There is no Frank Thomas on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. Harold Baines was recently denied his last shot when the Veteran’s Ballot inductees were announced at the Winter Meetings. However, the White Sox still have some representation this year. In fact, they have had this same representation every year for the past ten years. Tim Raines, who was on the White Sox from 1991-1995, is on his tenth and final Hall of Fame ballot and if early reports are any indication he will finally get his rightful place in Cooperstown.
At first glance it may seem strange to write about Tim Raines on a website devoted to Chicago sports teams. After all, if Raines ends up being voted in next month, he will most likely be wearing an Expos hat on his plaque after spending 12 seasons with Montreal’s former club. But when Raines was on the Sox, and 5 years is no short stint, he gave Chicago 5 years of consistent and quality hitting from the leadoff position. Robin Ventura, former White Sox manager, 3rd baseman, and teammate of Raines, had nothing but good things to say about Tim Raines when asked about his former teammate’s Hall of Fame chances this last time around. “It’s hard when you start looking at guys that should be in that aren’t in and you see him on the last time,” Ventura said. “You feel like something needs to change.”Frank Thomas, White Sox Hall of Famer and statistical leader in almost every offensive category for the Sox, went even farther than Ventura saying that Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters in MLB history. (Quotes courtesy of Dan Hayes at CSN Chicago.) That sentiment is not lost on the fans I have heard from recently. Many White Sox fans are proud to have had Raines on their team for several years. The White Sox are notorious for obtaining Hall of Fame level players in the twilight of their career (See Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Tom Seaver) but Raines sticks out as a player fans were happy with joining the team.
It would be a disservice not to mention the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing Tim Raines and the Hall of Fame. In 1985, Tim Raines, along with many other players, were called in front of a grand jury as part of a large cocaine scandal in baseball. Raines admitted to using cocaine before, after, and occasionally during games. However, unlike many of the other players involved, Raines was never suspended as part of the scandal. Cocaine use is no laughing matter and substance abuse in general often times follows athletes after their career is over. Moreover, by all accounts Raines kicked the habit and cocaine use cannot be equated to steroid use. Without making a statement for or against steroid users being in the Hall of Fame (that is an article for a different day), cocaine does not make you bigger or faster. Cocaine keeps you awake and alert and your own natural skills do the rest. While cocaine is clearly more dangerous and wrong than a drug like caffeine, it should not be the sole reason to keep a player of Raines’ caliber out of the Hall of Fame.
Early reports, based on Hall of Fame voters releasing their ballots, indicate that Raines may finally be on his way to the Hall. In 2014, the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame amended their rules and made it so a player can only be on the ballot for a maximum of 10 years, decreasing the maximum from it’s previous 15 years. Raines is now on his 10th and final ballot. Oakland-based Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, who as his job title indicates, tracks the ballots writers have posted or submitted to him, had tallied 105 ballots as of December 26, 2016. Of those 105 ballots, 91 percent of them have Tim Raines on them, well eclipsing the 75 percent needed to get into the Hall. There is of course still time for this to change, but as Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media points out, this “is a big increase from his narrow miss last year (69.8 percent) and poor early showings (24.3 percent in 2008, 22.6 percent in 2009, 30.4 percent in 2010).” (http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2016/12/baseball_hall_of_fame_released_ballots_show_tim_ra.html).
It is unfortunate that many fans of the game undervalue Tim Raines and I believe part of the issue is that Raines played during the same time as Ricky Henderson–odds on favorite to be anyone’s answer to “Who is the greatest leadoff hitter of all time?” In many ways Henderson, who is already enshrined in Cooperstown, did everything Raines did and then some. However, comparing any Hall of Fame candidate to a player like Ricky Henderson is an impossible comparison and Tim Raines should be evaluated on his own merit.
Tim Raines, the former White Sox leadoff hitter, is Hall of Famer material. You have heard it from former players. You have seen the results from early ballots. But I am going to let the numbers speak for themselves.
7x All Star
5th all-time in steals (808)
13th in stolen base success percentage (84.7 percent)
37th in walks (1,330)
54th in runs scored (1,571)
47th in times on base (3,977)
He finished second in rookie of the year voting in 1981.
Silver Slugger in 1986.
He had one job to do in his 21 years playing baseball and that was get on base and let his teammates do the rest. A career .294/.385/.425 slash line says he did just that. It looks like the Hall of Fame will finally agree.