There have been many star ballplayers throughout the many years of professional baseball, but some of the game’s brightest toil in obscurity. Tim Raines was a seven-time All-Star, representing his Montreal Expos in seven consecutive seasons. As fleet as a gazelle with a lion chasing its tail, Raines was a threat to take an extra base whenever the man was in motion. He pilfered bags, turned singles into doubles and hot-footed the occasional triple when most players would have held up at second. Playing for the Expos north of the border didn’t allow for much exposure on Tim’s part, but obscurity may not be the reigning factor keeping Raines out of the Hall of Fame. Competition, the analysis of comparing a player to his peers, might be the chief aspect keeping Raines out of the Hall. However good he was, Raines, as a fleet-footed left fielder, was often compared to the great Rickey Henderson and always came up wanting.
Peruse any baseball site that specializes in the history of the game and you’ll find that Rickey Henderson is regarded as the greatest leadoffman in baseball history. Henderson had the wheels and on-base skills one looks for in an ideal top-of-the-order hitter. Tim Raines also possessed these skills. Both men had an uncanny knack for plate discipline, that can be best understood by their batting stances–each man employed a rather pronounced crouch, thus giving them a tightened strike zone. This enabled both Raines and Rickey to draw plenty walks while also keeping their amount of strikeouts down. The two leadoffmen also had occasional power to go with their elite speed which gave them an edge over other swift leadoffmen like Brett Butler and Willie Wilson. Rickey Henderson, the Hall of Famer, posted three years with at least 100 runs scored and 60 RBI–a feat matched by Raines.
Compared to Rickey Henderson, Raines is clearly the lesser player–in many aspects–but he does exceed the enshrined leadoffman in several key categories. In the three slash line categories (BA, OBP and SA) Raines has a better mark in two columns. His career batting average is much higher than Rickey’s (Raines has a career .294 BA to Henderson’s .279) and Tim’s slugging average even edges out Henderson’s by six points: .425 to .419. However, in other important stats, Henderson outperforms Raines by a wide margin. Henderson has far more runs scored and hits, and in stolen bases, their specialty, Henderson was more than a little better. Henderson netted a dozen stolen base titles while Tim was able to lead his league on four occasions.
To compare a player to one peer does not do the man justice. Tim Raines has other outfield peers in the Hall of Fame and some of them appear a tad on the light side when judged against Raines. While Tim was patrolling left field for the Expos, there were other gardeners, like Andre Dawson (a one-time teammate) Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett and Jim Rice playing in the pasture as well. All these men made the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Raines, of course, but Tim’s career WAR exceeds all his Hall of Fame peers with the exception of Henderson. The career WAR of these players are listed, best to worst: Rickey Henderson (106.8), Raines (66.2), Gwynn (65.3), Dawson (60.6), Puckett (48.2) and Rice (44.3). As far as the important category of on-base percentage is concerned, Raines stacks up awfully well too. Henderson leads the crew with a career .401 OBP, followed by Gwynn (.388), Raines (.385), Puckett (.360), Rice (.352) and Dawson (.323).
With a cursory glance at Tim Raines’ career, one gets the impression of a player knocking on the door of Cooperstown. Tim won four stolen base titles in a row, netted a batting crown and led the National League in runs scored twice. He scored 100 or more runs in six separate seasons and ranks fifth all-time in career stolen bases. Among all the players in baseball history, only 52 men have scored more runs than him, and he was also an elite defender in left field. Raines had the speed and instincts to play center field but Montreal always had plenty of ballhawking talent around Tim to keep him stationed in left. Tim led left fielders in fielding percentage five separate years and currently rests seventh on the all-time list in putouts by left fielders and eleventh in left field assists.