After trading for Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson earlier in the offseason, the Yankees completed their second and final trade of the 1995-96 offseason on December 28, 1995, when they agreed to send a player to be named later to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Montreal Expos legend Tim Raines. The left fielder and all-time great leadoff hitter had spent the first decade of his career with the Canadian organization before his 1990 trade to the Chicago White Sox, and by the time he landed with the Yankees he was forced to undergo a tactical transformation.
In his first six full professional seasons, Raines swiped at least 70 bases each year, peaking in 1983 with 90. A switch hitter with blazing speed and good defensive awareness, Raines further raised the stakes by establishing himself as a .300 hitter by the mid-1980s and earning the National League battling title in 1986 batting .334. When he switched squads to Chicago in 1990, he was a threat to steal 50 bases every season. By the time he was traded to the Yankees in late 1995, the 36-year-old's legs barely allowed him to crack the double digits. Raines made up for his loss of speed by maintaining his supernaturally keen plate discipline through the end of his 30s and hitting with enough pop to make a difference.
Raines slotted perfectly into the Yankees lineup as a patient hitter and excellent base runner. Save for 1982, Raines never struck out more than he walked in any of his 23 major league seasons. His on base percentage was actually higher than Derek Jeter's in 1996 despite Jeter batting .314. Still, his season was limited to 59 games due to a finger injury early in the season, followed by a hamstring injury the day he returned. Years later Raines would be diagnosed with Lupus, and he has since approximated 1996 to be his first symptomatic season which contributed to his hamstring difficulties.
His injuries manifested in Raines' play. His finger injury made him ineffective through April before he adjusted and hit well in May. After his return from a hamstring injury, he wallowed through an awful August before a huge September breakout. Over more than 100 plate appearances in September and October, he hit for an OPS of 1.007. He carried that momentum in the postseason by recording at least one hit in his first seven playoff games and a run in five of his first six. By the end of the championship run Raines had scored at least one run in seven of the Yankees' 15 games. His most important at-bat of the series happened in the 10th inning during the furious comeback in Game Four. After battling back from a 6-0 deficit, the Yankees went two up, two down to start extra innings before Raines worked a walk off of Steve Avery to start a rally that would culminate in two runs off a Wade Boggs walk and a Ryan Klesko error.
What did he do after?
Raines played two more injury-plagued but occasionally effective seasons with the Yankees before moving on to play in Oakland in 1999. During that July, Raines was diagnosed with Lupus, which necessitated treatment and recovery time and forced him to end his season. The Yankees signed him in early 2000 for a potential return, as he was a notoriously popular teammate during his time in the Bronx, but did not choose to bring him into the season. He finished his career by returning to Montreal in 2001 before their eventual move to Washington. The Expos traded him during the season to the Baltimore Orioles so Raines could play a game with his son, who had been drafted several years earlier. They became the second father-son duo to play a major league game together after Ken Griffey and his son.
Though he recorded fewer than 1,000 plate appearances for the Yankees, Raines arrived to New York at the perfect time to build himself a legacy. Injuries aside, he hovered between solid and very good throughout his brief few years in the Bronx and contributed to 1996 and 1998 World Series victories. He later won a third as the first base coach of the 2005 Chicago White Sox. On a larger scale Raines has become increasingly viewed as one of the best non-power hitters in the history of baseball. The Expos retired his number 30 in 2004, and he is poised to make the Hall of Fame approximately one year from now thanks in no small part to Jonah Keri and other vocal supporters in the media.