Of all the players on this ballot, there’s no one whose case I’m more passionate about than Raines. It’s not that he’s the best player there by any reasonable standard. It’s that, in a way, he’s the new Bert Blyleven: Voters fall all over themselves to come up with arguments against him. Here’s one I particularly enjoy:
He wasn’t even the best leadoff hitter of his generation.
Is that the standard? If you’re not the best of a certain type of player in your generation, you’re not worthy of the Hall of Fame? Okay, then…
George Brett wasn’t the best third baseman of his era; that was Mike Schmidt. What’s he doing in Cooperstown?
Duke Snider wasn’t the best center fielder of his era; heck, he was the third-best center fielder in his own city for most of his career. Get out of the Hall, Duke, and take Mickey Mantle with you. That’s what you get for playing at the same time as Willie Mays.
Tom Glavine (more on him in a minute) wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team. No way he’s a Hall of Famer, am I right?
Sure, Raines was second to Rickey Henderson, but Henderson is a top-20 all-time player. That’s irrelevant. A lesser version of an inner-circle Hall of Famer is probably still a Hall of Famer.
A leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base. Raines reached base safely (by hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) a whopping 3977 times in his career. He had a .385 on-base percentage, which is tremendous for someone who came to the plate over 10,000 times.
Once he was on, Raines was a menace on the bases. He stole 70 or more six different times, and he did it at a fantastically high percentage. Absurdly, I’ve heard some voters talk about that as a bad thing; they say that Rock was too cautious, that he cared more about “protecting his percentage” than helping the team. If he’d been caught stealing more, they say, he’d be a better Hall of Fame candidate.
If he’d done more of one of the worst things a baseball player can do for his team, he’d be a Hall of Famer? Really?
This is why I’m so excited to see Raines trending toward Hall of Fame induction. So many fans fall over themselves to make the case against him instead of looking at how great he was.
The easy comparable for Raines is his contemporary, Tony Gwynn. In careers of similar length, they reached base about the same number of times. Yes, Gwynn did it by way of singles instead of walks, and yes, singles are more valuable than walks, but they’re not much more valuable. Raines, of course, was a much better baserunner than Gwynn.
I’m not saying Tim Raines was better than Tony Gwynn, or even as good. Gwynn’s higher batting average matters, and he was a better defensive player as well. Gwynn was also more consistently great throughout his career than Raines, who concentrated most of his value in his first eight seasons.
Still, if Tony Gwynn is a slam-dunk, no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer, there’s no way Tim Raines is that far behind. He deserved to be in years ago, and he absolutely deserves to get in today.
It always amazes me that the mid-nineties Braves had three of the greatest pitchers of all time – Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz – and that the best pitcher of the three was also the least talented athlete. Glavine could have played in the NHL (he was drafted in the fourth round). Smoltz was a standout basketball player who may well have made the NBA. Maddux would have had no shot in any sport other than baseball. He was born to pitch, and he did it better than just about anyone.
Tom Glavine wasn’t as good as Greg Maddux, just as Tim Raines wasn’t as good as Rickey Henderson, but he was still dominant. His credentials include 300 wins, over 2,500 strikeouts, nearly 4,500 innings pitched and two Cy Young Awards. His 10-season peak with the Braves was one of the better runs of sustained pitching success in recent memory, and he had several very good years for the Mets as well.
Every eligible 300-win pitcher not named Roger Clemens is in the Hall of Fame, but not all of them were first-ballot choices. My suspicion, on a ballot this loaded, is that Glavine may have to wait a few years as well. He’ll go in, though, and deservedly so.
Continuing with the theme of outstanding players who were overshadowed by other great players in their day, here we have Tigers great Alan Trammell.
When I first started following baseball, I heard about the so-called “Holy Trinity” of shortstops: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. Truth be told, there was an even better Trinity back in the ’80s: Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, and Trammell.
The first two sailed right into the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. Ripken was a tremendous offensive shortstop and famously broke Lou Gehrig’s iron-man record. Smith, conversely, was the greatest defensive shortstop the game had ever seen. Both had weaknesses to match their strengths; Ripken wasn’t known for his glove, and Smith struggled at the plate through much of his career. Still, they had those elite skills, and that was more than enough to get them in.
Trammell’s problem is that he wasn’t as good a hitter as Ripken and he wasn’t as good a fielder as Smith. He was a quietly effective offensive player who never led the league in anything (other than sacrifices). He was, for the most part, a quietly excellent defender, though he did win four Gold Gloves.
Much like Tim Raines, Trammell is a guy who doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer at first glance. Look closer, though, and you’ll see a player who was a better hitter than Ozzie Smith, a better fielder than Cal Ripken, and comparable to both as an all-around shortstop.*
*I did choose my words carefully there: Trammell’s whole career isn’t in the same league as Ripken’s. Ripken, however, moved to third base late in his career. If we justlook at his career as a shortstop, Ripken is still ahead of Trammell, but the gap is quite a bit smaller.
The best historic comparable I can find for Trammell is Arky Vaughan, a great shortstop in the ’30s and ’40s who needed the Veterans Committee to get him to Cooperstown. Odds are good that Trammell will go the same route. In my view, though, his election is long overdue.