Commentary

Raines: 'I played the game with excitement, focus'

Originally Published: December 29, 2007
By Jonah Keri | Special to ESPN.com

Tim Raines scored more runs in his career than Tony Gwynn. He owns a higher on-base percentage than Willie Mays. He's one of only five players ever to steal 800 or more bases, and no one with 300 or more attempts owns a higher success rate than Raines' 84.7 percent. Yet with Hall of Fame voting results slated to be announced Jan. 8, Raines looks like a long shot for induction in his first year of eligibility.

Whether because of his lack of exposure playing much of his career in Montreal, his lack of milestone numbers such as 3,000 hits, or the stubborn, senseless policy of many voters not to vote in players on their first try, Raines may face an uphill climb to get to Cooperstown, at least in 2008.

Raines recently sat down to talk about his Hall of Fame credentials, the lack of base stealers in today's game and his days playing with the "Team of the '80s" in front of packed houses at Olympic Stadium:

Tim Raines
AllsportTim Raines played 23 seasons in the majors, and finished his career with 2,605 hits.
Jonah Keri: If you were stating your case for the Hall, what would you say to the voters?

Tim Raines: I would probably say that when it comes to players that made an impact on a team and a league for an extended period of time, if that's what you're looking for, that's what I was. It's not so much getting 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins. It's also about longevity, the era that you're playing in, being one player that I think many teams feared for a long period of time. I think all of that gives me a chance.

Keri: You mentioned the era you played in, but you really played in two different eras, considering you also played through the '90s. Which run-scoring era did you like playing in more?

Raines: I preferred the first. It was a faster game. Plus I was in the National League then, and I was a National League-style of player. I was pretty much the only player doing what I was doing on my side. On the other side you had Rickey Henderson. He stole more bases and had 3,000 hits. In many of the other stats, I feel that I can compare.

Keri: Do you realize that if you pulled a Tonya Harding on Rickey and whacked him on the kneecaps 20 years ago, you'd stand alone as a leadoff hitter and be a lock for the Hall of Fame?

Raines: [Laughs] I think it kind of helped me, especially because I was in Montreal. People saw Rickey playing the same way, so they got a chance to pick and choose. My name kind of stuck because of Rickey Henderson. When people mentioned Rickey Henderson, my name was usually in there somewhere, as far as leadoff guys go. In the last few years especially, people don't really look at leadoff guys as much. When you think of the past, leadoff guys were often the ones who controlled the game offensively. Nowadays it's more about who's hitting home runs -- people are more likely to talk about someone like A-Rod or Barry Bonds or, a few years ago, Mark McGwire.

Keri: Are there any players now that remind you of yourself, or Henderson?

Raines: The closest guy to the two of us is [Jose] Reyes. It's hard to come up with another. Most leadoff guys don't really have that combination of power, speed, the ability to drive runners in -- all the things you need to have a prototypical leadoff man. Someone like Juan Pierre, he doesn't have much power, he's a slap hitter; he's not going to drive many runs in. He steals a lot of bases and he doesn't strike out much, but he also doesn't walk much. As a leadoff man, you need to get on base one way or another, whether it's a hit or a walk or some other way.

Keri: When did you start developing your batting eye and drawing walks?

Raines: It developed over time. It really started as I got closer to the big leagues. What helped is that the first year I got called up, I didn't get any at-bats. Then my second year, I went 1 for 20. I realized that to stay in the big leagues, I had to be that type of player who would do whatever it took to get on base. Confidence played a big role too. In the first game of my rookie season, we were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. I led off the game with a walk, stole second, the ball got away and I scored. That was a big confidence boost for me. It made me feel that I belonged.

Keri: I grew up going to games at the Big O in the '80s, watching you, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. For those who don't remember the type of support the Expos had, especially in the early- to mid-'80s, describe the scene at Olympic Stadium in those days.

Raines: You wouldn't believe you were playing in Canada. Maybe the fans weren't as knowledgeable about baseball, but they knew when to cheer. And when you had those 30,000 to 40,000 people there, it would get really loud. Fan support was greater than or as great as anywhere in the States. I grew up in Montreal -- I became a Canadian pretty much. I loved it, the city was great and the fans were great. It was a lot of fun playing there. When I got to Montreal, the feedback I got from the fans made me want to play that much harder.

Keri: Are you still close to Dawson?

Raines: Yes, definitely. I named my youngest son after Andre. We still stay in touch, still see each other. We're probably just as close now as we were in '79. I've been pulling for him to get in for a long time, too.

