Passed over nine times in the last decade, longtime Montreal Expos star and base stealer extraordinaire Tim “Rock” Raines slid to into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week.
“The writers finally got it right,” Raines joked at a news conference held last week to announce 2017’s inductees.
One of three players newly elected into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, he joins Houston Astros lifer and first baseman Jeff Bagwell, as well as 14-time MLB All-Star catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Raines led the National League in stolen bases from 1981 through 1984 and got his nickname, whether swinging the bat or sailing into a stolen base fingers first, because his hands were “like rocks”, according to past teammates.
His big league career really got started in 1981 after being elevated to the Expos’ clubhouse from their Triple-A farm team, the Denver Bears. That season Raines set baselines in the National League ablaze, stealing 20 bases in his first 19 starts with Montreal. By summer, Raines also won an NL spot for the ’81 All-Star Game in Cleveland, along with then-Montreal teammates Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
Closing out a decade-plus with the Montreal Expos organization, Raines later joined the Chicago White Sox in 1991. A journeyman in the latter half of his career, Raines also signed on with the New York Yankees from 1996 to 1998, followed by stints with Oakland, Baltimore and the Florida Marlins.
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Like Bagwell and Rodriguez, Raines also has his own share of standout career achievements, including 808 stolen bases, placing him fifth-best on the all time list. Currently an outfield and base running coordinator with the Toronto Blue Jays, Raines hints that the ace baserunner not only comes with a unique mentality, but also plays increasingly pivotal role in baseball.
“If you steal (bases) day in and day out, you know that everyone knows you’re going to run – the fans, the opposing team, your team, everybody,” Raines says to Rolling Stone by phone. “When you’re successful 80% of the time, they’ll do everything they can to stop you and you’ll do everything you can for them not to stop you.”
It’s something that Raines said that, along with an increased focus on “making plays, and great fielding”, makes baseball more complete, more breathtaking.
“The best players in the world right now have it all,” Raines says. “I think it started a year ago, even before the Cubs won it, with teams like like Kansas City, for example. The Royals were a team that didn’t have a lot of power, they had great pitching, but their ability to execute plays won the world championship for them.”
Moreover, Raines thinks that key players that have that natural inkling to run and steal – guys like Milwaukee Brewers leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar, who lead 2016 with 62 stolen bases, and AL steals leader Rajai Davis of the Cleveland Indians – are more than just guys with targets on their backs. Base running, Raines notes, is one wild variable that can change the outcome of games.
As one of the baseball’s more versatile and physical players in his day, Raines said that stamina, both in the body and mind, is also critical.
“Major League Baseball is sport that requires you be prepared every single day,” Raines says. “Eventually you grow into preparing for the Randy Johnsons and Roger Clemens’ of the world. That’s something that you can’t take too lightly.”
During Raines’ first years in the 1980s, baseball’s most daunting pitchers had other familiar names. Names like Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Rick Sutcliffe and Dwight Gooden were just a few of the starters on National League mounds. Undaunted, Raines, a switch-hitting outfielder, became aa MVP candidate almost every single year from 1983 to 1989 and had his landmark year at the plate in 1986, when he won a Silver Slugger award. In 1986 he was also the National League’s batting champion, with a .334 batting average, while holding a league-leading .413 on-base percentage. Raines also led the NL twice in runs scored, in 1983 and 1987.
After retiring at the end of 2002, the seven-time all-star said he wanted to stay closely involved in baseball, on-field.
“Once I retired in ’02 I realized I would be doing something in baseball, but I wanted to focus on something that I enjoyed the most, and got with the Marlins.” After an initial training and development position as a base running coordinator with Florida’s up-and-down expansion team, Raines eventually rejoined the White Sox as a coach. Back on Chicago’s South Side, Raines took up a primary role at first base coach, and was part of Chicago’s 2005 World Series championship season.
“As I got more into coaching, Chicago was a perfect fit. I didn’t think in my wildest dreams that my first year we’d go to the World Series, and win it. Being a part of that was certainly special.”
Switching from player to coach, Raines says, is less a change from the fast lane to cruise control than one might think. Raines thinks that the level at which the game is being played today is exciting, but remains demanding both for players and staff.
As a national spokesman for Osteo Bi-Flex, a leading brand of joint care supplements, he says that even at age 57 he’s able to perform at the top level on-field with no signs of slowing down. The brand is partnering with newly elected Hall of Famer to help emphasize the importance of staying active even in retirement.
“Mentally, physically, playing in front of 40,000 fans – it’s something that you have to be ready for.” Along with keeping the body tip-top, Raines says that for him confidence was key.
“Years of sliding, running into walls – when you’re in your 20s you don’t think about it that much. Sometimes you’ve got to be a little cocky, not in a way to show anyone up, but that’s your job.”
Some of the same confidence and risk-taking mentality Raines had in the offensive half of his game, he said, is something he tries to instill in players today in his coaching role. Along with raw grit and skill, Coach Raines says combining it all with little structure and discipline helps.
“(With the Marlins) I started working with the minor league guys, trying to get them on the right track and doing some of the things I did when I was a player.” In particular, working on technique and little things like game awareness became critical in mentoring the prospects and young star players that he would end up working with at each stop from South Florida to his current role in Toronto.
“(Coaching) definitely keeps you active and engaged. And with 6 year old twin daughters, I need to be sharp keep up with them too,” Raines jokes.
And, it could just be his inner baserunner talking, but Raines is also obsessed with speed.
“Speed, you know, it changes the game,” he adds. “When you know a guy on your team has the ability to steal a base, to go first to third on a ground ball situation, or score from first on a double in the gap, those are the little things that put pressure on the defense.”
Raines also said that in addition to the thrill of being honored in the Hall of Fame, he really loves the direction in which baseball is going.
“You’re starting to get more all-around athletic players making a difference in the game,” Raines adds. “And I love that style of baseball.”