Voting for the Hall of Fame is baseball’s Rorschach inkblot test. You see what you want to see and are quite comfortable to ignore the rest. So what if everyone else sees a mongoose? I see a ham sandwich. It’s a goofy-looking ham sandwich but a ham sandwich nonetheless.
This helps explain why the best baseball player whoever lived, Willie Mays, never received 100 percent of the votes. Neither did Babe Ruth, the man who saved the game. We see what we want to see. In my case, so what if everyone else sees Barry Bonds as a Hall of Famer? I see someone who mocked the integrity of the game. Like Pete Rose and Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
For the past nine years I gave a shrug to Tim Raines. For a guy who ran so fast, things are going quite slow for the man. I had no problem with passing on Raines. My criteria always have been the same for election to Cooperstown: Can the history of the game be written without (fill in the name)?
Sure, I thought, Raines would have to be included — as long as you put his name in the footnotes. He’s not a chapter, not even a paragraph. A footnote recognition doesn’t carry enough convincing, much less an exclamation point.
But this is Raines’ 10th and last nomination before he moves into the dustbin, only to be fetched much later as an old-timer. I always pay a little more scrutiny to someone in his last year of eligibility, the feeling he’ll soon be banished to exile, his name floating in the ether of anonymity, drifting eventually out of sight, joining the Johnnie LeMasters and Mike Ivies of the world.
Always thought Raines deserved more than that, and Jonah Keri of CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated tried to show me just how much. Keri sent me an email, noting I had passed nine times on Raines. These kinds of emails happen when a player reaches his last year of eligibility. Like a flyer about a one-day Christmas sale. Better get on board now or lose the golden opportunity to get that frying pan.
Before I read the email, I thought of the things that made me pass on Raines. He was in the big leagues 23 years, the first 10 with the Montreal Expos and last 13 with five other teams; true Hall of Famers don’t get passed around like a loaf of bread, everyone gets a slice. Raines got snared in that Pittsburgh drug trial of the ’80s, even admitting he stashed a vial of cocaine in his hip pocket when he played, so the drug wouldn’t be found in his locker. Raines was never the best player on whatever team had him. He may have had an electric influence on a game but I rarely saw it — his best years were in Canada in a soulless baseball stadium. And he never made the magic and automatic Hall of Fame number: 3,000 hits (he had 2,605).
And then there was Rickey Henderson. Overshadowed is a polite way of saying what Rickey did to Raines. In every way imaginable Rickey drew attention to himself. Those stolen bases and his foot speed and his flair for grabbing the spotlight and his unabashed self-love, Rickey in every way defined The Ultimate Leadoff Hitter.