Reality sets in for Raines during Hall tour

Legendary speedster will be inducted along with Bagwell, Pudge on July 30

Reality sets in for Raines during Hall tour

The reality hit Tim Raines as he stepped off a plane in Albany, N.Y., set to embark on the final leg of a journey into his new life as a baseball immortal. A driver waited at the airport, assigned to transport Raines and his family 75 miles to the bucolic upstate New York town where, this July, his legacy will be officially preserved.

Raines knew where he was headed. But until this moment -- 15 years after his final game -- he'd still considered the weight of his achievement only in the abstract. Then his eyes wandered down his driver's shirt, where a logo shone emblazoned. It read: "Hall of Fame."

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"This is it," Raines said. "This is the drive to Cooperstown."

Few players took a longer and more convoluted path to the National Baseball Hall of Fame than Raines, the speedy 1980s superstar who ranks fifth on the all-time list with 808 stolen bases. Raines completed that path Thursday, when he took his third stroll through the hallowed museum, and first as an elected member of it.

"It's the day I've been waiting for, for a long time. It's kind of unbelievable," Raines said. "I don't think I ever thought when I came here for [teammates that] it would happen to me. Now I'm going through it and realizing I'm in. It's very special."

The seven-time All-Star traveled to Cooperstown to witness the unveiling of his plaque. It will hang in bronze forever among baseball's all-time greats. At one point in the visit, Raines was told his plaque would rest 20 yards away from Babe Ruth's. Asked if he ever thought he'd see that happen in his lifetime, Raines replied: "Not at all."

Raines tours Cooperstown

Though Raines won four stolen-base titles, a batting title and a World Series championship, his Hall of Fame future seemed in doubt for much of his post-playing career. Raines was named on just 24.3 percent of ballots in 2008 -- his first year of eligibility -- and he continued to struggle to make headway with the voters for nearly a decade. Induction requires being named on 75 percent of ballots.

But Raines' candidacy picked up steam by the time the Hall changed its rules regarding eligibility in 2014, when it cut the time players can remain on the ballot to 10 years, truncating his chances by a third. Voters began focusing more on Raines' 66 Wins Above Replacement (per Fangraphs) as well as his peak years, over which he posted a WAR of at least 6.0 five times.

Raines received 86 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America this year. He'll be inducted on July 30 alongside Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez.

Raines finished his career with 2,605 hits and 1,571 runs, a career he'll be asked to sum up in a speech this summer.

"I'm not going to write anything," Raines said, pointing to his chest. "It's going to come from in here."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.