Tim Raines

The Hall of Fame case for Tim Raines

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I’ve long hesitated to make the Tim Raines Hall of Fame pitch, simply because there’s a website already dedicated to the cause that does a far better job of it than I can here. Still, I figure I can have a quick go at it, and if nothing else, it means a few more people might check out Raines30.com for the better pitch.

Raines’ Hall of Fame problem is Rickey Henderson. Raines might be the second best leadoff hitter off all-time, but he played at the same time as the best. Also, he was a left fielder without much power and he never won an MVP award or came particularly close.

On the other hand, Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that span and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). And those two were playing in the other league.

Raines led the NL in average and OBP in 1986, but 1987 may well have been his best season. After sitting out the first month because of baseball’s collusion against free agents, he hit .330/.429/.526 with 123 runs scored in 139 games. He was so feared that he was intentionally walked 26 times, even though he was one of baseball’s premier basestealers.

Unfortunately, Raines ceased being a superstar pretty young, and while he was still an asset as a role player into his upper-30s, he’s not getting much Hall of Fame credit for those years. The entire body of work is worthy, though. While Raines wasn’t Rickey Henderson, he was a very good match for Tony Gwynn.

Raines finished his career with a .385 OBP, a .425 SLG and a 123 OPS+ in 10,359 PA
Gwynn finished his career with a .388 OBP, a 459 SLG and a 132 OPS+ in 10,232 PA

Raines scored 1,571 runs and drove in 980
Gwynn scored 1,383 runs and drove in 1,138

Raines stole 808 bases and was caught 146 times
Gwynn stole 319 bases and was caught 125 times

B-ref WAR has Raines at 66.2, good for 97th all-time. It has Gwynn at 65.3 wins, 102nd place all-time.

Obviously, it’s commonplace throughout history to trump up one Hall of Fame candidate by matching him with another, typically one barely over the borderline. Gwynn, though, was a sure-fire Hall of Famer, getting in on the first ballot with one of the all-time highest percentage of the votes. And the one real difference between him and Raines was hits. Raines had 2,605 hits and Gwynn had 3,141. That’s a difference of 536. However, Raines had 1,330 walks to Gwynn’s 790, a difference of 540.

I think Raines is also well over what should be the borderline for Cooperstown. He mixed in five years of true greatness into long career in which he was almost always an asset. It’s a career that’s clearly worthy.

The Blue Jays will . . . not be blue some days next year

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The Toronto Blue Jays, like a lot of teams, will wear an alternate jersey next year. It’ll be for Sunday home games. They call it their “Canadiana,” uniforms. Which, hey, let’s hear it for national pride.

(question to Canada: my grandmother and my three of my four maternal great-grandparents were Canadian. Does that give me any rights to emigrate? You know, just in case? No reason for asking that today. Just curious!).

Anyway, these are the uniforms:

More like RED Jays, am I right?

OK, I am not going to leave this country. I’m going to stay here and fight for what’s right: a Major League Baseball-wide ban on all red alternate jerseys for anyone except the Cincinnati Reds, who make theirs work somehow. All of the rest of them look terrible.

Oh, Canada indeed.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

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