Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting leaves many scratching their heads year after year, and the balloting with regard to Tim Raines over his first two years of eligibility has done nothing to bring that tradition to an end.
Raines garnered just 24.3% of the vote in 2008, and slipped to 22.6% in ’09.
On the day that the class of 2010 is revealed we ask, how is that possible?
In his 1986 edition of Baseball Abstract, Bill James declared that Raines was “clearly the greatest lead-off man in National League history.” Not that we always agree with what Mr. James has to say, but that qualifies as not only praise, but the type of praise that is referred to as — hard to ignore.
Jonah Keri¬†has¬†contributed to¬†the New York Times, ESPN.com and YESNetwork.com and co-authored Baseball Between the¬†Numbers: Why Everything You Know¬†About the Game is Wrong. Keri has also offered his insights as to why Raines should join fellow lead-off man Rickey Henderson in the Hall at raines30.com.
Working his schedule around newborn twins, Keri recently¬†found a few moments to discuss why he believes Raines has received such futile support in his first two years on the ballot, why Hall voters both perplex and “really, really bother him,” and why he feels Raines should be in, while Jim Rice and Tony Perez shouldn’t.
Why isn’t Raines already in the Hall of Fame?
Tim Raines isn’t in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t have the good sense to exchange 400 walks for 400 singles. He would have 3,000 hits at that point, and the debate would be over.
Some take exception to categorizing players as the best catcher or second baseman, contending that a player is either Hall-worthy or not, position shouldn’t matter. In this case, however, being the second-best lead-off man in history has to enter the equation, doesn’t it?
It does, but I think that cuts both ways. People who follow stats don’t necessarily put too much stock in line-up order. I think it’s relevant that Raines was a lead-off man in the sense that he did things that are useful for a team that you want to have up at the plate as much as possible, because he got on base a lot and he stole bases at a very high percentage.
But if you want to play devil’s advocate for a second, you could argue that he played left field as opposed to shortstop or second base, and if he’s a left fielder the standards are very high. You’re competing against some of the best hitters of all-time, best offensive players of all-time, so the offensive standards have to be very, very high. Now, that said, I believe Raines meets those thresholds, but I just think, again, you have to look at it both ways. Certainly, in the modern era, you can make the case that he’s the second-best lead-off man, but at the same time you’re dealing with a very good, but not quite¬†superstar¬†defensive-level left fielder who had a mediocre arm, who was playing a position of very high offense. I can’t believe I’m arguing against¬†myself with Raines, but that’s something to point at.
Did the fact that Raines’ prime years coincided with Rickey Henderson’s ultimately hurt his chances at induction?
Oh, definitely. In fact, I interviewed Raines for ESPN.com a couple of years ago, and he said that. You know, I asked him straight out if that was the case and he said “Yes,” and he said “No disrespect to Rickey”, who was fantastic, and no disrespect to himself, it was just circumstance.
I think that you’re looking at a couple of things in terms of being overlooked: number one was Rickey, and number two was that¬†(Raines) played his best years in Montreal. And people were aware of Tim Raines, I mean it wasn’t like it was “Who is this guy? or “I’ve never heard of him,” but it’s not quite the same when you’re playing [in Montreal] as when you’re playing in a major media market, certainly, and he didn’t benefit from that. And what happened was he had his best years in his 20s playing for the Expos, and then he goes over and plays for the White Sox and the Yankees in his 30s. He’s still a good player, but because of various things — he’s getting older, he had lupus, a lot of things happened — he was kind of a part-time guy. So the perception was “This guy’s not so good. I see him in New York, he’s not all that great.” But his best years were already behind him. That really hurt him as well. I think that if he’d turned that around, had a slow start to his career but was peaking at 32, 33, 34, 35 in the Bronx, people would say “Oh, Tim Raines. I remember Tim Raines, he was on those World Series teams. He was a key guy, he was fantastic.” So that also hurt him, with the slope of his career.
