Mike Harrington: All smiles for Tim Raines after Hall call - The Buffalo News
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Mike Harrington: All smiles for Tim Raines after Hall call

A load off the shoulders. That's how Tim Raines describes his life these days.

No more questions, no more wondering. Just a lot of handshakes, a ton of good feeling for baseball's ultimate reward. After a 23-year career and 10 years of waiting, he's a Hall of Famer.

He hasn't stopped smiling when he hears the words.

"It's been great. It's been humbling, a lot of fun," Raines said in the Bisons' first-base dugout at Coca-Cola Field early Tuesday evening. "It's been something I've been looking forward to for 10 years. That day has finally come."

In his last year on the ballot, the prototype leadoff man/left fielder smashed the 75-percent threshold required for induction and earned 86.7 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (Full disclosure: I was a first-time voter this year and cast a ballot for Raines).

How Mike Harrington voted on his Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

It wasn't until 2013, his sixth year, that Raines cracked 50 percent in the voting. But he made a huge jump from 2015 (55 percent) to 2016 (69.8 percent) and that made him almost a lock to get in this year. When the call came to his Phoenix home in January from Jack O'Connell, the longtime BBWAA secretary/treasurer, Raines barely knew what to say.

"I wanted to really express myself that I was really happy but I lost my voice. It just didn't come out," said Raines, 57. "I was really elated, for myself, for my family, all my teammates that I played with, all the coaches, the organizations I played for. It was a great day."

Raines, now in his fifth season as the Toronto Blue Jays' minor-league outfield/baserunning coordinator, admitted the annual inquiries of whether he deserved induction became tougher to deal with.

"It's a weird question, especially knowing your career," he said. "Knowing what you've done and that there's nothing else you can do. Your stats don't change. You need the writers to."

Raines spent 23 seasons in the big leagues with six teams, and is best known for his parts of 12 years in Montreal (1980-90, 2001). A career .294 batter with 2,605 hits, he's fifth all-time with 806 stolen bases. He stole 70-plus bases in his first six seasons and rang up a career-high 90 in 1983.

(See Raines' career stats here)

Raines will be formally inducted July 30 and has been on a whirlwind since his election, including a personal tour of the Hall with his family. That included the private archives collection and a look at the spot where his plaque will forever rest in the Hall's gallery.

"That's when it really sunk in," he said. "I got off the plane and they came by to pick up my bags and the gentleman had the Cooperstown logo on his shirt. I felt like at that time it was really happening.

"It doesn't change me personally but when someone announces my name and they say 'Hall of Famer Tim Raines,' it goes a long way. As a player you start playing to become a major leaguer. Once you get there, you want to stay as long as you can. I never thought about the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to be as good a player as I could be."

Raines' career is chronicled in his new autobiography "Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball's Fast Lane," which comes out in June and is an ode to his nickname. It starts with the toughest times -- His cocaine addiction in his second year in Montreal after he was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1981. Raines, remember, was part of the infamous Pittsburgh drug trials that rocked the sport in 1985 before he got his life and career back on track.

Raines is a beloved figure in Montreal, receiving huge ovations there in April when the Blue Jays played a pair of exhibition games in Olympic Stadium and at the Bell Centre prior to a Montreal Canadiens game. He will go into the Hall wearing an Expos cap.

"Montreal fans were very supportive of me from day one," he said. "I remember leaving in '90. I really didn't want to go to Chicago but I felt my chances of a World Series were better going somewhere else. I didn't want to leave the team or city but it felt like time was running out for me and the Expos were in transition and rebuilding. At that stage, there wasn't enough time. But never in my mind did I forget about all the things I went through in Montreal."

Raines eventually won three World Series: Two as a player with the Yankees in 1996 and on the iconic 114-win team 1998, and the third as the first-base coach of the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

Raines spends his springs and summers these days going to and from the Jays' affiliates. Maybe some older players in Buffalo know his background but the kids in places like Vancouver, Bluefield, W. Va., Lansing, Mich., Dunedin, Fla., or Manchester, N.H. probably need some history lessons.

"Not a lot of these guys realized what kind of player I was," Raines said. "A lot of these guys didn't really know that much about me or even players in general. I've been in this organization for five years and now I've got something where I can say, 'Hey, I was that good.'

"I think they look at me in a different way. Now I'm not just an ex-major league player. I'm a Hall of Famer. I think they come to me a little bit more, like hanging out with me a little bit more. They know I'll still be the same guy. But there's a lot more respect for my career too."

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