Raines pays tribute to Expos teammates in speech

Tim Raines gives his induction speech from the stage in Cooperstown on Sunday. Photo Credit: Milo Stewart Jr.

Tim Raines gives his induction speech from the stage in Cooperstown on Sunday. Photo Credit: Milo Stewart Jr.

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. --  Tim Raines Jr. was standing near a fence talking to some buddies when a Canadian reporter sidled up to him, introduced himself and asked him what he thought of his papa going into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"He was incredible for a small, little dude,'' the proud son said.

That's for sure. Timothy Raines Sr., as his plaque noted, was a dazzling athlete of 5-foot-8 from hardscrabble Sanford, Fla., where Jackie Robinson was once told to get off the field because he was black. Raines shook off scouts, who suggested he might want to concentrate on football, another sport in which he excelled at Seminole High School in Sanford.

"The guy I really liked growing up was Joe Morgan,'' Raines was saying in his induction speech as Morgan looked on.

Morgan was actually 5-foot-7, a little shorter than Raines, and look what he did: he made it into Cooperstown.

Raines shook off sniffling from a cold and shook off a lot of emotion as he thanked so many people who made an impact on his life. There were mentions of former Expos teammates Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tim Wallach, Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine and agents Tom Reich, Adam Katz and Randy Grossman.

But first things first, he sent gratias to his parents Florence and Ned Sr., two hard working folks, who helped make him the person he became. His mother worked in the school system as a maintenance worker and his father was a grader operator in the construction business. 

"I want to thank my mother, who is known more around Sanford as Sue,'' Raines said. "Sue taught us children about hard work and made us do hard work. She was always there. She made me smile. My dad taught me to compete and work hard. He always said that nothing in life would be given to you.''

With Todd Plant of Montreal displaying one of the biggest Expos' flags ever seen in the crowd, Raines was inducted along with Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz on a scorching hot day when you saw as many Expos' outfits as you did Astros' unis for Bagwell and Rangers' gear for Pudge.

The order of inductee speeches wasn't determined until late Sunday morning. There was no alphabetical sense to it and Raines ended up last behind Schuerholz, Bagwell, Selig and Rodriguez. Raines hit the dias at 4:36. The ceremony started at 1:36.

"I’m surely not used to batting fifth but I always thought I had the power to do it,'' Raines said, alluding to the order of speeches.

Raines was usually leadoff in the batting order and hit .294 lifetime, scored 1,571 runs, stole 808 bases and accumulated an impressive stolen-base success rate of 84.7 per cent, highest among those with at least 400 steals. He was the 1980s National League version of the American League's flamboyant base thief Rickey Henderson.

"I put on my Expos uniform for the first time in 1979 and I said, 'Wow.' I don't know if Nolan Ryan remembers but my first at-bat was against him,'' Raines said as Ryan sat in the crowd behind him. "I fouled off a few pitches and worked the count to 3-2.

"The last pitch I thought was a ball and I started running to first but the umpire rung me up. I turned around and told him it was in the dirt and he said, 'Sit down, rookie.' I learned my lesson.

"I want to thank Tim Wallach. Him and I were teammates in Montreal for close to 10 years but we got to know each other in double-A. Not only was he a great teammate but he was a good friend. Gary Carter taught me how to be prepared each and every game. 

"Without Andre Dawson early in my career, there is no telling what would have happened.'' Raines said, referring to his cocaine habit in 1982. "Thank you for making me the player I became. We would kid around and he would knock me out sometimes, literally. I wouldn't let on that it hurt but it really did. I told him I wanted to be kind of like him and he finally accepted and I bought in.''

Raines spent 10 seasons with the Expos but his time with the club went into a state of decline from 1988-90 before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in December 1990. I remember writing several times in 1989 that Expos general manager Dave Dombrowski tried to trade Raines to the Red Sox in a straight-up deal for Mike Greenwell or a variation of players.

Dombrowski told me two years ago in Montreal that the reason he traded Raines was that he wasn't playing up to his capabilities. Yet, Raines revived his career in Chicago and later won two World Series titles with the Yankees, an honour he could not achieve with the Expos. The closest he came was in 1981 when the Dodgers knocked off the Expos in the NL Championship Series.

Raines, unlike Dawson and Carter, had no hesitation going into the hall with an Expos cap on his plaque. Dawson wanted to be a Cub and was overruled by the Hall of Fame and Carter wanted to be a Met and he, too, was overruled. Dawson and Carter went in as Expos.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Expos/Angels legend Vladimir Guerrero, who most assuredly will make it into Cooperstown next January. He has said that with no team in Montreal, he would prefer to go in as an Angel. He spent seven and a quarter seasons in Montreal, a full six in Anaheim. Again, the Hall of Fame folks may intercede again and tell Vladdy he must go in as an Expo.

It was somewhat astonishing to see that a MLB Network broadcaster onsite here proclaim that Raines' induction "closes the door on the Expos'' and that no future player will go in as an Expo. We should wait until next January.

What is equally astonishing to learn is that not one player has been enshrined in Cooperstown wearing an Angels' logo on his plaque. The Angels have been around since 1961.

Raines may or not be the last Expo in Cooperstown. Let's not forget he enjoyed one memorable weekend along the shores of the Susquehanna River at the outlet of Otsego Lake.

Raines and his son Jr. placed second in the team event at a celebrity tournament Saturday at the Leatherstocking golf course, four shots behind Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. Hundreds of fans craned their necks to see Hall of Fame inductees putting on the green along the road close to the ritzy Otsego Hotel. Raines was also feted Saturday night at a reception at the Templeton Hall. 

Expos fans from various parts of the U.S. and Canada showed up to show their support of the latest Expo in the hall. Indeed, it was an occasion to remember.

"When I didn't get elected into the Hall before this year, people would ask me why and it feels good now that I won't have to answer that question again,'' Raines said.