Elliott ICYMI: The Jonah Keri campaign, Raines tours HOF

Jonah Keri (Montreal, Que.) grew up a Tim Raines fan and lobbied strongly for the Montreal Expos outfielder to reach Cooperstown ... and there they stood in front of where Raines' plaque will hang this July. Photo: Milo Stewart Jr. Staff Photographer, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jonah Keri (Montreal, Que.) grew up a Tim Raines fan and lobbied strongly for the Montreal Expos outfielder to reach Cooperstown ... and there they stood in front of where Raines' plaque will hang this July. Photo: Milo Stewart Jr. Staff Photographer, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ORIGINALLY POSTED April 18, 2017

 

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball NNetwork

COOPERSTOWN, NY _ Tim Raines sat beside Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson at a table for seven in the Hawkeye Grill at the legendary Otesaga Resort Hotel following his recent private tour of the Hall.

Lunch had been served. 

Now, on to dessert.

“Let me ask you,” an old goat from Kingston questioned. “Do you get The Call in January without the help of Jonah Keri?”

Seated two chairs away from the old goat, Keri, a proud Montrealer from Ville St. Laurent, reacted in typical Canadian fashion. 

“This is embarrassing,” he groaned in pain as if he was at a funeral and a woman in high heels had clomped on both of his feet.

Raines thought for a second, wrinkled his face like way back in the spring of 1981 at West Palm Beach when he was asked, “What do you have to do to make this team?” And then he answered.

“That’s questionable (if he would have made it),” said the former Montreal Expos outfielder who will be inducted July 28-30 along with former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves vice-chairman John Schuerholz and former commissioner Bud Selig.

We say Raines is in thanks to Keri’s tireless work.

The table overlooked the veranda where we saw Ted Williams talk hitting with Warren Spahn and argue hitting with anyone who walked by. The veranda and the Hawkeye Grill is the same area Hall of Famers have been hanging out each summer. 

Who knows who sat in the same location Raines sat? Someone from the first class like Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner in 1939? Or maybe this summer he and his wife Shanon will occupy the same room as Enos (Country) Slaughter or Old Hoss Radbourn.

* * *
Right-hander Bert Blyleven had Rich Lederer pushing for him behind the scenes. Lederer was an investment manager president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, Calif. when he began his cause. The son of a dogged newspaper man, who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers their first 11 years on the coast for the Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram and a HOF voter, he had his father’s work ethic. 

Lederer wrote, blogged, analyzed, called and emailed writers. And in his 14th year of eligibility Blyleven was elected with 79.7% of the elecorate in 2011, the same year Robbie Alomar and Pat Gillick were inducted. 

Some Hall of Fame candidates need someone to champion their cause. Jack Morris’ numbers appeared worse and worse to some the farther away he got from his last start, while Blyleven’s numbers grew more favorable. I did not vote for Blyleven the first eight years, but Lederer convinced me to vote for him after 2005 when he was at 40.5% and I voted for him the next six seasons. 

Keri was Raines’ drumbeater. And whereas most writers my age wrote for one paper and maybe a couple of freelance gigs on the side, Keri is a modern, multi-platformed conglomerate. He is at ease at his keyboard writing for a website or a magazine, as he is in front of a TV camera, or a radio interview, on Twitter, Snapchat or the next invention.

“There’s no doubt Tim is in Cooperstown because of Jonah’s efforts,” said Raines agent Randy Grossman, who also sat at the table that afternoon along with Jon Shestakofsky and Craig Muder of Jane Forbes Clark's Hall of Fame staff.

Tim Raines and his agent Randy Grossman

Tim Raines and his agent Randy Grossman

From his San Diego office Grossman said: “Jonah made it his mission to talk to people who didn’t vote for Tim. Tim is not an online guy. Tim has heard from other people that Jonah was out there championing his cause. And they developed a friendship.”

Grossman admits he was nervous about Raines’ chances after he was named on 46.1% of the Baseball Writers Association of America ballots in 2014 when the HOF board cut time on ballots from 15 to 10 years.

“I was worried Tim was going to fall through the cracks the year that eligibility on the ballot was shortened,” said Grossman. “I thought Tim would be OK with another seven years on the ballot. Now, it was down to three.”

