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© Neate Sager
Tim Raines will be one of the first Hall of Famers whose on-base percentage, a robust .385, is likely to appear on his Cooperstown plaque.
That's a short way to segue into the main point. If not this year, then by 2009 or '10 the Baseball Writers Association of America, hopefully, will come to an understanding about Tim Raines. He is the one player who needs the modern, Bill James School methods of divining a ballplayer's worth – such as Runs Created, emphasizing on-base percentage and OPS instead of batting average, equivalent and secondary averages, Win Shares – to illuminate his Hall of Fame worthiness.
Raines defeats the so-called "traditional" benchmarks, or as they are called elsewhere on this site, the arbitrary rounded-number milestones. When you think about it, is making a call on a player based on a .300 career batting average, 3,000 career hits or 500 home runs – even traditional? Not really.
Copying the way that you think something was done in the past, that's not tradition. Far from it. You honour tradition by constantly tweaking, re-shaping, trying to find ways to do something better while keeping the best of the old. Otherwise, you end up with a world where According To Jim is still on TV, where Jessica Simpson gets to release another album and Bert Blyleven is still not in the Hall of Fame.
That's what it comes down to with Raines. His case is informed by all the work that acolytes of James, Pete Palmer and others have done to help us come up with more logical methods to divine a ballplayer's worth.
The other writers here have more know-how with how to use stats to illustrate their point, but I have a couple favourites that show Raines is a hands-down first-ballot Hall of Famer. Both incorporate his nearly matchless ability, in his time, to get on base and score runs – which is the name of the game.
The first is citing the National League leaders in Offensive Winning Percentage from Raines' five-year peak, 1983-87. He was the only player who was in the top five of the NL every year during that stretch (no one could claim that distinction in the American League).
This was at a time when Hall of Famers such as Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Schmidt were entering or still in their peak periods. Over in the American League, there was Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, the late Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. Yet only Raines can make that claim.
Then there's Secondary Average, which basically takes into account all the bases a player gained for his team – by hitting for power, drawing walks and stealing bases with a high success rate – that are not reflected in his batting average.
(The basic equation is: Total Bases - Hits + Bases on Balls + Stolen Bases - Caught Stealing all divided by At-Bats.)
With Raines, his two Cooperstown comparables seem to be Sandberg and Gwynn. They each came up in the early 1980s. They typically were table-setters for their respective teams, although all three were sometimes slotted into the middle of the order.
Sandberg got into Cooperstown in 2005, on his third try. Gwynn was elected last season with 97.6% support. However, Raines has a huge edge over both in Secondary Average.
Anyone who looks at the batting averages would see that Gwynn outhit Raines .338-.294. With secondary average, it's a butt-kicking times three the other way: Raines outpowered, outstole and outwalked Gwynn .356-.226.
Sandberg hit .285 (nine points lower than Raines). It's a blowout with secondary average, .356-.286 (81 points lower). Sandberg was a Gold Glove-winning middle infielder, which closes the gap significantly.
How about power hitters such as Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield, who each reached 3,000 hits and were first-ballot Hall of Famers with about 85 per cent support from the BBWAA electors? Raines' .356 badly beats both Murray (.312) and Winfield (.314).
Obviously, there are more statistical comparisons and number-crunching to be done, and greater minds here and elsewhere are doing so. Those are just a couple that attempt to put Tim Raines in a historical context with the players of similar vintage who got into the Hall of Fame with little difficulty.
The larger point with Tim Raines' Cooperstown candidacy is that he should be the prod for the old-guard sportswriters in the BBWAA to change their thinking. For the sake of the sport, they have to in order to get back to the tradition of the Hall of Fame honouring the game's greats instead of just those who reach arbitrary round number milestones. If Raines can do that, well then, he truly is immortal.