How good was Tim Raines? That depends a lot on who you ask I guess. If you ask someone from New York they’ll tell he was a great forth outfielder/DH and a key factor in bringing the up and coming Yankees over the hump to win their first World Series of many. If you ask a guy from Chicago, he’ll tell you Raines was a great leadoff hitter who set the table for the south side sluggers (Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and Ellis Burks). All of that is of course true but what if you asked someone from Montreal? It seems much of what happened in Montreal in the eighties has been lost to the baseball world, in fact in ten or fifteen years the Montreal Expos will probably be lost from the collective mind of baseball fans all together. I however, am a guy from Montreal, and I know how good Tim Raines was.
Where to begin? Well, the first memory I have of the Rock was when I was about four years old and was attending a game at Olympic Stadium with my family. I was having trouble seeing what was going on because I was short and such, but all of sudden everyone stood up and went crazy. I asked my father and older sister what had happened and they told me Tim Raines just homered. Of course I was familiar with this “Tim Raines” character already, I had baseball cards and the like, I was no idiot you know. Angered for missing what just happened, I asked where he hit it, as to which my father pointed to a Cocoa-Cola sign in left-center field, and I was dumbfounded. How could a human-man hit a ball that far? I was used to hitting homers into the neighbors yard at this point in my life, from home plate to that Cocoa-Cola sign must’ve been 100,000 of my backyards taped together…a long freaking way man. At this point I was convinced this “Tim Raines” was not a mere man at all but rather some sort of human god born from the heavens and suns. I was not scared of him however for I knew he would use these strengths adorned to him for the benefit of the Montreal Expos and not for personal gain. After this moment I followed the career of Tim Raines somewhat more closely than that of his fellow Expo brethren, he became my “favorite player” if you will.
At the school yard in my youth talks of how good Tim Raines was and what he was capable of doing were rampant. I recall one of my friends asking me, “Who would win-in-a-fight, Tim Raines or Superman?” I found the question a bit stupid, Tim Raines of course. “Has Tim Raines ever been to the moon?” Well obviously, he probably has a summer cottage there. “I heard Tim Raines hit for two cycles in one game, drove to the Forum and proceeded to single-handedly defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 18-0 while scoring six hat-tricks, is that true?” Yes, though I believe it was 22-0. All the questions just bread more questions, how good was this guy?
In Shea Stadium, circa 1987, Tim Raines shocked us all once again. After missing the first month of the season due to the owners free agent boycott The Rock returned with a vengeance. The game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 13th, Tim Raines came to the plate already seven-for-seven with 2 doubles, 3 triples, 2 singles, 6 stolen bases, and three runs scored. The opposing Mets reliever Jesse Orosco (then a robust 36 year-old) served up a pitch no one would ever forget. Tim Raines hit the pitch out of Shea Stadium…and clear out of New York State. The box score read 7-3, but it should have read Grand Slam outta The City to 3.
That year, 1987, proved to be Tim Raines best season as an Expo. Rock finished the season with a .434 batting average, 78 homeruns, 7,000 RBIs, and 390 stolen bases despite not even playing in April. When asked what his numbers could have been if he played the complete season Raines replied, “I never hit well in April anyway.” Statisticians predict that had Tim Raines played the complete 1987 season and the collusion never happened he would have hit a remarkable .575 while knocking in close to eight billion runners. Wow…
In 1990, news of Tim Raines finally made it to the United States, and in turn the Americans greatest player challenged Montreal’s greatest player to a base-stealing contest. Rickey Henderson, the Greatest That Ever Lived, challenged Tim Raines to a base stealing contest in an exhibition game between the Oakland A’s and the Expos prior to the 1990 season. It was down to the wire, Henderson and Raines both had a dozen stolen bases by the ninth inning…Raines however on the last out made it a bakers by stealing home off of Dennis Eckersley and Terry Steinbach. Henderson, admitting defeat, sulked from the bench and proclaimed himself “The Worst of All Time” then proceeded to play Bobby Bonilla at cards or something. Tim Raines had done it, he became the first player in history to steal 13 bases in one game, though it was an exhibition game and was never recorded in the record books, it happened, believe me…
So how good was Tim Raines? It depends who you ask.