Keri: Do you think the Big O hurt some of the offensive numbers that you two put up?

Raines: Oh definitely, it was like that for everybody that played there. It was a big ballpark, the ball didn't carry that well and you had high walls, so there were tons of balls that hit off the walls that would've gone out in most other parks. In Colorado, New Comiskey, a lot of the new parks nowadays, balls are flying out. In this era, it's way easier as far as offensive stats are concerned.

Keri: Andre and you were two of the biggest casualties of collusion during the 1986-87 offseason. You ended up missing the first month of the season. What was it like being in that situation, at a time when you were in the prime of your career with your first chance at free agency?

Raines: It was very frustrating. I was looking for an opportunity to be in position with a team that would have a chance. At the time, the Expos were losing players back and forth. It was like we were retooling every year. Making more money would have been nice. But I was more concerned about winning. I didn't see a team that had enough money to get the players needed to get over the hump. It was a great opportunity to at least see what was out there and make a decision. That decision was taken out of my hands. What made it even more frustrating was not knowing where I was going up until a month before the season. Then to find out I couldn't start the season, couldn't even go to spring training, that was really tough. I didn't let it get me down, though. I said to myself, "If I'm the player that people think I am, that I think I am, then I'll come prepared to play in May."

Keri: Did you ever get close to signing with another team?

Raines: The Padres and Astros were the closest. I went to the Astros' spring training. They offered me like $800,000 for one year, and I was already making over $1 million at the time. They told me that was the best they could do.

Keri: When I think of your career, the one game that stands out the most for me is May 2, 1987, against the Mets. Your first game back after everything that happened and you had a monster game. Where does that one rank among your best and most memorable games?

Raines: It was the best game and the most memorable, and that's including winning the MVP in the All-Star Game. I played just two minor league games before going to the big leagues to play. There was no spring training. I remember taking BP before that first game in New York, I was so nervous. I mean, I was always nervous before games, but this was different -- I hadn't played in seven or eight months. During BP, I think I hit one ball out of the cage. Then the first pitch I saw against David Cone, I hit the ball off the right-field wall for a triple. Then I got a couple more hits. Then to hit a grand slam in the 10th inning to win it, as a leadoff guy, with no spring training, off Jesse Orosco, who was one of the toughest relief pitchers at the time, was pretty exciting. That was one of those games, you never think it's going to happen especially under those circumstances.

Keri: 1987 was one of your best seasons, too. You might've won the MVP if you played the whole year. Plus, the Expos were a big surprise team that year, and came close to winning the division. Do you think things would've been played out differently if you were there right from Opening Day?

Raines: Well, you can never know for sure. It ended up that we had a great season and just fell a little short. Speaking for myself, though, I didn't expect to do that well, especially at first. But the athlete just comes out of you in that kind of situation. You want to show that yes, I was one of the best players in the free agency market. You want to stick it to all the other teams that passed on you.

Keri: Back in the '80s, they used to hold a skills competition before the All-Star Game. Do you think players of today would like to compete in that kind of event? Or do the big salaries that players make now, plus the risk of injury, make it impossible?

Raines: I think it would be great. Basketball does it, football does it. All other sports have a competition before the All-Star Game. Baseball plays so many games, so that does make it kind of tough -- you might have to use an extra day. Plus you could have a guy who might not make the All-Star Game, who maybe should compete in those kinds of competitions. Still, though, we have the Home Run Derby today, but that's it. It'd be great to see who's the fastest, who has the best arm, which pitcher could throw the most strikes.

Keri: Bill James was part of your arbitration hearing. Did he make an impact, or was he just talking over everyone's heads?

Raines: I think they got what he was saying. But the owners didn't really want to hear it. Owners never want to hear the good things. For the player it's about bringing out all the good, for the owner it's bringing out the bad. I was there the whole time during the hearing and it was pretty interesting. To hear someone say bad things about me, knowing you're going to work for them for the next seven or eight seasons, it's an eye-opener.

Keri: You later ended up playing with the Yankees. Did you feel like Joe Torre should've played you more?

Raines: My first year there, I broke my finger to start the season. I was rehabbing, then my first game back I pulled my hamstring the first day. So it wasn't that he didn't use me. It was the beginning of a couple years where my legs were giving out on me. They went and got Darryl Strawberry, and Gerald Williams played too. I just wasn't healthy.

Keri: Then in 1999, you were diagnosed with lupus. Looking back on it now, when do you think your condition may have first started affecting you?