Collusion. 1987. Raines missed Spring Training, then all of April, showed up to Shea Stadium in May, played one of the best games of his career, and eventually led the NL in runs scored (123). Did that season alone not prove how¬†special Raines was as a player?
It was interesting, I was just talking about that this morning with Buck Martinez and Scott Graham, and we were discussing his first game back. I’m trying to remember the numbers, I think (Raines) was 4-for-5, game goes into extra innings, hits a game-winning grand slam against the Mets. This was his first game game back after being colluded against, and the rule was that he couldn’t come back and play until the beginning of May. So he misses a whole month and comes back and completely terrorizes a game in one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
And honestly, this season (Raines’ 87), it wasn’t as good, but it sort of reminds me of Joe Mauer’s 2009. Where you’ve got a guy who misses all of April, he comes back and he’s so, so good, that he honestly deserves MVP consideration. I think Mauer was kind of a no-brainer MVP for 2009, but Raines could have been that guy in ’87. He was one of those guys, along with Tony Gwynn and a couple others, who were actually better than Andre Dawson that year and deserved it even more. [Raines] led the league in runs scored despite only playing five months; he scored 123 runs that year, he hit, I think .330; it was just a ridiculous year. Stole a zillion bases, hit for power, he¬†was the¬†number-three guy in the order at that point, and was fantastic. So, so, so good, and yet, it’s funny, there have been some writers who’ve talked about it, well, it’s not some writers, it’s basically most writers, most Hall of Fame voters; they go back and look at MVP voting and Cy Young voting to see how those guys were perceived when they were playing. Were they getting MVP votes or winning MVP’s or winning Cy Young’s? They’d say, “Well they were perceived as dominant players. No problem.” Except the problem is, that when those votes are flawed in the first place, it completely screws the guy over. So you have three guys, basically, where that’s the case.
First is Bert Blyleven, where for many years you only had three guys who were able to be on the Cy Young ballot, and you could make the case that he was the fourth or fifth best pitcher in the league many, many, many times, so he didn’t see the benefit of that. Number two is that he didn’t really get as many high votes as he should have in the first place.
The second guy who falls into that category is Alan Trammell. 1987, George Bell played for the Toronto Blue Jays, and had a big power year, home run and RBI champ that year. But Trammell, considering position and everything else, was better. Trammell didn’t win the MVP, if he does, he’s probably in the Hall of Fame, too, or at least he’s getting more consideration.
And three is Raines, there’s the ’87 season, there’s also ’85. Willie McGee was the guy who won MVP that year. Raines had a fantastic year, better statistically than McGee in terms of OPS+ and a whole bunch of other stats, more advanced stats, and Raines finished¬†12th in MVP voting that year. Twelfth in ’85 and seventh in ’87, you could argue, you could easily argue that he was a top five guy both of those years, and I can make a case that he should have won both of them.
And not only that, here’s a great stat for you: Bill James has a stat called runs created. It’s an old stat but it still applies today. I want to say it was like ’84 to ’89, a six-year period, so runs created, which basically measures overall offensive value, and you look at all of Major League Baseball, the best player over that period was Wade Boggs. The second-best overall player of that period was Tim Raines. Tim Raines was a monster, monster player in his prime, but because he wasn’t recognized by the voters, he got completely screwed, and now he’s getting double-screwed because people are looking back and saying he wasn’t that good in the first place.
You¬†alluded to it a little earlier, Raines¬† wasn’t as good in his 30s as he was in his 20s, but he played until he was 42. For a player who stole 808 bases, he only swiped 78 over his final eight seasons when he had more exposure in Chicago and New York. Was Raines good enough, long enough to get into the Hall?
