Raines soaks in history at Hall of Fame
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Raines, who won the National League stolen base title in each of his first four full seasons from 1981-84 with the Expos, was in Cooperstown, along with his wife Shannon and his six-year-old twin daughters Ava and Amelie, as part of an Orientation Visit all new electees are offered in order to prepare them for their Induction Weekend.
As part of the process, the happy family received a tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum from the Cooperstown institution’s Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl.
“It’s been I day I’ve been waiting for for a long time, at least for the last two years anyway,” the 57-year-old Raines added with a laugh. “It’s kind of unbelievable. I’ve been here before, a couple times for two other teammates [having attended the inductions of Andre Dawson and Gary Carter], and I don’t think I ever thought when I came here for them that it would happen to me. But now, going through it, and realizing now that I’m in, it’s very special.”
When asked if anything on the tour of the Museum’s three floors and the collections storage area had a special impact, Raines contemplated the questions for a few seconds, then said, “Just picking up Babe Ruth’s bat to me was … I never thought I’d do that. And to come in here and do that today. Babe Ruth’s bat was just something that I really kind of got a kick out of, holding it in my hands.”
The Hall of Fame announced part of its Class of 2017, selected by the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, on Jan. 18, with Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez receiving the life-altering news they would soon be a member of the sport’s most exclusive team.
Of the 442 ballots cast in this year’s BBWAA election, 332 votes were needed for the 75 percent threshold needed for election. Raines, in his 10th and final year on the ballot, received 86.0 percent.
Raines was one of baseball’s most successful and proficient base-stealers. The longtime left fielder, whose career began with a dozen highly effective years with the Expos, totaled 808 stolen bases, which ranks fifth all-time, while his six straight seasons with at least 70 thefts, from 1981 to 1986, is the longest such streak in major league history. A seven-time All-Star, who concluded his playing days with 2,605 hits and the 1986 N.L. batting title, “Rock” finished with an 84.7 percent success rate on steal attempts.
During his tour of the Museum, Raines marveled at the exploits of fellow theft king Ty Cobb, was awed during his time in the Babe Ruth exhibit, and asked a number of questions while checking out Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience, where he took close inspection of a large image of a Jackie Robinson hook slide.
Inside the Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball exhibit, Raines was told AAGPBL player Sophie Korys set a professional baseball record when she was successful in 201 of 203 stolen base attempts in in 1946.
“She’d probably hit a home run and stop at first,” Raines joked.
A Raines artifact – a Marlins batting helmet with no earflaps from 2002 – is located on the second floor Whole New Ballgame exhibit. When in the collection storage area, the new Hall of Famer also saw the base he stole for his 500th career steal, a bat he used in 1997 as one of three consecutive Yankees homers, a bat from the 1987 All-Star Game, in which he was named MVP, and spikes from 1995 when he swiped an American League record 37 consecutive bags.
Before the day was over, Raines not only had the opportunity to see the Hall of Fame plaque of hero Joe Morgan, but those belonging to Dawson, Carter, and the first five electees from 1936. He also autographed the space where his plaque will be placed in three months.
Raines’ bronze image will be sporting an Expos cap.
“Andre Dawson and Gary Carter went in as Expos and I think it’s only fitting for me, and I played more years with Montreal than both of those guys, that I go in as an Expo,” Raines said. “That’s where I started, that’s where I made a name for myself. Definitely, I didn’t see it going any other way.”
After his tour, Raines was asked how his life has changed since receiving word of his election.
“Everybody calls me, everybody wants to talk to me, and everybody wants to hang out with me now. It’s been really cool,” Raines said to the press, surrounded by more than 300 bronze likenesses of his fellow electees. “I’m starting to hear from a lot of guys that I haven’t heard from in a long time. It’s good hearing from guys. And I’m one of those guys that every teammate I played with I felt like I had a good relationship with. When you’re playing baseball you get out of touch with a bunch of guys, so to get that opportunity to get back in touch with them has been a difference, but it’s been a good difference.”
Raines answered, “Every day,” when asked if he’s working on his induction speech, to be presented in front of thousands of fans, in front of dozens of Hall of Famers, and before a live television audience on the MLB Network, on Sunday, July 30 in Cooperstown.
“As a matter of fact, I’m not going to write anything. I’m just going to write some names down so I don’t forget anyone,” he continued. “But other than that, it’s going to come from here (taps his chest). I practice the speech in a mirror every day, and it seems like every time I have a practice session it gets longer and longer. So I hope I don’t go too long and the guys start trying to get me off the stage.”
Raines also spent three seasons, from 1996 to ’98, with a successful Yankees team that captured a coveted World Series crown that first year, a Raines highlight being walking and then scoring the winning run in Game 4.
“It kind of comes close to this, really,” Raines said about winning the 1996 World Series. “I’d been playing for 17 years, and as a player, especially for me, that was the one thing I always wanted to get, is a World Series championship. I remember in 1981, my rookie season, being knocked out in the last game against the Dodgers (in the NLCS). The Dodgers ended up winning the World Series. And I think as a rookie that year I didn’t really understand the magnitude of that situation. I remember after the last out was made, it was in Montreal, I was sitting on the bench for like 20 more minutes after the game was over and watching the Dodgers celebrate on our field and kind of wondered what it would be like playing in a World Series.
“The ’96 team was a special team for me. That team was a team that never said die. I remember starting the World Series, losing the first two games and getting murdered by the Braves, and then going to Atlanta and coming back in that third game that kind of turned everything around. But when the last out was made, I tell you, it was …. You know how kids say they dream about hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the World Series? I didn’t actually hit a home run to win it but to see the last out made and I was on that team that made that last out, was indescribable. I remember trying to do an interview and I couldn’t do it. Nothing would come out of my mouth. I was so elated and so overjoyed.
“The three years I played with New York were probably the most exciting baseball I ever played out of all the 23 years that I played. Win two world championships, be a game away from going to another World Series, as players that’s what you play for. That was a special three years for me.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum