When the Baseball Writers' Association of America votes for the Hall of Fame -- ballots are due Dec. 21 -- returning candidates often have a same-old, been-there quality to them. You can instantly summon arguments for and against names such as Roger Clemens or Larry Walker, whether or not they eventually make the Hall.
Except nobody actually comes out and says Tim Raines shouldn't be there. Literally: A Google search for "Tim Raines shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame" returns zero results. Yet electors keep passing him over, thanks to a perfect storm of biases. Raines' career is a case study in the many ways Hall voters struggle with statistical interpretation.
While Raines was active, fans, sports writers and other players all regarded him as one of the very best in the game, and contemporary analytics are even more impressed. Posting an OPS 23 percent above league average with 808 stolen bases over a 23-year major league career, Raines generated 69.1 wins above replacement -- which ranks ahead of 15 Hall of Fame left fielders (out of 19).
Raines spent his peak seasons outside the United States, in the small, later abandoned market of Montreal. Indeed, he was trapped there: After Raines won the NL batting title in 1986 and his contract was up, not one other club offered him a legitimate deal, because MLB owners were illegally colluding against free agents. According to WAR, Raines was the best player in the NL for a five-year stretch from 1983 to 1987, but never got the publicity of Expos superstars who made it across the border, such as Gary Carter or Andre Dawson.
Raines was probably the second-greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer of all time -- but he was a direct contemporary of Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer of all time. In 1983, Raines swiped a career-high 90 bags; Henderson stole 108. And nobody hogged that particular spotlight like Rickey.
Raines' premier talent was reaching base, which cuts against him in two ways. First, BBWAA voters traditionally prefer sluggers to on-base guys. Until very recently, when electors have thrown their hands up over players such as Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza, hitters who drove in significantly more runs than they scored went into the Hall at a rate about 20 percentage points higher than those with more R's than RBIs. That doesn't make much sense -- unless you zoom in on Triple Crown lines. And despite approving Bert Blyleven's analytics-backed candidacy, Hall of Fame voters have always relied on traditional stats. They see Tony Perez (53.9 WAR, 379 HRs, 1652 RBIs) as having worthy power totals but Alan Trammell (70.4 WAR, 185 HRs, 1003 RBIs) as an outsider.
Further, even among top-of-the-order players, Raines is a type voters undervalue. He drew a lot of walks -- 86 per 162 games. That helped give him a mighty career OBP of .385 but also limited his hit totals. Over their long careers, Raines got on base almost exactly as often as Tony Gwynn (3,977 times vs. 3,955) while making just about the same number of outs (6,670 vs. 6,661). But Gwynn's lifetime batting average was 44 points higher (.338 vs. .294), and he sailed into the Hall on the first ballot, while Raines is still waiting. And he'll probably keep waiting as long as electors who remember Joe Garagiola keep voting according to the numbers their TVs used to show during games of the week.
Lastly, Raines used cocaine. Early in his career, he copped to a habit that got so bad it cost him $1,000 a week, and notoriously admitted that he sometimes slid headfirst because he was carrying coke vials in the back pocket of his uniform. To Raines' credit, he entered rehab in the fall of 1982, never relapsed and played another two decades. But the chemical of choice of Raines' era hurt his stats and his image.
And it's still hurting: In 2014, the Hall of Fame, scurrying to limit its exposure to the anabolic chemical of choice of recent retirees, cut players' window of BBWAA eligibility from 15 years to 10. So Raines, who had slowly built his vote on recent ballots and hit 55 percent last year, now has just two shots left at getting to the critical 75 percent threshold.
Everyone has personal off-the-wall marginal favorites for the Hall of Fame. Tim Raines is in a different class, though: He clearly had a better career than most of the players already in Cooperstown. Inducting him would do Raines justice -- and help repair broken voting habits.