And in January in 2015, Raines’ voting share climbed to 55%, but in July the HOF board made another change. Previously if someone had voting privileges, he or she had them for life. Now, voters must be 10-year BBWAA members or be active within the last 10 years.

Two shots left. 

“Now they were getting rid of a lot of the writers who were guys that saw Tim play,” Grossman said. Raines reached 69.8% in January of 2106 -- 23 votes short. 

A year ago January when Raines was short, we called and he gave his little giggle and said “You are the first person to call today that hasn’t congratulated me.” Apparently friends were reading or hearing on the radio that Raines was trending on a ballot-tracking gizmo of known ballots at 79.4% or 77.9% throughout the day. And then he came up short when the official numbers were released.

And this year had 86%. 

“As it turned out it was the younger writers who got Tim elected,” Grossman said. “A Chicago writer I know and respect very much told me that Jonah changed his mind. Another I know was offended that Jonah had written him lobbying for Tim.”

It was not always a walk in the park, for Keri like battling MLB Network’s Chris (Mad Dog) Russo, who claimed he had seen Raines play more often than Keri. 

* * *
Raines had always had support. In Raines’ first year of eligibility, Tom Tango created Raines30.com to promote the speedster in 2008 when he obtained 24.3% of the vote. Tango is the pen name of the Montrealer who does sabermetric work and was hired last year by MLB Advanced Media to develop calculating data using its new Statcast. He was ranked the 82nd most influential person in baseball by USA Today.

The late John Brattain (Springbrook, Ont.), Craig Burley (Toronto, Ont.), Neate Sager (Kingston, Ont.), Reggie Yinger of Baltimore and Keri all began to contribute. Yet, Keri took the Rock and ran with it more than anyone.

Ryan M. Spaeder ... if you don't follow him on Twitter (@theaceofspaeder) you should

Ryan M. Spaeder ... if you don't follow him on Twitter (@theaceofspaeder) you should

* * *
Ryan M. Spaeder, known as the @theaceofspaeder on Twitter was behind the Raines push as well. A contributor to The Sporting News, Spaeder is a baseball statistician, analyst and writer. A Philadelphia native and Penn State alumnus, he is a U.S. Marine stationed in North Carolina.

Both Keri and Grossman praised Spaeder’s research.

St. Louis Cardinals speedster Lou Brock was elected by the BBWAA as a first ballot Hall of Famer with 79.7% of the vote in 1985. Yet Raines’ candidacy was in doubt going into his 10th and final year. Spaeder compared the two and feels that may have moved the needle.

Raines vs Brock ...
BA: Rock
OBP: Rock
SLG: Rock
OPS: Rock
TOB: Rock

HR: Rock
SB%: Rock
OPS+: Rock
wOBA: Rock
wRC+: Rock
WAR: Rock
HOF: Brock

Wrote theaceofspaeder: Brock did not have a single season in which he stole bases as efficiently as Rock did during his entire career, additionally, Brock’s single-season career high-high on-base percentage was Rock’s career on-base percentage.

* * *
Raines’ favorite stat on Tim Raines?
 
“My on base average ... and how high it was,” said Raines, who had a .385 on-base mark.

Said Keri quoting his favorite Raines-belongs stat: “More times on base than Lou Brock, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Gwynn and Roberto Clemente.”
 
There are all kinds of impressive Raines stats. The one that wowed me -- already part of the choir -- was Keri’s comparison to the career of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

Name Hits Walks HBP Total
Gwynn 3,141 790 24 3,955
Raines 2,605 1,330 42 3,977 

Name PA OBP ISO* OPS+ TIMES ON BASE WAR  
Gwynn 10,232 .388 .121 132 3,955 68.9
Raines 10,359 .385 .131 123 3,977 69.1
(* Isolated power is AVG minus SLG, or a measure of extra bases per at-bat.)

The Gwynn-Raines numbers were not news to Grossman, who was aware since John Boggs’ office is next to his. Boggs, the man some describe as “too nice to be an agent,” has represented Gwynn, Paul Molitor and other Hall of Famers.

