3,000 hit mark by 395. His resume is simply missing the pretty power numbers that voters crave.
Tim Raines has just two years remaining on the Hall of Fame ballot before his candidacy expires with the BBWAA and is brought before the Veteran’s Committee. Raines' highest vote percentage was in 2013 when he received 56.2 percent, but that declined to 55 percent after this past year’s election due to a loaded ballot.
Votes won’t come much easier for Raines on the 2016 ballot with newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman garnering votes with growing support for Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Raines’ best bet might be with the Veteran’s Committee, but that doesn't take away from his fantastic career that is undoubtedly worthy of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- By Jake Rose