*This column was originally published on Baseball Hot Corner.
Voters for baseball’s Hall of Fame have shunned one of the greatest left fielders of all-time. For his most used skill, he’s one of the best at the craft in baseball history. Yes, he had a known drug run-in. No, he is not Barry Bonds. This all-time great left fielder that I am referring to is 23-year veteran, Tim Raines.
Raines, entering his eighth year of Hall of Fame eligibility has never received more than 52.2 percent of the votes, 23 percent short of the 75 percent needed for induction. Last year he only received 46.1 percent from voters. What remains a mystery is why voters feel this way about a player that stacks up with more than a handful of Hall of Fame players.
For his career, Raines fell short of the desired .300 batting average (.294), but made up for that with an uncanny knack of getting on base (.385 career OBP) with a high walk rate. For career hits, the magic number of 3,000 wasn’t reached either, as he totaled 2,605 hits, but totaled over 150 hits in eight different seasons. He wasn’t a power hitter with only 170 career home runs, but Raines made up for it with getting on base and using his speed.
On to that speed. Raines came up to the Montreal Expos in 1979 as a pinch-runner for six games and did the same the next year for 15 games. At 21 years old, Raines took over as the everyday left fielder in 1981 and made his impact felt from day one. In a strike-shortened year in which he only played in 88 games, Raines hit .309/.391/.438 with 71 stolen bases in 82 attempts. If it wasn’t for the strike, Raines could have broken Lou Brock’s single-season stolen base record of 118 swiped bags before Rickey Henderson thrashed the record with 130 one year later.
The next year in 1982, Raines again led the league with 78 bags, but was seen as a disappointing season by many with a .277/.353/.369 slash line. The problem: Raines became a heavy cocaine user, notoriously sliding head-first to not break his coke vials in his back pocket. This was also in 1982 when cocaine was prevalent in not only baseball by many players, but the country as a whole. And, at 22 years old, Raines was playing in perhaps the biggest party destination in the world at the time.
After consoling with teammate Andre Dawson on how to be a more disciplined player and person, Raines went on a run for the ages. As Jay Jaffe writes in his Sports Illustrated profile on Raines, from 1983-87, Raines hit .318/.406/.467, and averaged 11 home runs, 114 runs scored, 71 stolen bases, a 142 OPS+ and a 6.4 WAR. In that stretch, Raines was the most valuable player in the National League, right ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn, Dale Murphy, Ozzie Smith, and Gary Carter. The only one of those five to not make it to the Hall is Dale Murphy, who instead won two MVPs.
Even longer stretches show the greatness of Raines. From 1981-87, Raines made seven straight All-Star Games, won the 1986 batting average title (.334) and led the league in on-base percentage that season (.413) which wasn’t even a career high, was named the 1987 All-Star Game MVP, and stole 504 bases while only being caught 74 times for an 85 percent success rate. Now, let’s add a few more years to that. From 1981-90 he was the leader or top three in on-base percentage (.391), walks (769), stolen bases (626), runs (926), doubles (273), triples (81), and was the leader in WAR. As Jonah Keri, a long-time Raines advocate writes in his book Up, Up, & Away, “In other words, the best player in the entire National League from 1981 through 1990 — 10 full seasons — was Tim Raines.” Along with his longevity, more importantly, Raines had streaks of being the best player at not only his position, but the entire National League.
In his article, Jaffe spends a lot of time comparing Raines to Gwynn who walked with ease into the Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. Raines was better than or right behind Gwynn in a variety of categories. Two little talked about stats that Raines beat Gwynn, showing his versatility as an offensive player, are TOB for times on base (H + BB + HBP) and BG, which is bases gained, the numerator of Total Average (TB + BB + HBP + SB – CS). For TOB, Gwynn totaled 3,955 times on base, while Raines edged him with 3,977. For BG, Raines’ speed is showcased with 5,805 bases gained to Gwynn’s 5,267. We love base hits and are still fascinated by batting average, yet using other skills to be a more valuable player goes under the rug all too often.
Raines was beyond valuable with his variety of skills. Comparing his value to the 19 other left fielders in the Hall of Fame proves this case.
Tim Raines WAR totals: 69.1 bWAR/42.2 7-year peak WAR/55.6 JAWS
Average LF in the Hall of Fame: 65.1 bWAR/41.5 7-year peak WAR/53.3 JAWS
There are seven left fielders that rank ahead of Raines in JAWS and five of them are in the Hall of Fame. The other two are named Barry Bonds and Pete Rose. His 808 stolen bases are fifth all-time behind Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb. All are in the Hall. His 84.7 success rate on stolen bases is the greatest in the history of baseball with at least 300 attempts.
Numbers don’t lie and Tim Raines produced Hall of Fame numbers. Wake up, get him in the Hall and don’t blink or else he’ll steal his long delayed plaque with ease, too.