“I was familiar to the comparisons, aware of the numbers,” said Grossman “The numbers are remarkable.”

The comparison surprised me, but then I was not looking into the stats. I was voting for him. 

“We hear it all the time a walk is as good as a hit, isn’t that one of the objects of the game -- get on base?” Keri asked. “If Tim Raines did not steal a base he belonged in the Hall of Fame. I looked upon him as a hidden gem.”
  
With a better WAR than Mike Schmidt, he had an 84.7% success rate, which is highest among players with at least 400 stolen base attempts.

Tim Raines and his wife Shannon, of Arnprior, Ont. examine a 1930 Babe Ruth bat in the a special whitie glove area of the Hall of Fame where objects can be touched.

Tim Raines and his wife Shannon, of Arnprior, Ont. examine a 1930 Babe Ruth bat in the a special whitie glove area of the Hall of Fame where objects can be touched.

* * *
When did Keri become a Raines’ fan?

Keri remembers watching Blue Monday on TV in 1981, as Rick Monday homered off Steve Rogers with two out in the ninth in the deciding game of the best-of-five National League Championship Series at Olympic Stadium. And off the Dodgers went to play the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The first game he went to was Aug. 1, 1982 when Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals were at Olympic Stadium. Keri’s grandfather, Alec Keri, took him to the game and they sat in the yellow seats. Oddly Raines did not start the game, but entered as part of a double switch by manager Jim Fanning. Reliever Jeff Reardon replaced Dan Schatzeder, while Raines took over for Warren Cromartie in the seventh with Montreal trailing 4-2.

Bryan Little singled off Joaquin Andujar, reached second on an error and moved to third on a Raines single. Herzog, also on his way to Cooperstown, brought in Jeff Lahti to face Jerry White. Raines stole second and White tripled to right tying the game. 

Herzog turned to lefty Jim Kaat to face Al Oliver, who singled to right scoring Dan Norman with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh.

Keri was seven years old. The 51,353 at Stade Olympique knew that the win moved the Expos to within four games of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies, three behind St. Louis. 

“Steve Rogers against Joaquin Andujar, the place was electric,” Keri said, “I remember asking my grandfather ‘is that what all games are like?’”

A year later Keri’s grandfather, Alec Keri, took him to New York. Plans were to attend the July 4, 1983 game at Yankee Stadium. Yet, the oppressive heat, somewhere in the 90s, cancelled the outings.

So, he listened on the radio as suspense mounted ... inning by inning as "Yankee Dave Righetti pitched a no hitter,” Keri said, jokingly adding “You know how the scoreboard will read in each ball park ‘Today in Baseball History?’ Well, on July 4 each day I think it could read ‘On This Day Jonah Keri’s life was ruined by his grandfather.’”   

* * *
Raines had been interviewed by Keri before visiting Montreal in 2014 when the Blue Jays played a pair of exhibition games. This time Keri introduced Raines at a banquet to generate interest in bringing baseball back to the city.

“Jonah started throwing out stats at the banquet,” Raines recalled, “Finally I looked up ... with a ‘Who is HE talking about?’ look. Years ago people looked at players’ career numbers on the back of the baseball card but SABR makes a fan see who how important a player is when you didn’t really think he was that important.”

Keri carried the banner high whether he was lobbying for Raines on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” on NBC, doing his podcasts or writing. The man has written for Baseball Prospectus, ESPN.com, Wall Street Journal, Fangraphs, Grantland, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic and two magazines still in the development stage. 

* * *
Grossman says a friendship and a bonding between Raines and Keri began to bloom in 2014. 

Reaching a display which looks like something from a jewelry store is a case holding World Series rings. There is a blank spot in the black felt for the year 1994. 

“Oh that is so sad,” said Keri, zeroing in with his camera to take a picture of the missing spot. “That is where the Expos World Series ring should have been?”

The Expos were in first place by six games in 1994 at the time of the Aug. 12 work stoppage. A giggle came from across the plate window.

“Or ... the Chicago White Sox,” said Raines, who played with the White Sox in 1994 and led the AL Central division by a game on Aug. 12.  

It was like listening to two guys -- office workers, seated on bar stools or life long pals -- tease each other about whose team was better.

