Montréal finally get Raines
Raines’ Induction Casts Light on Future of Baseball in Montréal
By Kristoffer Pedlar
Tim Raines is going to Cooperstown. I think I speak for many in the world of baseball when I say that it's about bloody time.
There have been campaigns and blogs, articles and television appearances by many in the game pleading and arguing Raines' case for the Hall. After ten years on the ballot, in his last eligible year, major League Baseball finally enshrined Raines in Cooperstown. The country of Canada and specifically the city of Montréal and its baseball fan base could not be happier.
In the eyes of so many Raines was a clear cut Hall of Famer. Probably one of the best to ever play Left Field and maybe the best ever to wear the Montréal Expos uniform.
Though Raines doesn't have the "round numbers" that are typical of a Hall of Famer, he was a clear game changer on the field. He didn't get 3000 hits or 500 home runs. But if you factor in advanced stats like WAR1 and OPS2, Raines is in the upper echelon of anyone ever to play the game. His 69.1 WAR ranks 54th among all Hall of Famers already in the Hall and is higher than such "automatic selections" as Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, and Lou Brock. His 123 OPS ranks higher than Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken Jr., and his Stolen Base Percentage3 is the highest among all Hall of Famers and 2nd all time at 84.7%, higher than the great Rickey Henderson.
More importantly, from a Canadian perspective anyway, is that Raines may be the greatest player ever to play north of the border. Fans of Roberto Alomar, Gary Carter or Andre Dawson may argue otherwise, but Raines was an impact player above and beyond all of them.
Raines was a game changer, a player you did not want to face. He'd drag out at bats, draw walks, get key hits and then he was more dangerous on the base paths than any player in history. In fact, between 1981 and 1990 you’d be hard pressed to find another player who affected the game as much as he did. His stats during that period were among the best in all of baseball. According to Jonah Keri, Raines had a .302 batting average, .391 OBP, 626 stolen bases with an 84% success rate, 926 runs, 81 triples, 273 doubles and the top WAR of any player during that period. He made it to the All-Star game 7 times and was an MVP candidate in many of his seasons north of the border. He also made his teammates better.
Michael Barrett, a former teammate of Raines' in Montréal told MLB.com, "How many runs did he score, and how many RBIs did Andre Dawson and Gary Carter have because he was their leadoff hitter? He was a huge catalyst for those guys’ success as well."
Even when he wasn’t doing anything on the diamond, he could simply affect a game with his presence. His speed and the ability he had to move on the base paths meant that pitchers were never comfortable with him on base. He was always a threat to steal and demanded the attention of opposing pitcher.
Raines made his team and all of the players around him better. He was an unselfish, team first guy that did the little things to help his team win. What better player to send to the hall than Raines?
Then there is what his induction means for the city of Montréal. A city, by the way, that should never have had to say goodbye to the Expos. His induction conjures up all of those warm, fuzzy feelings of watching baseball in Montréal. Jarry Park, Le Grade Orange, Blue Monday, Youppi!, that dream season in 1994 all of it. His induction also reminds us that Montréal has the most passionate fan base in North America not currently represented by an MLB team.
Thanks to Raines' induction, the recent inductions of Andre Dawson and Gary Carter and the likely induction of Vlad Guerrero in the near future, as well as the hugely successful pre-season series the Blue Jays played in Montréal, people around the city of Montréal, the country, and major League baseball are talking about the Expos again. It is not a coincidence that there is renewed chatter from various sources about the plausibility of a team coming back to Montréal through expansion or relocation.
Commissioner Rob Manfred himself told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times “ I think Montréal has helped itself as a candidate for Major League Baseball with the Toronto games they had up there last year …it’s hard to miss how many people showed up for those exhibition games. It was a strong showing. Montréal's a great city. I think with the right set of circumstances and the right facility, it’s possible.”
The ‘right set of circumstances’ is almost assuredly a solid ownership group and a concrete plan for a new downtown stadium in Montréal. All of which seems very plausible at the moment. Investors are in place with cash in hand, a new stadium has support from multiple levels of government and there are multiple designs to choose from, according to Frederic Daigle of the Montreal Gazette. Montréal is now standing in the on-deck circle waiting for its chance to get back up to the plate.
Raines himself believes that baseball still has a place in Montréal. “I lived here for 13 years, played here. I’ve seen what it’s like for fans to come out day in day out. The fans are here. The love of baseball is still here.” Expect that to be an underlying message in his speech on July 31st.
However, many opponents to a Major League reunion with Montréal will point to the end of baseball in Montréal, with its dwindling attendance numbers, run down stadium, fair weather fan support and lack of corporate sponsorship as evidence that the game cannot and will not work in Quebec. They choose to overlook how inspiring it has been to watch the Blue Jays play in Montréal during the pre-season these past few years. Crowds are large and loud, expos jerseys are worn all over the city and there is a buzz about baseball again. Fans are now so excited about Raines’ induction ceremony that busloads of Expos fans will make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown to take in the event live.
Montréal still loves baseball. It always has.
Whether it was the rise of the Expos in the early 1980s or the dominance of a young super team in the early 1990s destined for the World Series in 1994, the city has shown it can support a major league team and fill a stadium. Raines’ induction reminds us of the glory days in Montréal, its rich history in the league, and that it is an untapped market just waiting for an opportunity.
While Canada will celebrate Raines’ official entry into Cooperstown on July 31st, his induction casts a much-needed spotlight on a city that deserves a second chance. The powers that be in the Major League office need to consider Montréal for a team again and hopefully, it doesn’t take as long as it did to consider Raines’ Hall of Fame credentials.
1WAR – Stands for Wins Above Replacement or the additional wins a player has helped achieve for their team above that of a replacement level player. WAR = (Batting Runs + Base Running Runs +Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment +Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)/per fangraphs.com
2OPS -On-base plus slugging (OPS) sabermetric baseball statistic calculated as the sum of a player's on-base percentage and slugging average. The ability of a player both to get on base and to hit for power, two important offensive skills, are represented. / per Wikipedia
3Stolen Base Percentage – measure the rate at which one steals bases. Total successful stolen bases/ the total number of attempted steals