High-fives for this Coop­er­stown quin­tet

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Kekis

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 the 57-year-old Raines will be in­ducted into the Base­ball Hall of Fame. Join­ing him are Jeff Bag­well and Ivan Ro­driguez, along with for­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig and for­mer team ex­ec­u­tive John Schuer­holz, both elected by the vet­er­ans com­mit­tee.

Raines re­ceived 86 per­cent of the votes by the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica to eas­ily top the 75 per­cent thresh­old needed for in­duc­tion. That tally came on his fi­nal year on the bal­lot, an over­sight that’s dif­fi­cult to fathom in ret­ro­spect.

The switch-hit­ting Raines bat­ted .294 and had a .385 on-base per­cent­age in his 23-year ca­reer, fin­ish­ing with 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs scored and 808 stolen bases. The stolen bases are the fifth-high­est to­tal in ma­jor-league his­tory and in­clude 70 or more steals in each sea­son from 1981-86, a streak that stands alone in base­ball his­tory. Take a closer look at his ac­com­plish­ments on the basepa­ths, and they are quite re­mark­able — his 84.7 per­cent suc­cess rate tops the list among play­ers with at least 400 steal at­tempts.

Raines cred­its his for­tune to the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of saber­met­rics, ad­vanced sta­tis­tics that give greater in­sight into a player’s worth.

“I think they kind of looked at the num­bers on the base­ball cards,” said Raines, who over­came a recre­ational drug ad­dic- tion that ham­pered his pro­duc­tion early in his ca­reer. “There’s more to the game than just those num­bers. Guys can be just as im­por­tant to a team and an or­ga­ni­za­tion in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways.”

Ro­driguez, who holds ma­jor­league 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 seven Sil­ver Slug­ger awards.

“I think I just pre­pared my­self,” said the 45-year-old Ro­driguez, 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.”

The 48-year-old Bag­well, 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 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

“This is all over­whelm­ing to me,” Bag­well said. “Parts of me won­der, ‘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 homers and 116 RBIS in just 110 games to unan­i­mously cap­ture MVP hon­ors.

Just as im­pres­sive: From 19962001, Bag­well had at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIS per sea­son, only the sixth player in ma­jor-league his­tory to reach those marks in at least six con­sec­u­tive years.

Schuer­holz joined the ex­pan­sion Kansas City Roy­als in 1969 and be­came their gen­eral man­ager 12 years later. Af­ter the Roy­als won the 1985 World Se­ries, he moved on to even greater suc­cess with the At­lanta Braves.

With Schuer­holz call­ing the front-of­fice shots, At­lanta won a re­mark­able 14 con­sec­u­tive divi­sion cham­pi­onships.

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

Selig, mean­while, never re­al­ized his child­hood dream of re­plac­ing Joe Dimag­gio in cen­ter field for the New York Yan­kees — he couldn’t hit a curve­ball — 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.

Fans haven’t for­got­ten that his ten­ure also in­cluded the con­tro­ver­sial steroids era — and the can­cel­la­tion of the 1994 World Se­ries amid a play­ers strike.

Still, Selig left base­ball in ex­cel­lent shape eco­nom­i­cally — with­out la­bor strife and with a strict drug-test­ing pol­icy that has helped clean up the game.

Alex Bran­don, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Mary Altaffer, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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