His 2,605 career hits led him to a career batting average of .294. His 808 stolen bases rank fifth all-time. A former batting champion, two-time World Series champion and one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever, he dominated the 1980s by putting together a five-year span in which he batted .318 with a WAR of 6.4 (and finished his career with a higher WAR than the Hall of Fame average), while averaging over 100 runs per year. Does this sound like Cooperstown credentials to you?
These are the numbers of former Yankee left fielder Tim Raines, who spent the majority of his career with the Expos and in the shadow of fellow speedster Rickey Henderson, who cruised into the Hall of Fame while Raines still makes his painstaking crawl towards Cooperstown. This year is the BBWAA’s last chance to get it right, as it is Raines’ tenth year on the ballot.
When Raines arrived in the Bronx in 1996, he was struggling with injuries on the back end of his career. These injuries likely prevented him from reaching the coveted 3,000 hit mark, which would have assured him a spot in the Hall of Fame. On last year’s ballot, he received 69.8% of votes, falling painfully short of the necessary 75%. Now on his tenth and final year of eligibility, the time is now or never for Raines to be granted his rightful spot among baseball’s best.
Let’s begin with his most glaring Cooperstown attribute: his ability to steal bases at will, which was apparent dating back to his rookie season in 1981. Playing in just 88 games that year due to a broken hand and a broken labor agreement that resulted in a strike, Raines still managed to swipe 71 bags to lead the National League. That’s 71 stolen bases in 88 games! Had he played an entire season, he easily would have eclipsed the century mark. Regardless, his totals were impressive to say the least. He batted .304 for his rookie campaign and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Fernando Valenzuela.
That spectacular rookie season began a four-year stretch where he led the NL in stolen bases. He also managed to steal at least 70 bags a season six straight years. During this stretch, no player in baseball recorded more hits, triples, or times on base. Raines was also in the top three in on base percentage and would have been tops in baseball in stolen bases if his competition was anybody but Henderson.
Speaking of Henderson, a first ballot Hall of Famer, even he was not able to steal bases at the level of efficiency in which Raines did during his career. Hall of Fame voters likely focus just on the final number of stolen bases because of the simplicity of that comparison, but if we dive deeper into the numbers, Raines was more effective on the base paths than Henderson in some regards.
Raines had a base stealing success rate of 85%, the best in baseball history among those who stole at least 500 bags. Yes, that’s even better than Henderson, whose success rate stands at 81%. The sample size isn’t small either. Henderson got on base more than Raines over their careers, but Raines made the most of his times on base. Henderson was caught stealing 335 times in his career, which is most all time. Of course, the fact that he was always attempting to steal has something to do with that number. However, Tim Raines is way down the list at number 26 despite being fifth all time in stolen bases. Even Lou Brock and Ty Cobb, considered to be baseball’s greatest baserunners along with Raines and Henderson, are third and fourth among career caught stealing leaders, respectively. In stolen base efficiency, Raines is in a league of his own.
Stealing bases is vital for a leadoff hitter, but so is getting on base so steals can become a possibility. Raines finished his career with a .385 OBP, noticeably better than the average OBP of players in the Hall of Fame (.376). Jonah Kerri of CBS cements Raines’ place among the best leadoff hitters ever with these eye-opening numbers:
“Raines is also one of the game's greatest leadoff hitters ever. Among players with at least 5,000 career plate appearances from the top spot in the lineup, he ranks 12th in batting average (.294), eight in on-base percentage (.385), ninth in slugging percentage (.427) and fourth in OPS (.813).”
The only issue for Raines is that his prime ran parallel to the prime of Henderson, who is widely considered to be the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Fair or not, Raines still stands close to the necessary votes for induction, and his numbers have been climbing steadily over the past few years. We can only hope that his climb in votes takes one final step to 75% and to Cooperstown, where he undoubtedly belongs.