Well, there’s two ways that you can attract attention, you can have a great prime, or you can have a long career where you compile a lot of stats. And Raines sort of did both in a way, because his prime was just fantastic. Now, the problem was that he lasted a long time, but he wasn’t able to be a compiler because he wasn’t getting 500¬†and 600 plate appearances over those seasons. It’s almost like if Raines retired earlier, you wonder if he would have more support. You wonder if he had only 2,400 hits instead of 2,600 and he retired two or three years earlier and he wasn’t really getting sick from the lupus and having some trouble, if that might have bode well for him.
Don’t forget, there are guys like Sandy Koufax in the Hall of Fame who have 170-odd wins and had a great, very short prime. There are a bunch of guys, now Koufax, his prime might have been the best of any pitcher of all-time, or certainly top three or four, but the point is, when you’re very good for a short period that can be fine for you. I don’t think people like the mix of it, they were sort of like “Well, if he was that good for that long and he hung on for so long, why did it go downhill that way?” I think that there’s a bit of a confusion and they don’t know how to categorize them. Koufax, the only memories anybody has of Koufax are that Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball at the time, so I’m not saying that Raines was as good as Sandy Koufax or the same kind of player, I’m just saying that memories tend to deceive us, and like you said, the stolen bases had gone down by that point and people didn’t know what to make of this guy.¬†People have memories of many, many years of Raines merely being a good player, and the last year or two, not being all that good.
Raines was an All-Star seven times, stole 70 bases for six consecutive years (1981-86), won a batting title (.334 in ’86) and scored nearly 20 percent of his team’s runs in 1984. What is your response to those who would suggest that Raines was never a dominant player?
Well, just that. You alluded to all those numbers, and they’re certainly true. The thing about dominance is, how do you define dominance? If you close your eyes and think of a dominant player, you probably think about someone like Barry Bonds in his prime. Someone who, every time he came to the plate he had a chance to, whatever, just completely destroy the game, hit a home run with any swing of the bat, he would just do something incredible every single time. But I would argue that you can dominate in many different ways. You can dominate defensively, you can dominate on the base paths, you can dominate by always getting on base and making it very, very difficult for the pitcher to get you out. If you have a very broad base of skills, you can still be a dominant player, it just might not elicit the same reactions as a guy who’s going to hit 50 home runs.
I think that’s the case with a bunch of guys, Raines wasn’t the only one who had that broad skill set who was dominant. You know, Robbie Alomar is on the ballot this season, and Robbie Alomar did everything well. He hit with quite good pop for a second baseman, stole a bunch of bases, was a fantastic defender, hit for high average, stayed healthy, played on terrific teams, you know he did everything very well. Barry Larkin was that kind of guy, he’s also on the ballot for the first time, and he deserves a vote as well, he should be in the Hall of Fame for the same reasons as Alomar. These are guys who have broad portfolios and did everything well, and yes, they were dominant. They didn’t hit 50 home runs a year, but they were dominant in that they did everything well. Very, very well, you know, they were the best in the game at the time.
And Tim Raines is a player of that ilk, he may not have been the best left fielder in the majors at that time, but he was pretty darn close, during his prime he was pretty darn close. He had that broad portfolio, and I think this is going to be the case, even when we get more sabermetrically-inclined with people voting for the Hall of Fame, I still think it’s a little bit tougher to put your finger on a guy who just does everything well. It’s very easy to break down someone with 500 home runs or 300 wins, and just say “Oh, it’s obvious. He got the number, no problem.” What do you do with a player that requires nuance? We’re hearing about all these voters, they say “Oh, I submitted my ballot today. I gave it couple of hours of thought and I turned it in,” they just kind of do what they do. They say “This guy is a round number, he’s in, I’ve heard of this guy, he’s in.” I think that when a player requires thought, anytime there’s any thought, it’s not obvious, he’s not a round number, there’s no signature moment like Jack Morris’ stupid win in 1991 which made him a candidate even though he shouldn’t be. When all those things happen, you get a situation where there’s doubt, and I think that’s the problem with Raines. You close your eyes and you say, “What can I say about Tim Raines?” You don’t have the one thing you can hang your hat on, rather it’s a lot of things, so you have a tendency to categorize him as not dominant, even though he quite clearly was.
