Raines finally in the HOF

With the announcement, this past week, that Tim Raines has been selected for induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it brought back some great memories of my time working for the Montreal Expos.

Joining Raines in this year’s induction class in July will be former Tulsa Drillers and Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and former Houston Astros infielder Jeff Bagwell.

All three players had some drug use controversy during their playing days. For Raines, it was the admitted use of cocaine, and for Rodriguez and Bagwell it was the suspected use of PEDs or steroids. That was before the days of full drug testing in baseball, so neither player was ever found guilty. Putting that aside, what all three did on the field was remarkable and worthy of this honor.

I worked for the Montreal Expos minor league team in Jamestown, New York, for 11 years, and during that time I had an opportunity to talk to Raines and watch him play several times. I went to Montreal to see the Expos play a few times, watched them play in Pittsburgh many times during those years, and visited the team at Spring Training in Florida in 1985. Raines, or “Rock” as we called him, is a funny guy – he was very friendly and always willing to chat with me.

One specific memory I have of Raines was on one of my visits to Montreal. I was in the bowels of Olympic Stadium, where the batting cages are, and watched as Raines pitched soft-toss to his son, Tim Raines Jr. – teaching his son the finer points of hitting. “Little Rock” was about eight years old at the time, and you could already see he inherited some of his father’s baseball skills. Raines, Jr., did have a notable baseball career spending most of his time in the minors with a few stints in the majors.

It impressed me how Raines would bring his son to the ballpark just about every day the team was at home, and how he spent time away from his preparation for the game to spend time with his son, preparing him for his career. It wasn’t the only time I saw Junior hanging around the team or in the clubhouse.

Raines was considered one of the fastest players of his time and was constantly a base-stealing threat. In the hit-and-run style the Expos played in the 1980s, Raines was a large part of the team’s successful years. Over his 23-year career, Raines played in 2,502 games, amassing 2,605 hits, of which 113 were triples, and he had 808 steals. For a lead-off hitter, Raines even had a respectable number of home runs (170) and RBIs (980).

Wanting to get a teammate’s perspective of Raines, I called our mutual friend and former Major League pitcher Tim Burke, who spent eight seasons in the majors with Montreal, New York Mets and New York Yankees.

“He was one of those players, and there aren’t a whole lot of them like this, that I would say I’m so glad he’s on my team and I don’t have to deal with him,” Burke said. “He’s was such a great hitter, he’d get on base and there was the pressure with him able to steal bases. He was just a great all-around player. I was just glad he was on my team.”

Burke said Raines wasn’t only a great teammate as a player, but also as a friend.

“Rock was a great teammate, he was the funniest guy I ever played with,” Burke said. “Whenever you were around him, he kept it light. He was always just a fun guy to be around. There was an aura around him, and this isn’t true with many players, but this aura was one of having fun, plus you felt very confident when he was around because he was that good.”

The news of Raines being selected to the Hall of Fame made Burke very happy and made thousands of Montreal Expos fans ecstatic. For years, Expos fans have been lobbying hard for their former players to be chosen for the Hall of Fame, as many players felt slighted because they played in Montreal and weren’t visible on television as much in the United States, as were some of the major-market teams. Gary Carter’s visibility was helped by playing a few years for the New York and winning a World Series with the Mets. Andre Dawson got a boost from playing in Chicago and winning a National League MVP award while with the Cubs. But, that wasn’t the case for Raines.

“I was thrilled to see him get in and it’s great for Expos fans,” Burke told me. “You’re so below the radar when you’re playing in Montreal. It took something like fan support to get him his due, because the writers didn’t see him a lot being up there in Montreal. I played with Rock for six years, and man, I was very privileged to be in the same locker room with him for those six years.”

Raines was elected to the Hall of Fame on his last ballot of eligibility. According to the Hall of Fame rules, a player’s name can only be on the Baseball Writers of America ballot for 10 years, and the writers can only vote for 10 names on the ballot each year. That’s the reason it took so long for Raines to get elected. His numbers didn’t change, but other players have now been enshrined ahead of him, and many writers felt they had room on their ballot this year to cast a vote for Raines.

I believe I speak for all of us who still consider ourselves a part of “Expos Nation” when I say, I’m so glad the voters finally gave Rock the credit he deserves. Félicitations mon ami!