This excerpt appears in the book Up, Up. & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri. The author spoke with Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. (Listen to our interview with Keri and read Bill’s book review.)
Tim Raines has come up for Hall of Fame induction seven times, and been rejected seven times. This is ridiculous. From 1981 through 1990 with the Expos, Raines hit .302 and posted a .391 on-base percentage (second-best in the NL). During that time he drew 769 walks, just 17 behind the first-place Dale Murphy among National League players in those 10 seasons. Raines stole a league-leading 626 bases, more than Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, and nearly twice as many as the number-three player on the list, Ozzie Smith. Raines' 926 runs scored ranked first, as did his 81 triples. His 273 doubles placed him third, behind only long-time teammates Tim Wallach and Andre Dawson. And by Wins Above Replacement, Raines was number one. In other words, the best player in the entire National League from 1981 through 1990-10 full seasons-was Tim Raines.
Never in baseball history, other than in cases of steroids use, has a player who was the best in his league for an entire decade been denied the Hall of Fame. Raines' detractors argued that he was a lesser player after leaving the Expos, and they're right. He struggled with injuries and played in 100 games or more just four more times after the 1992 season. But Raines still put up fine numbers, with on-base percentages of .401, .365, .374, .383, .403, and .395 from 1993 through 1998-playing key part-time roles on two World Series-winning teams in New York. He stole 808 bases in his career, the fifth-highest total of all time (with all four players above him in the Hall of Fame), and Raines' 84.7 percent career success rate is the highest ever for anyone with nearly as many attempts.
Voters' obsession with round numbers-and increments of 10-has clouded their judgment. Tony Gwynn made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 97.6 percent of the vote. Gwynn posted a career .388 on-base percentage and 763 extra-base hits in 9,288 at-bats; compared to Raines' .385 OBP and 713 extra-base hits in 8,872 at-bats-with Raines stealing 489 more bases. The two started their careers and retired at almost exactly the same time, and the numbers add up to basically identical career value. But because Gwynn made his living slapping singles, while Raines was a master of drawing walks, Gwynn and his 3,141 hits sailed into the Hall, while Raines and his 2,605 hits are still on the outside looking in. Raines, by the way, also reached base more times in his career than Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Lou Brock, Richie Ashburn . . . and yes, Tony Gwynn.
Try this exercise: replace 600 of Raines' 1,330 career walks with 400 bunt singles and 200 strikeouts. You're left with an inferior player who'd have been enshrined in Cooperstown years ago.
It comes down to this: Tim Raines kicked ass, and too many people missed it. Induct the guy into Cooperstown already and let's end this nonsense.
Excerpted from Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. Copyright © 2014 Jonah Keri. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.