The BBWAA 2008 Hall of Fame ballot was announced on Monday. It features 14 holdovers and 11 newcomers, all of whom I’ll get to in due time once the data elves can turn their attention away from Baseball Prospectus 2008 long enough to feed the hamster that run the JAWS machine.
The most prominent and qualified newcomer on this year’s ballot is a player whose candidacy many of us have eagerly awaited: Tim Raines. Not because he’s a slam dunk for election; Raines lacks the round-number milestones and major category rankings that generate buzz come ballot time. His 808 stolen bases (fifth all-time) and 84.7 percent success rate (tops among those with 300 or more attempts) don’t really register in the context of today’s power-saturated game. Indeed, one gets the impression that Raines may not break 50 percent of the vote initially, and could be in for years of Blylevenesque toil on the ballot.
No, as I read it, our collective enthusiasm for Raines’ candidacy stems from a combination of three things:
• the electricity he generated in his prime, with his dazzling speed and athleticism. Tim Raines could take over a game, as his comeback from collusion-driven contract limbo and his bravura performance at the 1987 All-Star Game showed.
• the charisma that became more apparent as he aged, morphing into a classy, highly-sought role player on the engaging Yankee champions of Joe Torre’s early tenure. As I wrote in a mailbag piece nearly two years ago:
Gotta love the Rock! Friend of BP Alex Belth probably calls me twice a year to ask whether I think Tim Raines could make it, chirping, “I wish he was on this ballot, man!” On some level, I share Alex’s excitement, and if ever there were a candidate I’d want to launch a preemptive campaign to enshrine, it’s Raines, who in his Expo days was an unforgettable, electrifying ballplayer, the kind whose obvious joy at playing the game made you savor it—and him—all the more.
• the fact that the nascent field of sabermetrics arrived in time to give us a fuller appreciation of Raines’ value. Raines was a Bill James favorite—he called him the second-greatest leadoff man of all-time, after Rickey Henderson, and ranked him as the eighth-best leftfielder in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. He was a favorite around these parts as well; as far back as his first, illness-related retirement in early 2000, we were penningtributes, and the day after the 2007 voting results were announced, Joe Sheehan was beating the drum for Raines’ candidacy. Raines himself showed a good understanding of his sabermetric virtues, preaching the gospel of OBP and the necessity of a high stolen-base success rate (his 84.7 percent dwarfs even Henderson’s 80.8) in David Laurila’s excellent Q&A from this past summer.
Joe’s take includes a JAWS-based comparison of Raines with Jim Rice, at 63.5 percent the top vote-getter among the returning hitters on the ballot. Since I haven’t revised the numbers yet, we’ll stick with those:
Ain’t. Even. Close. Sure, Rice has the 1978 MVP award and the reputation as the game’s most feared slugger in his heyday, but Raines was much more valuable in his prime. He was worth more than 10 wins a year at his peak; that’s two wins a year better than the best of Jim Rice, and more than 40 wins better over the course of his career.
Raines, whom JAWS ranks seventh among leftfielders, suffers only in comparison to Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter of all time and the fourth-ranked leftfielder (178.2/76.1/127.2). The other names in that top seven are Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski. Some of them could play. Hall of Fame speedster Lou Brock, at 88.2/48.3/68.3, needs to connect at an international airport to get anywhere near that stratosphere. Yes, Brock has 3,000 hits and some incredible World Series performances on Raines, but we’re talking a gap of more than three wins a year at peak. You can’t just handwave that away.
Anyway, I’ll be back soon to address Raines’ candidacy in the context of the latest JAWS rev. In the meantime, I’ll be talking about him and the rest of this year’s ballot as Chuck Wilson’s guest on XM 175’s Hot Stove at 12:25 PM Eastern today (Wednesday).