By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
His role is as an outfield instructor and base-running coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Tim Raines fits the part.
“It is something that I think is very important and having the credentials and obviously the career plays a big role, especially when you are talking to young guys,” said Raines, who was in Bluefield recently to work with the local Blue Jays. “A lot of these guys don’t really know who I am, but with the social media now you can get just about anything you want on a player.
“Sometimes I ask the question ‘Who am I’ and ‘What did I do’, stuff like that. Some guys knew and some guys didn’t, it is kind of funny.”
All Raines did in a 23-year career was compile a .294 lifetime batting average with 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases for six different teams, including 12 years in Montreal. During his tenure with the Expos, Raines made seven All-Star game appearances - winning game MVP in 1987 - and was among the top 12 for the National League MVP voting five times. He was also runner-up to Fernando Valenzuela for Rookie of the Year in 1981.
No wonder when Raines talks, the players listen.
“Just my overall game,” said Raines, when asked what stood out to him about his career, which ended in retirement in 2002. “I wasn’t the biggest and I don’t know if I was the fastest - I was pretty fast - but just knowing the game, it is important to players.
“The more you can learn from watching games the better player you can be.”
It is that experience that Raines is able to share with the local products, all of whom want to get where he was for more than two decades.
“After 23 years in the big leagues and almost eight years in the minor leagues, and two years as a major league coach, I have seen a lot of baseball,” Raines said. “I am not going to profess that I know everything there is to know about the game, but it is going to hard to come back at me with something I haven’t seen.”
Raines, who grew up in Sanford, Fla., was actually more of a football fan — partly because his father played semi-pro ball — but he felt baseball would allow a much longer career. He spent four seasons moving through the Montreal system on his way to the big leagues.
“I knew more about baseball as a player, but I knew more about football as a fan,” said Raines, who figured he could always return to a football career if baseball didn’t work out after a couple of years. “Thank God it all worked out and baseball ended up being the sport I ended up playing.”
He played it well, better than most. He has been on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame for six years, receiving a personal-high 52.2 percent of the required 75 percent of the vote in the last election. He will be eligible for nine more years.
“At this point I still feel like I have got a shot, but you never know,” Raines said. “I have looked at some stats from Hall of Famers that have gotten in, and I think about every one of them that got up to 50 percent usually gets in.
“I feel good about that, but until they call my name, I will be waiting.”
He has been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, having been inducted in the most recent election with past Toronto athletes George Bell and Rob Ducey.
“To me it is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career thus far, the only thing that could top that is to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Raines said. “To look at that list that is in the Canadian Hall of Fame, it is an awesome list of players and most of those guys are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It was a proud moment for me as a player and as a guy that had played in Montreal and in Canada to receive that award.”
Raines was part of a talented collection of Expos that made just one playoff appearance. Montreal led Los Angeles 2 games to 1 in a best-of-5 National League playoffs in 1981, but the Dodgers rallied for two wins, with Rick Monday hitting the deciding ninth inning home run in Game 5.
“I still think about that as if it was just yesterday, we had a great team, we were a game away, all we had to do was win one out of two games at home and we wasn’t able to pull that off,” Raines said. “I actually felt we had the best team in baseball that year, player for player, I don’t think there was another team that could play with us.”
Even though it didn’t work out for the Expos — who had the best record in baseball in 1994 before a strike led to the cancellation of the World Series — Raines did win two World Series rings as a player with the New York Yankees and one as a coach with the Chicago White Sox.
“When you are a player your goal is to make it to the World Series and win,” said Raines, whose best friend in baseball, Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, never did play in a World Series. “Everybody doesn’t get that opportunity, some guys get more than others and some don’t get any…
“To me that is what it is all about, it is all about going through the system, making it to the majors and hopefully being on a team that is good enough to do that”
Raines, who played from 1979 into the steroid era of 2002, hit just 170 home runs — and a season high of 18 in 1987 — but he did what counted most. Raines is ranked 53rd all time in runs scored with 1,571, and is fifth on the career list in stolen bases with 808.
“Guys like myself, we can get on base and it doesn’t take a hit to score a run and the name of the game is scoring runs and that is what we did,” said Raines, who led the National League in batting with a .334 average in 1986. “We stole bases, but a stolen base doesn’t count as a run scored so we got into scoring position more often than anyone else to score runs and that is what the game is all about.”
He scored lots of them, crossing the plate 100 or more times on six occasions, including National League leading totals of 133 in 1983 and 123 in ’87. He also got himself in position to score, stealing 70 or more bases six straight years, leading the league four times with a season high of 90 in ‘83.
Base-running and stolen bases haven’t been as emphasized during an era when home runs were flying out of the park at record rates, but Raines thinks that players such as himself and Rickey Henderson, who played a similar role in a Hall of Fame career, did it the right way.
“When you could be a player that could beat you in a lot of different ways, not just one way, it was tough to stop a player that way,” Raines said. “If he is a home run hitter, you can probably pitch to him or pitch around him to stop him from hitting home runs.
“If you are a guy that can steal bases they have to try and keep him off the bases so if he is a good hitter there is no way you can stop him from doing what he wants to do.”
With the onslaught of home runs now diminished in baseball, Raines feels like base-stealing and proper running of the bases could return to its former status of being so vital for success.
“I think it will because for a while there it was the steroid era and during that era the emphasis has been more about hitting the ball out of the ball park and I think teams were starting to rely on the long ball to score runs,” said Raines, who feels like pitching is going to return to the forefront of the game, as shown by the lack of offense in the recent All-Star game.
“When you have good pitching, speed plays a big role in scoring runs,” Raines said. “When you have a guy that can strike everybody out or you have got a guy that can get on base and steal second and steal third, you don’t really need a hit to score a run, a ground ball or fly ball, you can score runs that way.”
Raines expects more well-rounded players to make an impact in the major leagues, such as what Mike Trout is doing now for the Los Angeles Angels.
“I think it will start to come back, I think eras change and during my era and Rickey’s era, we did it all, it is just hard to find guys to play the way we played,” Raines said. “The closest guy I would say that comes to us is Trout because he is a leadoff guy, but he could probably be a third or fourth place hitter because he has got big, he has got strong and he has got size.
“He is the type of guy that is a game changer, he can beat you in a lot of different ways. He can beat you on defense, he can beat you on the bases, he can beat you with the bat, when you have guys like that, that is special. Those are special type of players.”
Much like 53-year-old Raines, who is working to help unveil more players like himself for Canada’s only current major league team, the Blue Jays. He preaches aggressiveness as far as base-stealing and not being afraid to take calculated risks.
“It is a learning process and that is what these guys are here for, they are going to make a lot of mistakes,” Raines said. “As I try to tell them you have to make mistakes to be able to learn how to play this game and until you can figure things out.
“You can figure things out by making mistakes, and the least amount of mistakes you make the best player you can be.”
Raines succeeded more than most, and was able to make the most of his ability. All that remains is the Hall of Fame, but whether it happens or not, he was pleased with his career.
“It is not tough, when I started playing the game I never thought about my career being a Hall of Fame career so when it comes to getting in or even being thought of as a Hall of Fame player is something that I never really dreamed about or even when I played I never really thought about it,” Raines said. “I played the game to play it and I enjoyed playing the game so when it came to numbers that was never really anything I was concerned about.
“I was concerned about winning games, playing the game to the best of my ability and whatever happened happens, and I kind of feel the same way about the Hall of Fame.
“It won’t be in awe if I don’t get in, but I know myself that the 23 years that I put in, I enjoyed it all.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com