As Rob Soria pointed out on the raines30 website, Raines did not reach the automatic Hall number of 3,000 hits, but finished with 2,605 hits and 1,330 walks, which translated to 3,935 times on base. Soria wanted answers, and so do I. What’s the difference between that and 3,000 hits and 935 walks? Didn’t Raines still reach base nearly 4,000 times?
Well, that’s right. He reached base more times in his career than Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente and Lou Brock. I love that stat. I mean, those guys, you think about Hall of Famers, they’re automatic. Gwynn was a first-time guy, Clemente was an all-time great, and Brock, though I would argue that he wasn’t as good a player as Raines was, is considered another guy that is just a legend.
Now it’s amazing that somehow Raines is considered in a different category than those guys. Clemente is Clemente, he died early, but I think Raines¬†was as good or better than Brock, and I think you can make the argument that he’s at least in the same discussion as Gwynn, and Gwynn was this no-doubter, first ballot Hall of Famer, yet Raines is struggling.
And like you said, the walks/hits thing is very funny. I talked about changing 400 walks into 400 hits, and if [Raines] had 3,000 hits he’d be in, but you could take this to ludicrous lengths. You could say, what if he had 1,000 walks but you changed all those walks into 600 outs and 400 singles? Then he would be a much inferior player,¬†a way, way, way worse player, nowhere close. He’d have something like a .325 career on-base percentage, but he had 3,000 hits, so what are you going to do with that? I think you can go overboard with the round numbers, everything is in context. If a guy played 25 years and had a bionic arm, technology helps him and he compiles and compiles, and he gets to 3,000 hits, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in the Hall of Fame. If Harold Baines had stuck around a little bit longer and gotten to 3,000 hits, should he have been in the Hall of Fame? I just don’t think so, I don’t think he was that good of a player. So again it comes down to thinking about the player in context, using a little bit of the nuances and common sense, and I just don’t know that the voters have that. They either don’t want to do it or they aren’t capable of doing it.
This is Raines’ third year on the ballot; will it be the charm? Will he get in?
Oh, no chance. There’s no way. The early ballot numbers say that he’s nowhere close. If he gets to 50 percent that would be thrilling. See, we’re just trying to get to the point where you can round him up and start to talk about this gradual process. Which is strange to me, by the way. I don’t understand why it is that voters can’t look at a guy and say that this guy is a Hall of Famer. There’s been a lot of bias about, “First ballot can only be reserved for inner-circle type of players” and “He has to wait his turn” or “Let me think about it for 10 years and maybe on the 11th, I’ll vote for him.” A player is a Hall of Famer or he’s not. There’s 10 spaces on the ballot, there’s plenty of room to get in all the worthy guys in one season. The big Hall, the small Hall, all this stuff, it’s kind of nonsense. The Hall of Fame is, somewhat suggestive, you can’t just look at a guy, you can look at Ted Williams and say that he’s a clear Hall of Famer, but there are borderline guys, but again, I just don’t get it. Tim Raines is going to be retired now, next year, the year after, why is it that he would be more worthy next year than this year or what-have-you? It’s sort of like, if he’s worthy, he should go in now.
This is the same thing with Jim Rice, he waits his 15 years and then in the last year on the ballot, people take pity on him, there’s revisionist history, he’s perceived as this guy who’s feared, they overlooked that he hit into more double plays than anybody, that at the time he was just a Fenway guy, that he played no defense and he did a lot of things very poorly. Although he was a very good player, he probably wasn’t a Hall of Famer, then they say, “Okay, we’re going to vote him in now.” This irks me, this whole idea of what year is it and what’s going to happen and when. Raines is not going to get in, he should get in, but he won’t get in for a long time. If he gets in later, that’s great, but why did you make the mistake in the first place? I don’t get that.
