In his 10th and last year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, Time Raines appears to have a strong shot of election when the Hall announces the results on Jan. 18. With 75 percent of the vote necessary, Raines received support in 174 of the first 185 ballots publicized, a 91.0 percent rate, with approximately 435 ballots expected (kudos to Ryan Thibodaux, @NotMrTibbs on Twitter, for his tracking).
“I’m excited and still a little nervous, but it all comes with the territory,” said Raines, who added that many friends and family members keep him updated on Thibodaux’s tally. “It kind of reminds me of being in the minor leagues and having the chance to make the majors and waiting for the [expanded] roster to come out. You think you’re gonna make it, but you’re not sure.”
His acceptance as an honorary Cooperstown resident would mark another important turn in many of the secondary issues — with the illegal performance-enhancing drug mess of course being the big one — feeding Hall debates. Raines’ admittance, if it happens, would serve as a triumph of facts and statistics over emotions and memories. It also would be another notch in the belt of internet campaigns that initially prevailed six years ago when Bert Blyleven gained induction.
Few would profess Raines is a slam-dunk candidate along the lines of Tom Glavine, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez, the six players who picked up 90-plus percent of the vote in their maiden voyages during Raines’ prior nine years of eligibility. Due to the 10-man limit on the writers’ ballot, I have shuffled Raines on and off depending on the depth of each field.
You could argue that he didn’t slug enough (170 homers) for a corner outfielder. Or that he didn’t fare very well in Most Valuable Player voting, ranking as high as fifth just once (1983). Or that he spent his last decade-plus, including 1996 through 1998 with the Yankees, as a reduced player.
However, most clearly agree Raines’ pros outnumber his cons. His 808 stolen bases place him fourth among those who have played since 1901, and his 146 times caught stealing give him an 84.7 percent success rate that outpaced those above him, including the leader, Henderson (80.8 percent). When you combine his 2,605 hits and 1,330 walks, he reached base 3,935 times, four more than slam-dunk Tony Gwynn’s 3,931 (3,141 hits and 790 walks). Raines’ JAWS score of 55.6, which averages his career Wins Above Replacement and his seven-year peak WAR, puts him above the 53.3 average at his position among Hall of Famers.
“If you put those numbers in New York, or you put those numbers in Chicago, then they’d be bigger,” Raines said, referring to his peak in Montreal. “I’d be more of a household name. … I don’t remember us being on the [NBC Saturday afternoon] ‘Game of the Week’ much. It was a situation for me of having great years but not many people other than the Canadian fans being able to see it all. And they don’t have many votes.”
Hence the importance of online enthusiasm. Blyleven accrued just 17.5 percent of the vote in his first year, 1998, and then dipped to 14.1 percent in 1999, so he faced an even steeper hole than Raines, who started at 24.3 percent in 2008 and dropped to 22.6 percent in 2009. However, Blyleven enjoyed 15 years of eligibility and got elected in his 14th year. The Hall changed that cap from 15 years to 10 years in 2014, six years into Raines’ run, thereby tightening his window considerably.
He gained ground quickly, thanks arguably to the online campaigns supporting him as well as another Hall adjustment that eliminated voters who hadn’t covered the game regularly in more than 10 years.