Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines beat out different kinds of stupidity to get in Hall of Fame
Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are both finally in the Hall of Fame, where they belong.
The two, along with Ivan Rodriguez, were voted into Cooperstown on Wednesday. It was Rodriguez’s first year on the ballot, and he was a deserving shoo-in, as he is the greatest hitting catcher to ever play the game (or a very, very close second to Mike Piazza).
Bagwell and Raines? It took longer. A lot longer. They both had to overcome years of voters’ stupidity to get there, and what’s so interesting is how different the stupidity was in each case.
Let’s start with Raines. Tim Raines is probably the second greatest leadoff hitter of all time, trailing only Rickey Henderson. He stole 70+ bases for six straight seasons, and trails only Henderson, Ty Cobb, Lou Brock and Billy Hamilton (the one from the 1800s) in career stolen bases. All of those guys are in the Hall.
He batted .294 with a .385 OBP over 23 seasons, and finished with 2,605 career hits. On paper, it seems pretty obvious. Raines was fantastic at what he did for a long time. But, again, for years, he wasn’t voted in. The question always was: Why? He didn’t have any real steroid accusations (that I know of) so that wasn’t what was keeping him out.
As far as I can tell, the biggest thing that kept Raines out of the Hall of Fame for so long (this was his final year of eligibility) was that he just didn’t seem like a Hall of Famer. He was a seven-time consecutive All Star in Montreal between 1981 and 1987, but never made another All Star Game in the final 14 years of his career. He never hit 50 home runs in a season or even close to that, never won an MVP.
He played the prime of his career in Montreal, a team that is now in Washington creating its own history, so it’s not like he had an organization honoring him every year or pumping up his candidacy. Even during his prime, yeah he was great, but he was doing it up in Montreal. When he came down to the States, he had some good years with the White Sox and Yankees, but then hung on a little too long, bouncing from team to team, including three teams in 2001 alone.
For Hall of Fame voters, it was hard to get caught up in the narrative of Tim Raines. They ignored him because he was easy to ignore. His story, well, it wasn’t romantic. Many of the voters hadn’t watched a ton of Expos games (it wasn’t easy to do in the early ’80s if you didn’t live in Montreal) so they didn’t have memories of his greatness.
With the Expos no longer in Montreal, the job for pleading Raines’ case came down to a writer, Jonah Keri, a kid from the city who wanted the world to remember and appreciate his brilliance. Without Keri making the case over the past years (he wrote a book in part about it), Raines wouldn’t be in the Hall. That’s unfortunately true. But luckily for Raines, Keri made his case, the voters put aside the romance/narrative problems and got their heads out of their you know whats. Raines made it in.
As for Bagwell, well, the stupidity that kept him out for years is all tied up in the steroid nonsense. Bagwell’s case on paper is pretty unimpeachable: NL MVP in 1994, lifetime batting average of .297 with 449 home runs and a 79.6 career WAR, which as my old pal Ted Berg points out is a better mark than Pete Rose. It’s also the highest career WAR of any player not in the Hall of Fame, with the exception of Barry Bonds.
But Bagwell was a big guy who hit a lot of home runs who happened to play at a time when players cheated with steroids. MLB wasn’t really testing anyone, and it was all a big wink-wink situation, and even considering all that Bagwell never tested positive for anything and has flatly denied it for the entirety of his career, but still. He was a big guy who hit home runs at a weird time in baseball, and for some voters, that was enough. They’d heard “whispers” or “it didn’t all add up.” Bagwell didn’t hit that many homers in the minors, the argument went. (He was still growing, of course, but you know, still.)
This stupidity was different than the Raines stupidity, but stupidity it was all the same. Bagwell was being punished simply for playing baseball at a time when people cheated, and for looking like the guys who were cheating, and for years, that kept him out of Cooperstown.
As Ken Rosenthal pointed out, however, the arguments against these players are crumbling. MLB didn’t do its job testing, and the players are being punished for it, simply because of rumors and innuendo. Voters are waking up and realizing how unfair this is. You can’t punish a guy because he doesn’t look the way you want him to, or because you heard something one time at some bar.
Bagwell and Raines both were kept out of the Hall of Fame for years, Bagwell because of when he played, Raines because of where he played. The voters finally got it right this year. Good on them.