The case for Raines

Keith Law makes the Hall of Fame case for Tim Raines, and as is usually the case, he is as comprehensive as all get-out about it:

So Raines was perhaps the best base stealer in the game’s history, the second-best leadoff hitter, one of the best hitters at reaching base (the most important thing a hitter can do, after all) and a good defensive player. One common excuse for omitting Raines from Hall ballots is his admitted cocaine use in the 1980s, including his infamous confession to sliding headfirst to avoid breaking the vials of snow in his back pocket. Raines was clean for the majority of his career and became known both as someone who talked about his recovery from addiction and just generally a good character guy, yet voters are still bringing up the drug use from the first two or three years of his career.

Yet another candidate who reached the ballot with similar off-field indiscretions, Paul Molitor, sailed into the Hall on the first ballot with more than 85 percent of the vote and 299 more votes than Raines received in his first year. Molitor also played the first few years of his career with a serious cocaine problem. So why does Molitor get a free pass while Raines struggles to reach even a quarter of the vote? It’s not about their playing careers; Raines was the better offensive player and played a thousand more games in the field than Molitor did. Molitor accumulated more bulk statistics at the plate, but his inability to play a position was a big part of extending his career. No, it might be about something far more insidious.

Hint: the insidiousness is not Raines’ longtime affiliation with Québécois separatism.

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  1. The Common Man said...

    Sorry, this is going to be a longer comment:

    I buy Keith’s argument (after all, 28 guys didn’t vote for Rickey for no discernable reason) in large part.  However, it’s important to also recognize Raines played the best part of his career in Montreal, away from any kind of serious media spotlight, which limited his national exposure, and he spent the majority of his career in Rickey’s considerable shadow. 

    Also, I think he suffered because he was a far better player than Vince Coleman.  Follow my logic for a second.  Raines, being one of the better hitters in the NL in the ‘80s, often would start out on 2B or 3B, and being one of the best base stealers of all time would not run every single chance he got.  Therefore, while Coleman was racking up multiple 100 SB seasons (because he never hit for power and had a permanently green light), Raines topped out at 90, and settled in the 70s.  And without that extra digit, some idiots think that Coleman was more productive on the basepaths.  So, anybody buying this argument?

    Finally, I’m just really excited that a baseball writer knows who Cornel West is (though Klaw is far from your average baseball writer), and can use his work appropriately.  Now if only the mainstream media was interested in doing the same thing.

  2. Doug said...

    I’m not saying Keith Law is wrong, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough, but I think the cocaine thing is kind of a straw man.  I haven’t read anywhere that someone is not voting for him because of cocaine.  Now, maybe writers do hold the cocaine use against him and that’s why they’re not voting for him…of course they did vote for Paul Molitor (as Law points out).  It seems like a lot of people see racism as the most likely explanation for this discrepancy.  Maybe it is, but let’s not pretend it’s the only possibility. 
    Paul Molitor had 3,000 hits
    Tim Raines did not
    Paul Molitor was a key contributor in 2 world series (hitting 418)
    Tim Raines was a minor contributor in 1 world series towards the end of his career
    Paul Molitor played as a regular until the end of his career
    Tim Raines hung around for 6 years after his days as a regular were done.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Tim Raines is a better player than Paul Molitor and should sail into the Hall Of Fame.  However, given sportswriters’ explicit hangups that lead them to make curious voting decisions (like an obsession with 3,000 hits and clutch performance), I’m not sure it’s necessary to also assign them dark secret motives for their votes.

  3. Keith said...

    Doug – When I was tallying ballots last year, I found or received at least three where the voter explicitly stated he would not vote for Raines because of 1) the cocaine use in general or 2) the headfirst-sliding story.  That was the impetus for me to write that portion of the article.

  4. Phil said...

    So we can elect a President who admitted cocaine use, but not put someone in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  What a country!

  5. Grant said...

    Phil – I think you just hit on the fact that sportswriters are a much more conservative/reactionary crowd than the American people. Thank God they aren’t a reflection of reality.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Apples and oranges, Phil.  A direct comparison would be allowing a guy who used cocaine to play baseball (i.e. have a job), which has always been allowed.  Parker, Molitor, Raines, Hernandez, and even Dale freakin’ Berra worked after taking the nose candy.

    The Hall of Fame, however, is a retrospective honor, not unlike a historical assessment of a president.  As such, your comparison only holds up if Obama is caught doing lines on his desk in the oval office and is later judged by historians to have been one of our best presidents.

    Which, if he gets 3000 hits, he almost certainly will be.

  7. Doug said...

    I stand corrected.  Man, every time I want to give the BBWAA credit for something (stupidity being a relative virtue compared to racism), I’m proven wrong again.

    Although it would be important to know if those 3 guys voted for Molitor.

  8. APBA Guy said...

    Cruel to mention Dale Berra, because that brings up images of the 1979 series when the Pirates beat my beloved Orioles, which reminds me of the 1969 series…the horror…the horror

  9. Doug said...

    There’s nothing better than a little “drugged rentability with low peril.”

    I think that’s what Eric Gagne was supposed to be when the Sox picked him up.  Thank you…

  10. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Chris—it arrived a long time ago.  I’m usually around to zap it the second it comes in, but today I was out and about.  It will be gone by the time you read this.

  11. Bert said...

    One of the things I always liked about Raines is that he was so up-front about his cocaine use and kicking the habit. When he made the comment about the headfirst slide, it wasn’t to brag, but rather to talk about how low he was at the time… His best seasons easily came after he kicked the habit and his worse season was while in the depth of it (1982)…

    Compare that to people who refuse to answer questions about steroid use… I think Raines is a good example of being able to overcome adversity and still be a great player..

    Speaking of clutch performance, Raines was over .300 career with RISP and Close And Late situations… Actually better than his overall career average… That, to me, is clutch.

    And yes, I think he belongs in the Hall…

  12. Misha said...

    This year is the wrong year to get upset. The HOF voting crew is remarkably addicted to relative and shortsighted baseball normalcy, and trying to make a case for Tim Raines (albeit a more than legitimate one) when Rickey Henderson is on the ballot or in the discussion (undoubtedly part of last year’s voting)…it’s not even worth bringing it up. For example, If Glavine retires within a year or two of Maddux, Tommy will be a 20-40% guy until the idea of Maddux is gone. Raines has few leadoff threats on the ballot in the coming years; once member are comparing him to the non-enshrined competition, he’ll be fine.

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