Ma­jor League Hall of Fame class re­flects on its jour­ney

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

COOP­ER­STOWN, N.Y. — Tim Raines played in the ma­jor leagues for more than two decades, and yet one at-bat still sticks in his mind.

Ner­vous about mak­ing the Mon­treal Ex­pos’ ros­ter af­ter two brief call-ups that didn’t work out so well (one hit in 20 at-bats), his per­for­mance on Open­ing Day 1981 in Pitts­burgh erased any doubt. Raines led off the game with a walk, stole sec­ond on the first pitch to the next bat­ter and scored af­ter the er­rant throw to sec­ond eluded the out­field­ers.

A star was born.

“I think that was the be­gin­ning of the type of player Tim Raines could be,” Raines re­called. “It kind of got me go­ing. I think if I would have struck out and not do any­thing of­fen­sively that game, I’m not sure what would have hap­pened to my ca­reer. I hadn’t re­ally proven to any­one what type of player that I was. It kind of just took off from there.”

His base­ball jour­ney ends Sun­day in Coop­er­stown, when Raines, 57, will be in­ducted into the Base­ball Hall of Fame. Join­ing him are Jeff Bag­well and Ivan Ro­driguez, along with for­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig and re­tired Kansas City and At­lanta ex­ec­u­tive John Schuer­holz, both elected by a vet­er­ans com­mit­tee.

Raines re­ceived 86 per­cent of the vote by the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica to eas­ily top the 75 per­cent

thresh­old needed. That tally came on his fi­nal year on the bal­lot.

The switch-hit­ting Raines bat­ted .294 and had a .385 on­base per­cent­age in his 23-year ca­reer, fin­ish­ing with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs and 808 stolen bases. The stolen-base to­tal is the fifth-high­est in ma­jor league his­tory and in­cludes 70 or more steals in each sea­son from 1981-1986, a streak that stands alone in base­ball his­tory. His 84.7 per­cent suc­cess rate on stolen bases tops the list among play­ers with at least 400 steal at­tempts.

Ro­driguez, who holds the ma­jor league records for games caught (2,427) and putouts by a catcher (12,376), hit 311 home runs and bat­ted .296 in his ca­reer. No sur­prise that he’s only the sec­ond catcher elected on the first bal­lot, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his child­hood idol, for­mer Cincin­nati Reds star Johnny Bench.

In 21 sea­sons spent mostly with the Texas Rangers, Ro­driguez was a 14-time All-Star, won a record 13 Gold Gloves and took home 7 Sil­ver Slug­ger awards.

“I think I just pre­pared my­self,” said Ro­driguez, 45, af­fec­tion­ately known as “Pudge.” “I’m talking about block­ing thou­sands of balls, mak­ing thou­sands of throws to sec­ond base, try­ing to throw the ball to the right side of the base.

“You can have abil­ity, but if you don’t have dis­ci­pline, if you don’t work on things you have to do, it’s go­ing to be hard for you to do it in your ca­reer.”

Bag­well, 48, who played his en­tire 15-year ca­reer with the Hous­ton Astros, was elected in his sev­enth year on the bal­lot. He’s the only first base­man in his­tory with 400 ca­reer home runs and 200 stolen bases.

“This is all over­whelm­ing to me,” Bag­well said. “Part of me won­ders, ‘Why am I in here?’ ”

Bag­well ended his ca­reer with 449 home runs, was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and in the strike-short­ened 1994 sea­son hit .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI in just 110 games to unan­i­mously cap­ture MVP hon­ors.

From 1996-2001, Bag­well had at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI per sea­son, only the sixth player in ma­jor league his­tory to reach those marks in at least six con­sec­u­tive years.

Schuer­holz, who played sec­ond base at Tow­son Uni­ver­sity and be­came a ju­nior high school teacher in the Bal­ti­more sub­urbs in the mid1960s, al­ways wanted to be a ma­jor lea­guer and couldn’t get base­ball off his mind. So he sent a let­ter to Jerry Hoff­berger, owner of the home­town Ori­oles.

The team gave him a spot in its mi­nor league sys­tem. In 1969, Schuer­holz joined the ex­pan­sion Kansas City Roy­als and be­came gen­eral man­ager 12 years later. Af­ter the Roy­als won the 1985 World Se­ries, he moved on to even greater suc­cess with the Braves. With Schuer­holz call­ing the front-of­fice shots, At­lanta won 14 con­sec­u­tive di­vi­sion cham­pi­onships.

In 26 years as a GM, Schuer­holz’s teams won 16 di­vi­sion ti­tles, 6 pen­nants and 2 World Se­ries. He was the first gen­eral man­ager in his­tory to win a World Se­ries in each league.

“I feel awed,” said Schuer­holz, whose only re­gret is that the Braves turned those di­vi­sion ti­tles into only one World Se­ries cham­pi­onship (1995). “I feel as thank­ful and ap­pre­cia­tive of all the peo­ple who have helped me in my ca­reer and in my life to get to this point where a group de­cided that this guy qual­i­fies for the Hall of Fame, this guy ought to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Selig never re­al­ized his child­hood dream of re­plac­ing Joe DiMag­gio in cen­ter field for the New York Yan­kees, but he left a large im­print dur­ing more than 22 years as the leader of the game. He was in­stru­men­tal in the ap­proval of in­ter­league play, the ex­pan­sion of the play­offs, split­ting each league into three di­vi­sions with wild cards, in­sti­tut­ing video re­view and rev­enue-shar­ing in an era that saw the con­struc­tion of 20 new ball­parks.

Selig left base­ball with­out la­bor strife and with a strict drug-test­ing pol­icy that has helped clean up the game.

“In the end, I know what I set out to do and we pretty much ac­com­plished it,” said Selig, who led the group that pur­chased the Seat­tle Pi­lots in bank­ruptcy court in 1970 and moved the team to Mil­wau­kee. “Yeah, there are things that hap­pened that I think we re­acted well to and got done what you had to get done.”


Jeff Bag­well spent his en­tire 15-year ca­reer with the Hous­ton Astros, where he hit 449 home runs and was named Na­tional League MVP in 1994. He will join Tim Raines, Ivan Ro­driguez, for­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig and for­mer At­lanta Braves and Kansas City Roy­als gen­eral man­ager John Schuer­holz in the Hall of Fame on Sun­day.

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