Speed was such a huge part of Tim Raines’ career that it was hard for him to learn to take it slow when it came to waiting for the call from the baseball Hall of Fame.
The player with the fifth-highest total of stolen bases in major-league history had to cool his considerable jets and wait 10 long years for the eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to grant him baseball immortality. It finally happened on Wednesday in the former Expos and Yankees outfielder’s 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot.
“The writers finally got it right,” Raines said with a chuckle at a midtown Manhattan news conference Thursday along with fellow 2017 inductees Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez.
Raines had 808 stolen bases, and his 84.7 percent success rate is the best of any player with at least 400 attempts. Once he retired in 2002 after a 23-year career, he didn’t steal any more and his percentage didn’t go up. Still, his vote percentage in his 10 years on the ballot went from 24.3 in his first year to 86.0 this time around. Candidates need 75 percent to make it to Cooperstown.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Raines said. “When this started, I had black hair and a lot of hair. Now my beard is so white, my kids call me Santa. And I have no hair anymore.”
Raines confirmed that he will go into the Hall as the third member of the defunct Montreal franchise, joining Andre Dawson and the late Gary Carter. The best years of his career were with the Expos, but Raines won a pair of World Series rings with the 1996 and 1998 Yankees.
“The three years that I played in New York, we won,” Raines said. “Won two world championships out of the three. I felt like the ’97 team might have been better than the other two. As a player, you always dreamed about getting to the World Series and winning. It took me 17 years to get there, and fortunate enough, we ended up winning both times I went. It was amazing playing here in New York. Great teammates, great young players, great veteran players, great manager, great city, and the fans were awesome. You know, before I went to New York, I wasn’t really sure I could play in New York.”
Raines’ election earned him the praise of two of his former teammates Thursday. In a statement released by the Yankees, current manager Joe Girardi said: “Tim Raines was one of the greatest leadoff hitters to ever play the game. Period. He was a game-changer whose numbers speak for themselves. For me personally, he was a treasured teammate and someone people always seemed to gravitate toward. Everyone loved the Rock, except opposing pitchers and catchers.”
And Derek Jeter, one of the great young players Raines spoke of, said: “Tim Raines was by far one of my favorite teammates. He taught me how to be a professional and more importantly to enjoy the game and have fun every day. Congratulations Rock.”
Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez will be inducted into the Hall on July 30 along with former commissioner Bud Selig and longtime executive John Schuerholz.
Rodriguez became the second catcher elected in his first year on the ballot, joining Johnny Bench. Rod riguez received 76.0 percent. Bagwell, in his seventh year, got 86.2 percent of the vote.
Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner, has a resume that clearly is Hall-worthy, but allegations by Jose Canseco in his book “Juiced” that implicated Rodriguez as a steroid user likely deflated his final total. Asked Thursday if he used steroids during his career, Rodriguez said: “No, I didn’t . . . I always played the game the right way.’’