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Tim Raines called it a career yesterday, more than 20 years after he
began it as a second baseman with the Expos. Without very much fanfare–a
product of spending his best years in Canada and an unfortunate dalliance
with cocaine–Raines carved out a Hall of Fame career as one of the best
left fielders of the post-war era.

Raines is one of those players that doesn’t strike the average fan or
baseball writer as a Hall of Famer. He never won a major award and wasn’t a
home run or RBI guy. Until 1996, he’d appeared in just two postseasons and
no World Series. He also battled injuries and labor conflicts that kept him
under 150 games in 12 of his last 13 seasons.

Raines was probably the best player in baseball from 1985-1987, and could
have been the 1987 National League MVP has he not lost the first month of
the season to collusion. He led the NL in steals four times, and stole 807
bases at an 85% clip for his career, which makes him the second-best
basestealer in history behind Rickey Henderson.

Those last three words are the key to the perception of Raines as a
non-Hall of Famer. The careers of Raines and Henderson parallel almost
perfectly, and Raines is clearly the inferior player. Henderson has played
effectively for a longer period, stolen more bases, hit for more power and
has more noticeable accomplishments, like the career and single-season
stolen-base records.

But being second to Rickey Henderson (I don’t consider Barry Bonds a
contemporary; your mileage may vary) is no crime. Henderson is a
first-ballot, no-question, inner-circle Hall of Famer. Raines isn’t as
cut-and-dried, but being one of the ten best left fielders in history gets
you a plaque, regardless of in whose shadow you played.

Whether Raines will actually get in is a tough call. He does have the
cocaine problem on his resume, and his contributions–walks, defense–tend
to be overlooked by the BBWAA. His best years occurred prior to the
offensive explosion of the 1990s, so his career numbers will pale compared
to the players who followed. The BBWAA appears to have gotten pickier
lately, and there will be some stiff competition on the ballot in the
2005-2015 period.

With all that said, as Tim Raines walks off into the sunset, he walks off a
Hall of Famer in my eyes. Thanks for sharing your talent with us, Tim.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.