"Now batting for the Baltimore Crocketts, Tim Raines." It's the bottom of the ninth and Raines steps into the box, digs his toe in the dirt, and waits. He's 2-for-3 today against Koufax, with a clean steal of second. A hit will put the winning run on base. Here comes the pitch..."
And that was how we spent our winter in 1986. That year, my best friend and I discovered the joys of Strat-o-matic baseball, an ingenious game where each player has a card with all possible outcomes based on actual statistics. The player rolls the dice, compares the number to that on the card, and a winter day is transformed into a balmy afternoon at the ballpark. And for a couple of nerds like us, it was heaven. For me, each heavenly lineup had to include Tim Raines batting leadoff. But why Tim Raines? Why not Rickey (he transcended last names, and speaking in first person), or Lou Brock, or even Ty Cobb?
Baseball cards is the short answer. As a twelve year old collector, I naturally didn't own any Ty Cobb cards. And even though Brock retired a mere seven years earlier at that point, he really wasn't on my collecting radar. So that left Rickey and Raines.
Rickey Henderson was on everyone's radar. In 1982, Rickey stole so many bases opposing managers seemed to need radar to find him. He grabbed 130 bags that year, and 1,400 for his career - which is 500 more than the next guy, Lou Brock. I got to see Rickey play every once in awhile when the A's came to town. There he was flashing that grin on the TV, flashing that patented glove snap in the outfield, flashing his speed on the bases. But I always hated flash. I always thought Rickey was showing off when he didn't have to.
So thank God for Turner Broadcasting System (this really may be the only time anyone has ever typed those words in that order). Apart from starting every show five minutes after the hour (which seemed to me that since you missed the first five minutes of The Cosby Show, you kind of had to settle for the colorized version of Yankee Doodle Dandy) TBS brought us televised Braves games.
That's right sports fans, back in the days before interleague play, if you lived in an American league town you only got to watch the pre-Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves. But the upside was those few glorious series with the Expos (another surprising syntactical development). At least three times a year I got to watch my favorite non-Orioles player, Tim Raines.
Raines was the opposite of Rickey. Flashiness was looked down upon in Montreal. Mark Twain once said, "This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window." Raines showed up to work, did all the things that Rickey could do (except hit for power) and he stole bases at a much better rate. I bet you didn't know that last one. Rickey Henderson, the most famous and prodigious base stealer in baseball history was not as good at stealing bases as Tim Raines. Rickey Henderson was successful 80% of the time. Lou Brock, the former all time stolen base champ, stole a base only 75% of the time. Tim Raines, however, successfully nabbed a base in 85% of his attempts.
Now, since most people are more familiar with hitting, let's look there for a comparison to Raines' success. And hitting is a fairly close analogy since the more bases a player gains, the better his team's chance of success. Pete Rose is baseball's all-time hit king. Like Rickey in base stealing, Rose has more hits than any other player, and he's more than 1,000 hits over the magical 3,000 that typically tends to guarantee enshrinement into the Hall.
But most folks tend to look at batting average, which is how many times per at bat a player gets a hit. It's basically a success rate for hitting. The player with the highest lifetime batting average in the last fifty years is Ted Williams, who hit .344. But Ted Williams doesn't even have 3,000 hits. Doesn't have 2,900. Doesn't have 2,800. Ted Williams ended his career with 2,654 base hits, which is nine less than Nellie Fox and just about fifty more than...Tim Raines. So if Rickey Henderson is to Pete Rose then Tim Raines is to Ted Williams (I knew those eighth grade analogies would pay off eventually). And Ted Williams is a Hall of Famer by anyone's standards.
So why does all this matter? Because Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Ted Williams (and surely Pete Rose had he not gambled on baseball, covered it up, lied about it, sat on a throne in Vegas, then admitted gambling in a book released three days before the Hall's voting results) and even Nellie Fox for God's sake are all in the Hall of Fame. A player needs 75% of the vote for enshrinement. This year, Raines received 69.8% in his penultimate attempt. Next year will be his final year on the ballot.
I could break down every statistical reason in the world for why Tim Raines belongs in the hall. I could compare his total bases, on-base percentage, and OPS with the other all time greats. I could juxtapose his peak years with those of other Hall of Fame outfielders. But I don't have to. Because in 1986, in the bottom of the ninth in a suburban Maryland living room, Tim Raines hit a single off Koufax, stole second, and the scored the winning run off a Frankie Frisch double to give the Baltimore Crocketts the pennant. And that's all the proof I'll ever need.
Jason Taylor is a Creative Writing teacher at Bel Air High School, a Creative Writing Curriculum writer for Harford County, and a firm believer in three-run homers and human vacuum cleaners.
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