First of all, thanks to all who responded positively to yesterday’s Unfiltered entry about Tim Raines. SportsIllustrated.com invited me to adapt the piece for a more general audience, the result of which can be found here.
In the service of that piece, I was able to compile fresh-baked JAWS numbers for Raines and the other Hall of Fame left ielders and then for all 16,800+ players in major league history (thanks to Caleb Pfeiffer and Clay Davenport, respectively). The new numbers entail some downshifting for Raines; among left fielders, he now ranks 10th in career WARP, ninth in peak WARP and JAWS, with old-timers Jim O’Rourke and Ed Delahanty rising from the grave to tiptoe past him (meanwhile, the still-fleet Rickey Henderson zips past Ted Williams and into third place). Raines is still comfortably above the Hall average for left fielders and well ahead of Jim Rice and Lou Brock, two players whose case I compared his to:
Instead of two wins a year separating peak Raines and peak Rice, the gap closes slightly to 1.8 a year, while it’s 2.7 per year ahead of Brock.
In looking over the new numbers, I discovered something which I noted in the SI.com piece: of the 67 players who have higher JAWS totals than Raines and who are eligible for the Hall of Fame, only three whose careers began after 1900 aren’t enshrined: Bert Blyleven (100.2), Ron Santo (100.5) and Bobby Grich (96.7). Furthermore, 11 out of 13 who fit the same criteria and who who rank just below are also in, Lou Whitaker (95.4) and Darrell Evans (92.8) being the exceptions there. It would be a shame to add Raines to that unjustly unrecognized bunch, but rather than dwell on that possibility, the important point to recognize is that the overwhelming majority of players of Raines’ caliber do get enshrined, and justly so.
Also, I want to address the cocaine angle pointed out in Will Carroll’s post below. First of all, Scott Long’s linked piece erroneously states, “His best seasons were when he was under the influence.” In fact, Raines admitted to using cocaine and checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in 1982, following his second full year in the majors. Far from being his best year, that season was a comparatively disappointing one for Raines, who hit .277/.353/.369, worth 5.5 WARP—his worst until 1990, his final year avec les Expos.
Second, while Long (via Joe Sheehan) makes note of recent inductee Paul Molitor’s own admitted cocaine usage and its lack of impact on his reception from the Hall of Fame voters—then again, he’s a member of the 3,000 Hit Club along with choirboys like Ty Cobb and Pete Rose—neither Long nor Carroll acknowledge the potential for a racial double standard being applied here. Molitor, of course, is white, while Raines is black, and I don’t have to tell you which skin color is often connected to “recreational use” and which one to “addiction to narcotics.” Why should Raines not be forgiven if Molitor was?
Third, and this has nothing to do with either Long or Carroll, but while Raines used cocaine, to my knowledge he has never admitted to smoking crack, an allegation which surfaces elsewhere on the Internet. The crack epidemic was only beginning around the time of Raines’ admitted usage, and based on what we know about crack’s highly addictive nature, it would have almost certainly had a more debilitating effect on his career than in its powdered form.
Which does raise a point Will failed to acknowledge: while there may possibly be some short-term performance benefit to using cocaine, the high potential for addiction, the rapid buildup of tolerance requiring greater quantities, and the deleterious physical effects of continued usage make this a route of performance enhancement that can’t be taken seriously. Think about it another way: of the hundreds of professional athletes who have found trouble with the white lady, wouldn’t you think at least one ego-inflated Canseco type would come forward to tell us how it improved his career?
In any event, Raines was up-front about his youthful dalliance with cocaine, and over the course of his career, his candor became a point solidly in his favor, something that gave him credibility when dealing with the media or counseling teammates. Would that more of our Hall of Fame candidates followed his example by coming clean about their own past transgressions.
Look for the JAWS take on this year’s ballot in my Prospectus Hit and Run space starting next week.