Hall call thrilled Raines, Rodríguez and Bagwell

Written by: Justin Alpert

Three prolific careers received the ultimate validation on Jan. 18, 2017, when Tim Raines, Iván Rodríguez and Jeff Bagwell learned of their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Speed may have defined Raines’ 23-year career, but certainly not his path to Cooperstown. The outfielder who stole 808 bases and led the National League in steals four times was elected in his final year of eligibility. Raines was the fifth player to receive the good news in his last chance on the ballot, joining Red Ruffing in 1967, Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975) and Jim Rice (2009).

“Expos speedster a worthy, and long overdue, addition to Cooperstown,” read a Montreal Gazette headline — Raines played his first 12 seasons with the Expos from 1979-90, as well as another 47 games in 2001.

Tim Raines was a force on the bases for much of his career, and he led all of MLB in runs scored twice during his first stint with the Expos. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“Fans in Montreal will remember ‘Rock’ Raines for a ready smile and an easy manner, somewhere between the always-on persona of Gary (Lights) Carter and the reserved, soft-spoken (Andre) Dawson,” the Gazette continued. “Now all three are in the Hall of Fame. Where they belong.”

Fresh discourse and more in-depth analytics likely aided a candidate in Raines who, despite accumulating tremendous numbers, never reached the lofty milestones — 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, etc. — which have made many players surefire Hall of Famers.

“Social media played a big role, and the new way people look at baseball,” Raines said. “It made (voters) look at me a lot closer, and a lot deeper. And the more they looked, the better it turned out for me.”

Whereas Raines had waited a decade to receive the call from Cooperstown, Rodríguez exceeded the 75 percent threshold in his first year on the ballot.

Like few backstops in the sport’s history, Pudge had been a dominant force both at and behind the plate, filling a trophy case with a World Series ring, an AL MVP Award, seven Silver Slugger Awards, 13 Gold Glove Awards and 14 All-Star selections.

“It’s a lot of baseball, and when you do that for 21 years, it’s hard,” Rodríguez told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “The best award at the end of my career, five years later is being in the Hall of Fame.”

Rodríguez played for six teams over those 21 seasons, but choosing a Texas Rangers cap for his bronze plaque was a no-brainer.

“The Rangers gave me the opportunity to sign at the age of 16, gave me an opportunity to come to the States and wear a professional uniform,” he told the Star-Telegram. “I know the Rangers are a huge part of this honor and this award that I received today, but I have to mention all the organizations that I played for. They’re a big part of it as well.”

While Pudge’s offensive numbers — a .296 average, 311 home runs — speak for themselves, his defensive impact was best summarized by right-handed pitcher Bobby Witt, his Rangers teammate for two stints in the 1990s.

Along with six MLB teams, Iván Rodríguez also represented his native Puerto Rico in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. (Gary Bogdon/MLB Photos)

“When a base runner was on, I was begging for him to steal,” Witt explained to the Star-Telegram. “He was just an amazing talent. By far the quickest release and quickest feet I have ever seen. He would physically shut down running games.”

Right away, Rodríguez looked ahead to July, when he’d make a new teammate whom he’d long idolized.

“Johnny Bench was my favorite player growing up,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I can’t wait until July to see him on the same stage with me.”

Bagwell, a fourth round pick by Boston in the 1989 MLB Draft, blossomed into a star soon after the Red Sox traded him for reliever Larry Andersen. In 1991, his first season with Houston, the Boston native was named AL Rookie of the Year. Three years later, he’d earn his first of four All-Star selections and win an MVP Award.

“How could any of us have predicted Bagwell would be a Hall of Famer after hitting four home runs and driving in 61 runs for New Britain in his Double-A season in the Red Sox organization?,” asked The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, incredulous that the Sox had let a Cooperstown-bound talent slip through their fingers.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” said Bagwell, asked if he could have anticipated such success. “I knew I had ability, but I didn’t have crazy ability.”

A swing optimized for power helped Jeff Bagwell accumulate 449 home runs and a .948 OPS in his 15-year career. (Rich Pilling/MLB Photos)

In developing his signature wide-legged, low-crouching batting stance, Bagwell said he drew inspiration from another Hall of Famer: the late, great Tony Gwynn. He also credited Houston’s coaching staff for unlocking his potential at the plate.

“My hitting coach — Rudy Jaramillo — and I, we found that I hit a lot of balls with top spin,” Bagwell recalled. “I learned how to change my hands and get back spin. It just kind of worked out for me in my career.”

Bagwell’s plaque would feature the second Astros cap in the gallery.

“He was beloved here in Houston,” said Astros president Tal Smith. ”He and Craig Biggio were so popular here for so long and to see both of them in now is quite a thrill for all of us. We’re so happy for him.”

Justin Alpert was a digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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