By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Tim Raines finally made it to Cooperstown on the 10th try.
The 1980s Expos’ great was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday along with Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell and superlative Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriquez.
“I’d like to thank you guys, the baseball writers. This is definitely the biggest day of my career, the final chapter,’’ Raines said on a conference call Wednesday night. “I’m looking forward to going to Cooperstown and giving my speech.
“I have twin daughters, who are six years old and I don’t know if they knew what their dad did but it was very emotional and very exciting when I got the call. I got close to 70% of the vote last year so I knew I had momentum going into this year.’’
Raines was one of the greatest lead-off hitters of his generation and batted .294 lifetime with an OBP of .385, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases. He received 86% of the votes cast.
The Expos drafted Raines out of Seminole high school near his hometown of Sanford, Fla. in the fifth round of the 1977 drafted when he was strictly a right-handed hitter. He learned to hit left over the course of the next winter and switch-hitting boosted his career.
“This journey, I wasn’t sure if baseball was going to be the sport,’’ Raines said. “I chose baseball at a young age to see if I could be good enough. I figured I would give myself two years and then if that didn’t work out, I was going to go to university and play football.’’
Raines had look-sees and auditions with the Expos in 1979 and 1980 and then went full-time during the strike-shortened 1981 season when he stole 71 bases in 88 games, helping the team to its first-ever playoff berth.
“In 1981, I looked at veterans like Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers and Warren Cromartie and how they played,’’ Raines said. “They played hard every day from the first pitch of the game. They kind of forced me to play that way. They played a big role in the player I became.
“The fans in Montreal recognized the passion I had. The fans got behind me from day one. With their help, they made me perform at a high level for them and they acknowledged me. Outside Montreal, I really only got exposed in a big-market city where people were getting a full pleasure of what I was able to do.’’
Fellow Expos’ great Vladimir Guerrero received 71.6% of the votes announced Wednesday and he should get enough votes next year for Cooperstown but on this day, Raines took centre stage along with Bagwell and Rodriguez.
Raines said the 1987 season was most gratifying for him because he didn’t the start until May and in his first game, he went 4-for-5 with a grand slam. He ended the season with 123 runs, 18 homers, 68 RBI and a .330 batting average.
“That year was the most memorable of the 23 years I played,’’ Raines said. “The game has changed a lot. Back in the day, people looked at players to see if they had so many home runs or had 3,000 hits but with WAR and these new stats, it has changed a lot of people’s minds in their voting.’’
There are a lot of tickled people out there for Raines and one of them is Canadian and former Expos’ scout Bill MacKenzie of Brockville, Ont., who was one of the first scouts to ever see Raines play a high school game in Daytona Beach in the mid-1970s.
“I’m so happy for Tim,’’ MacKenzie said last night. “When I first saw him, I loved him. I thought he was a special kid. We signed him for $5,000.’’
Quite a bargain for sure. And quite the player.
Said Cromartie, “I’m very proud to have played with three Expos’ Hall of Famers, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and now Tim.’’