A bit of a disclaimer here: I don't have a Hall of Fame vote and am not likely to have one any time soon. A second disclaimer: the people who vote on the Hall are almost without exception very serious about and respectful of that responsibility. There's no set-in-stone checklist. It's a judgment call, and that's why the vote is handed to a select group of people.
All of which is a long way of saying that if you disagree, it doesn't mean you're wrong.
But with all of that said, Raines' case is simply outstanding. He's the second-greatest leadoff man of the modern era. He was, for a period of about five years, at least arguably the best player in the game. He was a dynamic, exciting player who did a lot of things well. He even has a nice postseason résumé, having played a part on two World Series winners.
Raines even passes the sniff test. If you saw him play, you know that in his prime, he did look very much like a Hall of Famer. This isn't revisionism. Raines, at his peak, was simply sensational, and if someone had told you in 1987 that Raines would go to the Hall of Fame, it wouldn't have been the slightest bit hard to believe.
Finally, he did it for a long time. There's some notion that Raines was a peak-only player, but that's not fair, either. He continued to be an extremely valuable player, though in more limited duty, throughout his 30s. At age 38, Raines posted a .395 on-base percentage in nearly 400 plate appearances for the World Series champion Yankees. For his career, he piled up 2,605 hits and reached base nearly 4,000 times.
In short, you have to look pretty hard to find reasons to keep Raines out. The reasons to induct him, however, are numerous.
"Tim Raines is the poster child for greatness beyond Triple Crown stats," said Jonah Keri, a contributor to the pro-Raines website Raines30.com and author of "The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First."
"He reached base more times than Tony Gwynn, scored more runs than Reggie Jackson, stole more bases than all but four other players in Major League history, and did so at the highest success rate of anyone with anywhere near as many attempts. For any writer who wishes for a time when baseball wasn't overrun by hulking sluggers turning the game into home run derby, there's no better Hall of Fame choice than Tim Raines. He's an overwhelmingly deserving candidate, period."
A Hall of Famer said it much more succinctly. Upon his induction into Cooperstown's hallowed halls last summer, Raines' old Expos teammate Andre Dawson insisted that "Tim Raines should be here, too."
The Hawk is no doubt biased, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. As for the writers, hopefully they're coming around.
It seems Raines might ought to hope that Bert Blyleven gains enshrinement this year. Because many of the same people who have seen past Blyleven's won-lost record would likely turn their attention to Raines' candidacy when and if their work on Blyleven's behalf is done.
As with Blyleven, it's not a case of needing to look at particularly sophisticated or arcane stats. It's simply about taking one or two steps to look past the Triple Crown numbers.
Raines amassed 1,571 runs, leading the National League twice. He stole 808 bases, topping the league four times. He finished in the top five in the league in OBP six times, leading the NL in 1986. He led the NL in times on base three times and was in the top five for six straight seasons.
There's nothing more important that an offensive player can do than get on base, and Raines did it brilliantly. And it's hard to argue that an RBI, the stat that has helped get so many borderline candidates (Jim Rice, Tony Perez) into the Hall in recent years, is more important than a run. It's sexier, but it's not more important.
And in the end, Raines simply put runs on the board. He got on base so he could score. He stole bases to get in scoring position, and was very rarely caught. And then he finished the job, coming around to cross the plate more than 1,500 times. He did exactly what his job demanded, and he did it brilliantly. He also did it with flair, and he did it for a long time.
That's a Hall of Famer.