In two weeks, the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame induction class will be announced and Tim Raines is on the doorstep of Cooperstown as he approaches his final year on the ballot. Since his inclusion on the ballot, Raines has been steadily building support, jumping from 24.3% of the vote in 2008 to 69.8% last year (inductees need a minimum of 75% for election).
Raines’ numbers speak for themselves, but the logic supporting his personal transgressions make no sense.
During his 23-year career, Raines was a seven-time All-Star; a career .294 hitter (2,605 hits), including a National League batting title in 1986 (.334); he currently ranks fifth all-time in stolen bases (808), including four consecutive years he led the league (1981-1984).
Raines’ statistics make a great case for eligibility and consideration, but not enough to warrant induction into the Hall of Fame. That sentiment has led to the obvious question: How can you question Raines’ Hall of Fame credentials?
Hall of Fame voters are expected to carefully consider “a player’s record and playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character …” Record? Check. Ability? Check. Integrity? No. Sportsmanship? No, sorry. Character? Absolutely not.
In my opinion, a dark shadow still hangs over Raines’ career: drugs. When he testified at the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials Raines confessed to carrying cocaine in his uniform pocket (sliding head-first to keep from breaking the vial) and using during games. Raines said, in 1982, he had spent between $40K -$60K on cocaine during one nine-month period.
His conscious effort to not only use (in this case, cocaine), but play the game under the influence and with the substance on his person, is a bold statement on his respect for himself, his teammates and the game at large.
But, recently, The New York Times suggested Raines’ drug use is “not a factor.”
Why not? The best explanations I could find are:
In his post “Why Tim Raines deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe said: “Raines had made an error of judgment, albeit in the context of being 22 years old and living in the majors’ most notorious party city at a time when cocaine use was running rampant throughout the game.”
Jon Heyman added: “He’s a classy guy whose early cocaine transgression shouldn’t be counted against him, just as it wasn’t for Paul Molitor.”
Mike Axisa, also a CBS Sports reporter, wrote “Breaking down Tim Raines’ Hall of Fame case” to which one reader replied: Yes he used cocaine–but never used PEDs–coke is anything but–although you may feel you’re doing better–and long term use is a performance diminishing drug-a whole ‘nother subject for discourse–Can i name a half dozen or more HOFers that used amphetamines–which is performance enhancing–especially after a night of hard drinking–yep–Whatever your feelings on drugs–there are those that are recreational–and those that make you cheaters–
In a 1985 interview with the Times, Raines acknowledged the impact that drug use had on his performance saying: “Now that I look back … it certainly hurt my performance. I struck out a lot more; my vision was lessened … I’d go up to the plate and the ball was right down the middle and I’d jump back, thinking it was at my head …When you’re on drugs, you don’t feel you’re doing anything wrong.” Raines struck out a career-high 83 times that season.
John McHale, former president of the Montreal Expos, added:
“He probably cost us 6, 8, 10 games doing things we couldn’t believe he was doing. We moved him to second base for a while and there were times he held the ball without making a play. He’d be on first base and he couldn’t run; they picked him off. He couldn’t find balls in the outfield.”
McHale said drug use by Raines and his Expos teammates cost the franchise a chance to win the 1982 National League Eastern Division:
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in ’82 that whole scenario cost us a chance to win. When we all woke up to what was going on, we found there were at least eight players on our club who were into this thing. There`s no question in my mind that cost us a chance to win.”
Keep your comparisons to Paul Molitor, Steve Howe and the long list of others suspected of drug abuse and performance-enhancing substances to yourself. Using this logic, Raines should not be penalized because Molitor wasn’t — and they both used and abused drugs while playing. Raines is an adult. He made poor choices. He — and he alone — is responsible for his actions and how they reflect on his legacy.
Spare me the ethics lesson on what is and what isn’t cheating. Drugs, PEDs, gambling, etc. they all impact the “… integrity, sportsmanship, character …” of the game on some level no matter how you dial your moral compass.
Rolling your eyes at the fact that Raines’ drug abuse happened more than three decades ago … save that too. Time is irrelevant to the conduct. Raines used on and off the field. He confessed to using and that his drug habit directly impacted his performance. The century-old scandal of the 1919 Black Sox, Mickey Mantle’s long history of alcoholism and Pete Rose’s gambling in the 80’s are all acts of recklessness regardless of when they happened.
I am flawed. Tim Raines is flawed. I believe in grace and forgiveness, but I also believe individuals should take ownership of their actions. If the voting criteria expects Hall of Fame voters to carefully (and wholly) consider “a player’s record and playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character …” then Raines would not get my vote.