Carlton Fisk played with Tim Raines for about two and a half seasons with the White Sox, but during that time the Hall of Fame catcher never considered that Raines would eventually join him in Cooperstown enshrined among baseball's greatest players.
Even as Raines inched his way toward reaching the 75 percent vote threshold for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Fisk wasn't sure his former teammate's credentials would get him in. Then, last summer, Fisk joined former White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak for a round of golf and had an epiphany of sorts.
"We started talking about Tim Raines," Fisk recalled over the weekend at the Hilton Chicago during SoxFest. "And he said, 'You know, Pudgy, you look at Tim's numbers — and you don't think he's a Hall of Famer?' I said, 'I don't even know his numbers.' I know he stole a lot of bases, I know he got a lot of hits.
"But I didn't know they were that many stolen bases or that many hits. I didn't even know — it just didn't register that he played that long, either, maybe because he came over from a different league. And then Walt worked with him a lot — hitting and that while mental approach to the game. And he says, 'This guy was good. This guy's got great numbers.' I said, well, we'll see, I hope everybody else recognizes that also."
In his 10th and final year on the ballot, Raines received 85.9 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer along with Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. Raines, statistically, is one of the best leadoff hitters of all time, finishing his 23-year career with a .395 batting average and 808 stolen bases. Not once in those 23 seasons did Raines have more strikeouts than walks, among his other accomplishments.
"I have no reason, no understanding of why it took him so long to get there," Frank Thomas said during a panel discussion with CSN Chicago's Chuck Garfien on Saturday.
Thomas put Raines among the top three leadoff hitters in baseball history, along with Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose. Probably to Raines' Hall of Fame detriment was that he played at the same time as Henderson (Raines and Henderson both debuted in 1979 and retired one year apart in the early 2000's), who stole nearly 600 more bases than him, won an MVP and finished his career with 3,055 hits.
"He's in the hall now," former two-sport superstar and White Sox outfielder Bo Jackson said. "What he did, what Rickey did, they're both in the Hall of Fame. Whenever you think of base-stealing, three people in our era that you can point to when you mention the words base stealing: Vince Coleman, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson."
Thomas, though, pointed out that Raines stole bases at a better average than Henderson (84.6 percent to 80.7 percent) and brought a loose, "goofball" presence to the White Sox clubhouse after the team acquired him from the Montreal Expos prior to the 1991 season. But he was overshadowed nationally by Henderson, and with stars like Fisk, Thomas and Jackson on the White Sox in the early 1990's, he had a spotlight to share on his own team.
"Tim Raines was under the radar as far as consideration in that area," Fisk said. "I think that's why a lot of people didn't recognize that he had the presence and the numbers that he had. I'm really glad that they recognize that now."
Raines only spent four years of his career on 35th and Shields, during which he helped the White Sox win a division title in 1993. He'll enter the Hall of Fame wearing an Expos hat, but his impact on the South Side won't be forgotten.
"I am glad to have had the privilege to say I was on the same team with Tim Raines at one point in time," Jackson said.