Raines: The doctors were telling me that the lupus might have been linked back to the hamstring injuries, and that was back in '96. Without my legs, you know, I just wasn't the same player. I could go up and hit homers, but that wasn't my game. I hit a bunch of homers in September that year, so I was able to help the team, and we won the World Series. But on a personal level, 1996 was a season of disappointment. I'd say that coming down with lupus hurt my chances of being a shoo-in, really. I had 2,000 hits way before Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Injuries were the difference between getting to 3,000 hits and doing a few other things. All of that took a lot of at-bats away from me. If it wouldn't have happened, we wouldn't be talking about it right now. I feel like I'd be a first-ballot player.

Keri: Are you surprised by all the news that's come out about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs? Haven't players been trying to gain an edge forever, going back to when you started and even well before that?

[Back in the early '80s] if you could run, teams would find a way to put you in the lineup. Now it doesn't really matter if you can run or not, you have to have some type of power.

--Tim Raines

Raines: Definitely, it's just human nature. I think everyone tries to come up with some type of edge. As an athlete, a professional athlete, as an entertainer, you do what you have to do to be the best you can be. But as a player, I never thought that steroids would be the way to go. It's been around for a while, I've heard about guys using when I was in the minor leagues. It really goes back a long way. I was one guy that never thought that lifting weights would make me a better player. I never lifted weights, I just felt that I was naturally strong enough to do what I had to do. I did my running and stretching, and I did everything I could to make sure I wouldn't get injured. But I didn't figure I needed to be bigger and stronger to play baseball, really.

Keri: Early in your career, you came under scrutiny yourself when you came forward about your cocaine use. Do you think using gave you an edge? Do you think voters are going to bring it up when they make their decisions on your Hall of Fame candidacy?

Raines: I'm pretty sure it'll come up. Any time you're talking about the Hall of Fame, they're going to talk about both the negative and the positive. It was my second year in pro ball, and I got it taken care of. The other 20 years of my career, I was free and clean. I was about 20 at the time and I was a young, young, young 20. I was from a small town, went to Montreal, this big party city, and just got caught up with the wrong crowd. I think the best part is that I was never caught, that I came out on my own. It actually could've been buried and no one would've known about it. I did it for my own piece of mind. I came out with the story and it became a case where the more people who knew, the more support I would get. It didn't help me physically, but after I talked about it, it was helpful more than hurtful. There were times I'd go on the road and people would say things, sure. But the whole experience made me a better player, person and father. It had some bearing on where my career went from that point on.

Keri: Speaking of being a father, your son has made it to the show, but he's struggled to stay there. Do you think if this was the early '80s, that Tim Jr. would've had a more successful career?

Raines: Yes, definitely. If you could run, teams would find a way to put you in the lineup. Now it doesn't really matter if you can run or not, you have to have some type of power. He tried to hit more homers to get over the hump. If he would've not worried about homers and been more concerned about on-base percentage, he would've been around longer. Changing his mindset of how to play the game hurt him more than it helped him. I told him to try to be more like me, but he wouldn't listen [laughs]. He's still trying, he was with the Astros in Triple-A last year, now he's in the Diamondbacks system.

Keri: Beyond the stats, what do you want people to remember about you as a player?

Raines: I want them to see a guy who enjoyed the game, who had fun playing the game and played hard every minute he was out on the field. That I played the game with excitement, focus, doing everything I could do physically to help the team I was playing with. I was never a "me" guy, I didn't step on any toes and I came to play. I think I played my best when the best was out there. I was a clutch player. I could get on base when you needed a baserunner, if my team needed me to drive a run in, I could do that. I could bat anywhere in the lineup: leadoff, third, one year I spent time batting cleanup. I played left field mostly, but I also played center field one year. I started at second base; I was a player who was adaptable to wherever you put him. I was never bitter about anything. I felt like I was a good teammate, though they'd probably say I laughed too much.

If I were to get in with those two guys [Andre Dawson and Gary Carter], that would be the best thing to happen in my whole career.

Keri: Well, sure. But if Blue Monday

Raines: You know, we had two runners on in the bottom of that inning and the Dodgers got a groundball to win the game. I actually felt we had the best team in baseball that year. We had the Dodgers on the ropes. We could've won the game before. We just didn't get it done. You look at 1981 and 1994, the team would probably still be in Montreal if not for those two years. Also, Charles Bronfman [the Expos' owner from 1968-1990], to me, was the man. Once he stepped down and other people took over, that was the beginning of the end.

Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." He also contributes to raines30.com, a site dedicated to raising awareness of Tim Raines' Hall of Fame credentials. You can contact him here.

Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.

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