By the way, Andre Dawson, another ex-Expo, he probably is going to get in this year. Him and Bert Blyleven and then Robbie Alomar look like the likely guys to get in this year. And again, Dawson, maybe you can make the case that he’s a Hall of Famer, he has a lot of strikes against him, but he did a lot of things well, but if he is a Hall of Famer, why did you wait this long? I don’t get it. He’s been retired this whole time, it doesn’t make sense to me, this idea of “Let’s make him wait. Alright in year 12 he’s in.” It’s really strange.
I have held this contention for a long time, and I want to get your thoughts: do you think that the Hall of Fame has become too elitist? I’m not saying that they should be inducting five and six players every year, but it seems as though it has gotten to the point where a player had to be the elite of the elite rather than just amongst the elite, to get in?
That’s not quite how I would characterize it. I don’t think the problem is that it’s too selective in letting players into the Hall of Fame. I think the problem is that there are two problems. Number one is, you’re too selective in the sense that, look at Blyleven, he’s fifth all-time for strikeouts, he had 60 career shutouts, career ERA of 3.31, 287 wins. You want to talk about advanced metrics, or even traditional metrics, Blyleven should obviously be in the Hall of Fame; it’s so obvious that it’s ridiculous that he’s not. So in that sense, people are being too choosy in that they are bending over backwards to find reasons not to get him in.
On the other hand, players are still getting elected that probably shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer. I don’t think Tony Perez, when he was elected a few years ago, is a Hall of Famer. I don’t think Orlando Cepeda is a Hall of Famer, either. There are a lot of these players that had a lot of attention at the time, in the case of Perez, he played for the Big Red Machine so he got a lot of attention. In the case of Jim Rice, he was feared and he played in Boston and all this stuff, but those guys probably shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, I just don’t think they’re good enough considering the positions that they played and the numbers that they put up.
So if it was only too selective, I can sort of understand that, you can say that Bert Blyleven isn’t good enough, but you know what, the cutoff is, whatever, Greg Maddux. If you were below Greg Maddux, you don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, however, isn’t supposed to be for 25 guys, I understand that, but the problem is that you omit guys who were more deserving than the guys who have already gotten in. That really, really bothers me.
Tell us about raines30.com. When did it begin and how did you get involved with it?
It was Tom Tango, Tangotiger as he’s known on the web, and I believe it started in 2007, and it was for Tim Raines’ first year on the ballot, 2008, and it was just basically to raise attention for this guy and to try to get somebody worthy into the Hall of Fame.
Tom is a Montrealer, he grew up with Tim Raines, he’s a huge Tim Raines fan. I am a former Montrealer now living in the States, huge Tim Raines fan. John Brattain, who unfortunately passed away not too long ago, but a great, great writer. A¬†great Canadian writer and a supporter of the Expos and the Blue Jays, for that matter, he was part of the site. Craig Burley, another one, part of the site, as well as Neate Sager. All of us, the five of us, we started the idea of the site, it was Tom’s brainchild, but he took us all on, and the idea was basically, compile as much information as possible about Raines and if we could, contribute our own arguments.
I did things like interview Raines himself, just to get his thoughts, and got that over to the raines30 site. We had some of us writing research essays on Raines and putting up stats and trying to convince voters. I sat down with a bunch of Hall of Fame voters for various lunches and in the press box, and I’ll say “Hey, are you voting for Tim Raines?” And if they say “No, I don’t think he’s worthy at all,” sit them down and I’ll basically wring their necks and try to make them believe. And I think that I’ve actually made an impact on a couple of voters. There are so many of them, it’s not going to make a huge difference, but I feel like, if enough people who recognize Raines’ greatness would just try to get with enough people who don’t quite see it, and you don’t have to be a jerk about it, you just explain that Tim Raines got on base more times in his career than Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn and Lou Brock, the man stole 808 bases at an 85 percent clip, which makes him the greatest, most efficient base stealer in the history of baseball. If you make those arguments, and do it in a way that’s respectful, then I think that Raines will eventually, hopefully, some day get his due. And that’s basically what the site aims to do.
