Congratulations to Barry Larkin who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the class of 2012's lone member. Better luck next year to guys like Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris and Lee Smith. And how about Tim Raines, a guy who in his fifth year of eligibility didn't even receive half of the votes?
Tim Raines was a great baseball player. A Hall of Fame worthy player. This argument is easily made but often easily dismissed because Raines played his best baseball for a middling team in a market outside of the United States. The team he did his best work for, the Montreal Expos, doesn't even exist anymore. In 2004 they moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals.
And so Raines has become a castaway, destined to be the next Jim Rice or Ron Santo despite the fact that he played 23 seasons, collected 2605 hits, 1571 runs, 808 stolen bases, batted .294 and had an OBP of .385.
For comparison, Barry Larkin, a great player and deserving of today's induction into the Hall, had 2340 hits, 1329 runs, a .295 average and a .371 OBP. On fangraphs they both post a 70 career value over replacement.
Raines' numbers actually compare very closely to Lou Brock, a player many consider to be one of the greatest of all time. Brock had 3023 hits, 1610 runs, 938 stolen bases, a .293 career batting average, and a .343 OBP.
The argument against Raines is that he was a role player during the second half of his career and his numbers are in the Johnny Damon range. It does seem a little strange that Johnny Damon might also be Hall of Fame worthy. Still, I think Raines gets an edge in a few respects. First, his stolen base numbers are all-time elite, and second, his lifetime average is nearly 10 points higher. Damon also has only been to three All-Star games.
Meanwhile Raines went to seven and was one of the top players of the 1980s. Over the course of his entire career he averaged 102 runs, 169 hits, 11 home runs, 52 stolen bases along with his career average and OBP over the course of a 162 game season. Those are considered great numbers for any leadoff hitter today. Raines averaged that over his entire career.
Raines led the league in stolen bases four times, stole 70 or more in his first six full seasons, and stole 50 or more eight times. He struck out a minuscule 966 times in over 10,000 plate appearances, while walking 1330 times. In his role as a leadoff hitter he was without peer except for the great Rickey Henderson.
Raines' 808 stolen bases are good for fifth all time, behind Henderson (1406), Lou Brock (938), Billy Hamilton (914), and Ty Cobb (897). All of those guys are in the Hall of Fame.
On top of all of this, he was a three-time World Series champion. In the event you were on the fence about Raines he also had a killer nickname: Rock. Yeah!
So how does this player not get into the Hall? I think it's a perfect combination of subjective factors: playing for probably the least renowned baseball team in the last 30 years, and playing his role sort of second fiddle to the aforementioned Henderson. The first half of his career was brilliant, the second was mostly average. He slowly faded from baseball consciousness over time.
This is why I think numbers are so important. They should be an unbiased guide. Numbers don't tell the entire story—but they are a big part of the story. They quantify great players. Also, even if the totality of career stats doesn't get you there, it should be considered how well the player played the role he was asked to play. Raines has to be among the top five leadoff hitters of the 1980s and 1990s. There's a reason why teams kept paying him for 23 years. What he was asked to do he did and exemplified one of the most important roles in the batting order. We're not talking about a middle relief pitcher here.
I'm not sure what this strange waiting game is writers inflict on deserving players. I'm not even going to mention Ron Santo. It becomes a strange power game. Give up the tease and vote them into Cooperstown in an orderly fashion.