Tanner Watson (Arnprior, Ont.) who pitched five years in the minors is a coach with the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians

Tanner Watson (Arnprior, Ont.) who pitched five years in the minors is a coach with the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians

* * *
Tanner Watson grew up in Arnprior and pitched for the Ottawa Bases and now coaches Don Campbell’s Ottawa-Nepean Canadians. The right-hander was a 19th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2000 pitched five years in the Mariners system and one with the Chicago Cubs reaching double-A Tennessee. 

Tanner remembers Raines flying in for a visit and his luggage did not make the connection. His most memorable “You’re Tim Raines?“ moment in Arnprior came when the missing luggage had to be delivered 45 minutes west of the nation’s capital.

According to Watson, “the delivery guy opened the door, said he had read the name on the tag and thought ‘No way it’s him’ and asked ‘Why the hell are you in Arnprior?’”

Raines met Shannon Watson when she worked as an intern for the Expos in Jupiter. Which led to Raines spending part of the 2005-06 season in the ‘Prior (population: 8,795) and playing in the MBA.

“We call our league the Men’s Basketball Association, the MBA, not the NBA,” said Phil Moore, who has been running the men’s league for 25 years. Now, the MBA is quite unlike the NBA. In the MBA there are not any referees or zone defences and Hall of Famers from other sports drop by for a game. It is a gentlemen’s league. Players call fouls themselves.  

It is a shooter’s league. Moore coached Watson in basketball and had a heads up one night that Watson would be bringing Raines to play in a hoops game for Dan Lavallee’s team in the nine-team league.

“The Rock in our basketball league! Seriously Tim Raines playing basketball in Arnprior,” recalled Moore. “The gym was buzzing. Our guys were shy, afraid to say hello. No one asked for his autograph the first night. Played that whole season.”

And ... the scouting report on Raines the hoopster from the MBA commish. 

“Well, he’s vertically challenged, but he’s a heck of an athlete ... I wouldn’t say he’s a three-point shooter, but mid-range he was pretty good.”

* * *
In a point of full disclosure I met Keri at a wedding in Buffalo in the summer of 2008.

His pal David Itzkovits was marrying the woman with the best smile in all of Western New York, Kara Gilbert, daughter of University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Hall of Fame coach Don Gilbert. Don Gilbert played for the Ottawa Rough Riders and coached the Gee-Gees to the 1975 College Bowl.

For a couple of years Kara Gilbert worked in Toronto and Don visited, so I invited my daughter for brunch downtown. Her initial question was “why do I want to go on a father-daughter date?”

Well, that lovely day when Itzkovits and Gilbert wed one bridal pairing was of usher and bride’s maid consisted of my daughter Alicia wearing a stunning black dress and Keri at Kleinhan’s Music Hall.

* * *
Some other pebbles that went into making the candidate rock-solid. From Spaeder
@theaceofspaeder as he’s ...

_ The only player in baseball history with more than two seasons with at least 50 extra-base hits and 70 stolen bases; he had four, from 1983 to 1986.

— The only player, among seven, with at least 600 extra-base hits and 700 stolen bases not in the Hall of Fame.

— The only player in baseball history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs and 600 stolen bases. He amassed 113 triples, 170 home runs, and 808 stolen bases.

— One of 18 players to accumulate at least 2,600 hits and 1,300 walks. All but Pete Rose have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.   

* * *
And there is another thing that young Jonah Keri could not have imagined back in the early 1980s.

Three players from his team -- Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and now Raines -- will be in Cooperstown come this July ... and Vladimir Guerrero is waiting in the on-deck circle after falling 15 votes short at 71.7% in January. 

* * *
Flash forward to July 31 ...

Cue the Mission Impossible music ... and roll tape ...

“Good afternoon, Mr. Keri since you are subbing for Mr. Phelps ... Your mission Jonah should you decide to accept it ... is Larry Walker’s campaign. Mr. Walker is presently at 21.9%, roughly where Mr. Raines was in 2009. Mr. Walker has three years remaining.
 
“As always, should you or any of your Analytics Team be caught or captured, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions ... This disc will self-destruct in five seconds ... Good luck, Jonah.”