What else are you involved with right now, other than losing sleep to the twins?
(Laughing) The big thing that I’m working on is I’m writing a book¬†about the Tampa Bay Rays. I guess it’s a little bit in the vein of Money Ball in the sense that it talks about ways that a team that has struggled for a long time and has low resources, can find a way to overcome that and do really well. The initial premise was based on the 2008, pennant-winning season, but they had a good season last year and they project to be competitive in the toughest division in all of baseball this year and going forward.
You could make the argument, actually, that the Jays, Rays and Orioles are in the toughest position of any teams in all of North American professional sports, playing against the Yankees and the Red Sox. So it talks about the methods that they used to get there, the three guys who run the team — Andrew Freidman, Matt Silverman, Stu Sternberg — they all come from Wall Street, they all take those kind of analytical, dispassionate principles and apply them to their baseball team. And they do it in a way that’s very interesting, where they can be cold-blooded and come up with the best solutions, but they still find a way to get the best people involved.
They go out and sign a Gabe Kapler, who is a terrific clubhouse guy who actually seems to provide some benefit aside from just putting up numbers. They will find a way to build a team using best practices, in some cases just following cold, hard numbers, and in some cases following scouting reports. Just trusting their judgment and doing very well, and just trusting the process. That’s what it’s about, these guys, if they make a decision, they don’t look back three years later and say “Oh, my God, we messed up” because this guy became a great player, they just look back and say “Hey, listen, with the information we had at the time, this was the best move and we’re not going to sweat it.” And that kind of ability to use sound judgment and not second-guess yourself and not worry about getting fired and so forth is a big, big theme in this book.
And because I have a dual sports and business background, it’s a pretty neat thing, I think, to be able to look at both worlds and get a feel for this. So that’s the main thing that I’m working on, other than that, I’m freelancing for every single publication in the known universe — Wall Street Journal, I’ve written for Penthouse pretty recently, still occasionally talking up some stuff for ESPN.com, New York Times. There’s a new gig which I can’t yet talk about, but which also combines sports and business, which will be very, very cool, that I will be able to talk about, probably in a couple of weeks, which is really, really excellent and something that’ll be a great addition to the portfolio.
I have to ask before I sign off here, considering the other writing gigs, the Penthouse thing seems a little out of place. What is that about?
Oh, all these gigs are freelance, keep in mind, the main thing that I do is that I write for Investors Business Daily. I’ve been in stock market writer for them for 10 years, and everything that I do around that has always been freelance.
With IBD actually, that became a part-time gig on purpose. I specifically don’t want to have a job where I’m shackled to one thing, so that allows me to do all these different things, and one of them is Penthouse. It was actually Will Leitch who connected me with the editor over there, I was interested in writing about my buddy’s bachelor party, of all things. I was organizing it and there were 13 of us and we were going to Vegas to do ridiculous things, and I thought this would be fun for Penthouse, and they said, “Okay, write it.”
It was great, it got a bunch of eyeballs from what I understand, the issue sold very well, I’m not going to think that it was because of my article, I’m sure there were many other reasons why that sold, but it was still a pretty neat thing, it was well received. So they said, “Okay, write for us periodically,” so I’ve written about baseball in Japan, I flew to Japan and wrote about that, and I wrote about bull fighting in Spain, I wrote about the Calgary Stampede, which is a huge rodeo and party thing in Canada. It’s been somewhat pop culture, somewhat sports, somewhat travel type of stories for them, and that’s probably the most fun thing that I do. I don’t get to do that often, but the three or four times I write for them per year are probably the highlight of my year, professionally.
Jonah Keri, thank you so much for taking the time this morning, we really appreciate it.
Thanks for the interest. I appreciate the plug for the site.
No problem, thanks.