COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Tim Raines was the last to speak, which was no problem even if it was a bit odd. “I’m surely not used to batting fifth,” he said Sunday during his induction into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time.
To him, the strange part was that his career was based on speed, yet his election to the Hall came really slowly. He waited 10 years for a chance to take the stage in front of 50 returning Hall members and fellow inductees. “That day,” he said early in his remarks, “is today.”
In front of a throng that included many people wearing jerseys from the departed Montreal Expos, Raines added, “I’ve been asked the question for the last 10 years, why I didn’t get in. Thank God I don’t have to answer that anymore.”
Among the many people he thanked were the baseball writers who finally did vote him to baseball’s greatest honor. He had particular praise for Montreal-based author Jonah Keri, who convinced many to take a closer look at Raines’ candidacy through the lens of new, detailed statistics. Another oddity is that, largely because of such analytics, baseball teams are putting less emphasis on stolen bases, meaning there might be fewer chances for someone like Raines to make the Hall in the future.
It did not matter to him on a day when he happily recalled being a teenager getting turned down when he sought an autograph from Andre Dawson — and then becoming Dawson’s teammate, close friend and now fellow Hall of Famer.
Sunday was a time for Raines to sheepishly apologize to French-speaking Canadians. “I’ve been trying 25 years to speak their language. I still haven’t gotten there yet,” he said. Gamely, he tried, but got only as far as “Bonjour, monsieur” before verbally stumbling. The crowd roared in support.
There also had been loud cheers from Astros fans in honor of Jeff Bagwell, whose power-hitting career was played totally with the Houston club. Rangers colors and many Puerto Rico flags shone to salute Ivan “Pudge’’ Rodriguez, the superstar catcher who was inducted alongside Raines and Bagwell.
The other two did not have to wait as long as Raines did — Rod riguez, in fact, was a first-ballot success — but both had considered themselves long shots.
Bagwell said this was not exactly a dream come true because he was not a good enough player as a Connecticut youngster to dream so big. “Don’t quit on anything you ever try. I’ve pretty much stuck to that,” he told the audience. “Deep inside of me, I just never gave up.”
Rodriguez recalled being so frustrated as a kid in Puerto Rico that he tried to stretch himself by pulling on a rope. “Anything in life is possible. I speak from experience,” he said.
In another unusual twist to the day, two executives also were enshrined. Former commissioner Bud Selig reprised the phrase he once used at the New York baseball writers’ dinner, saying, “What you see here is a little boy’s dream come true.” John Schuerholz, who won titles as general manager of both the Royals and Braves, spoke of having been a teacher when on a whim, he sent a letter to Frank Cashen, then vice president of Schuerholz’s hometown Baltimore Orioles. That led to his first job in baseball, more than 50 years ago.
Raines finished the 3-hour, 40-minute program with various personal reminiscences. He never specifically mentioned his cocaine problem (he leads his current autobiography with the story of missing a 1982 game at Shea Stadium because he was on a binge), but he did cite Dawson for helping him through tough times.
He also spoke of joining the Yankees in 1996. “Seventeen years in the major leagues and still looking for a world championship. I got the opportunity to play for Joe Torre,” he said. “I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready for the big lights in New York, but I took a chance. And thank God I did.”
A bright tone accompanied his recollection of Jim Leyritz’s tying three-run homer in Game 4 of the World Series: “From that point on, it was over. I’ll never forget the last out [in Game 6] that was hit to Charlie Hayes, seeing him catching the ball, raising his hands, and I was finally a world champion.
“The best feeling for us as ballplayers was winning a world championship,” Raines said. “Until today.”