Introduction | Take the poll | The backlog problem
Frank Thomas | Jack Morris | Jeff Bagwell | Craig Biggio
Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina | Edgar Martinez
Next up: Tim Raines [Baseball Reference]
Tim Raines reached base in his career more times than Tony Gwynn. That’s not a slight to Gwynn, a deserving Hall of Famer. It’s to show that Raines was a helluva player, but made his impact most subtly than a hit machine like Gwynn. Raines finished with 2605 hits, Gwynn with 3141. So how did Raines reach base more times (3977-3955)? Walks.
No one’s arguing walks or as good as hits, but walks are still very valuable because they are not outs. In Raines’s case, they were even more valuable because it put him on the bases path to wreck havoc, which he did almost as well as anyone. His 808 steals are 5th all-time, and his 84.7% success rate beats all those ahead of him. It was those walks that allowed Raines to post a .385 career OBP. It was those walks that helped him score over 1500 runs. Just about every 20th century player who wasn’t implicated in PEDs or was Pete Rose with over 1500 runs is in the Hall.
What about peak seasons though? He’s got them. First look at 1981-1986, when he led the league in steals four times and averaged 76 a year, despite 1981 being strike shortened. His true peak though began in 1983 and went through 1987. For those years, Raines hit .318/.406/.467 for an OBP heavy 142 OPS+. He swiped 355 bags in that period, scored 114 runs a year and rapped 186 hits a year. He led the league in batting and OBP in 1986 and was top four in OBP in all the others.
He was never quite that good again, but he was still cranking out high OBPs and high stolen bases totals as the 90s began. From Montreal, Raines moved to the White Sox and hit .283/.375/.407 in 5 years there. In 1996, he joined the Yankees. At 36, he was down to part-time player duty, but still posted OBPs of .383, .403, and .395 those three years, all World Series winning seasons. Raines even hit .303/.413/.449 in limited action at age 41, a year after suffering from lupus. Raines has a reputation of hanging all too long, but looking at the numbers, he never was a complete drag, even into his 40s.
As you can probably guess, I’m a YES on Raines. It’s not a flashy case, which is likely why his momentum has been slow in building. His best years happened in Montreal. His skills are of those that were undervalued at the time he played and still kind of are. He was the second greatest leadoff hitter ever who unfortunately was a contemporary of the greatest. Some still may hold his cocaine addiction (which was now almost two decades ago) against him. All of this has conspired to make Tim Raines one of the most underrated players in history, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a Hall of Famer.
WILL HE GET IN: The good news is Raines got over 50% last year. The bad news is that with the crowded ballot, that number is also certainly going back under this year. Raines has of course been the cause célèbre of the sabermetric community since Bert Blyleven got in, and it’s helped him get over 50% from a debut of 24.3%. However, this is his seventh year on the ballot, and any stalled momentum is going to just make it harder.
Raines, as Eric noted, was outstanding at getting on base. When he got on base, he was one of the better base stealers of all time. Thanks to those skills, he was able to score as many runs as anyone in his era. He led the league twice in runs scored, finished 2nd twice, and was among the top 10 4 additional times.
If you can tell me what skill is more important for a hitter than scoring runs, I'd love to hear what it is. RBI are popular, but those depend largely on other players around someone in a batting order. Without players getting on base ahead of you, and without protection behind you, it's hard to drive in a lots of runs.
Scoring runs, on the other hand, particularly the way Raines did it, is far more dependent on the individual player. Sure, there are time when the hitter behind him had a huge impact, but Raines' speed and ability to get on base at a high rate were the biggest factors in his success.
I believe Raines should eventually be a Hall of Famer, although I'm not entirely sure I'd vote for him this year. Once again, that's thanks to the overcrowded ballot.
WILL HE GET IN: Not this year. Hopefully he will, eventually, but it's looking grim. It might take some help from the Veterans Committee.