Tim Raines and Lee Smith: One more shot on writers’ Hall of Fame ballot

9 01 2016

Two former Yankees, Tim Raines and Lee Smith, have one more year on the writers’ ballot for the Hall of Fame before they fall into the bizarre world of Veterans Committee selection.

Raines looks like he has a possible shot at getting into Cooperstown next year. Smith has almost no shot. Both absolutely belong in the Hall of Fame.

And both belong there for their accomplishments with other teams than the Yankees.

Tim Raines’ chances


Raines will make the Hall of Fame eventually mostly for his achievements in 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos, and secondarily for five seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He played well in three part-time seasons with the Yankees, but those seasons didn’t push him over a threshold such as 3,000 hits (he retired with 2,605) or help him set an all-time record such as most stolen bases (he’s fifth all-time). If championship contributions mattered, Raines’ contributions to the 1996 and ’98 Yankee championships would give him a little boost, but baseball has the only Hall of Fame where championship contributions and post-season play count for nothing (because anti-Yankee bias is so strong).

Raines reached 69.8 percent of the vote this year, his ninth year on the writers’ ballot and by far his best showing. He wasn’t the closest candidate falling short of the 75-percent election threshold. Jeff Bagwell had 71.6 percent of the vote.

If the writers’ ballot had one or two automatic Hall of Famers next year, I think Raines would fall short and only Bagwell would join the automatic guy(s) in the Hall of Fame. Seldom do the writers elect more than two players to the Hall of Fame. Last year’s four-person election included three first-ballot Hall of Famers — pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — plus Craig Biggio, who had 3,000 hits and a clean reputation and had finished at 74.8 percent of the vote in 2014. But that was a rarity. The Baseball Writers Association hadn’t elected three players in a season since 1999, when another three first-ballot Hall of Famers were elected together: George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount.

Raines would have no chance of making it into Cooperstown in such a year. And probably would fall short in a year like this year, when Ken Griffey Jr. was automatic and Mike Piazza jumped past the 75-percent threshold on his fourth year on the ballot, climbing from 69 percent of the vote in 2015 to 83 percent this year.

This year was an exceptional year, though. Baseball writers who had been retired more than 10 years could no longer vote this year, dropping the number of voters by about 100 to 440 total. Bagwell jumped from 55.7 percent last year to 71.6 this year and Raines jumped from 55.0 to 69.8. It would be surprising if at least one of them didn’t make it in next year. But to expect as big a jump for either next year would be unlikely. I think they barely make it, if they do.

But here’s an interesting twist about next year’s ballot: The two players who might have a shot at first-ballot election, based on their accomplishments, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez, are tainted by their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Neither of them had nearly the career that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did, and those guys aren’t even getting 50 percent of the writers’ vote (see my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to deal with Hall of Fame recognition for players involved in gambling and drug scandals).

Vladimir Guerrero is a certain Hall of Famer who will be on the ballot for the first time next year, but voters can be pretty stingy about giving out first-ballot recognition. I expect him to go in his second or third year on the ballot.

Given that the ballot won’t have anyone like Griffey, Johnson, Martinez or Smoltz, who absolutely has to go in on the first ballot, I think Raines has a reasonable shot at joining Bagwell in the 2017 Hall of Fame class.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trevor Hoffman (67.3 percent) jump past Raines and join Bagwell in Cooperstown. I’d be more surprised to see Curt Schilling (52.3 percent) make such a jump. He’s probably two or three years from reaching the 75-percent mark.

2017 will be Raines’ last year on the ballot. Players used to stay on the writers’ ballot 15 years, if they got enough votes, but now you drop off after 10 years. If the writers don’t elect Raines, he should be an easy selection for a Veterans Committee someday (but more shortly on the huge role race plays in those selections).

Lee Smith’s chances

Smith’s Yankee tenure was so short that Yankee fans probably don’t remember him and Yankee haters probably aren’t aware to hold it against him. He pitched only eight innings, in eight games, for the Yankees, getting three saves and no decisions, at the end of the 1993 season. He struck out 11, gave up no runs and only four hits. It was vintage Lee Smith, but just a glimpse.

The Cardinals traded Smith to the Yankees Aug. 31 for Rich Batchelor, a prospect who never became a regular major league player. But Smith, who was 35, signed with the Orioles in the off-season, and led the American League in saves in 1994.

Gaylord Perry has the shortest Yankee career of any Hall of Famer who wore New York pinstripes (I think; correct me if I’m overlooking someone), pitching 10 games, eight of them starts, after joining the Yankees in a mid-August trade in 1980. Unlike Smith, Perry was well past his prime at age 41.

Smith is one of a few players grandfathered in to the 15-year term on the writers’ ballot. If you had already been on the ballot 10 years, you got your full 15, and this was Smith’s 14th year on the ballot. He has topped 10 percent of the vote only once, in 2012. He had 34.1 percent of this year’s vote and has no chance of making the Hall of Fame next year. But he absolutely should be a Veterans Committee choice someday.

Racial discrimination

I believe racial discrimination plays a huge role in Hall of Fame selection, as I noted in a series published here last fall. I don’t think that any baseball writer or Veterans Committee member maliciously or consciously thinks, “I’m not going to vote for this player because he’s black.” It’s more subtle than that, shifting standards that somehow give white players a better shot at enshrinement.

As I noted in the series, automatic African and Latino Hall of Famers, such as Griffey, get in easily. You simply can’t argue that Griffey (or Hank Aaron or Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente) doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

But borderline selections vastly favor whites. Part of this is institutional: Baseball was segregated until 1947, and Hall of Fame selection standards were pretty low for players of that era (way more borderline white players were selected by Veterans Committees than all the players chosen by the special Negro League Committees). So the raising of standards for more recent players affects all the borderline black and Latino players in major-league history. But it also affects white players such as Roger Maris, Tommy John and Steve Garvey, whose achievements certainly would have won them Hall of Fame election if they had played in the 1920s and ’30s.

But even since players from the integrated “major” leagues started becoming eligible for Veterans Committee election, white players far outnumber minority selections among these borderline players. Since 2012, two white players have been elected to the Hall of Fame by Veterans Committees, Ron Santo that year by the Golden Years Committee and Deacon White in 2013 by the Expansion Era Committee (see my explanation of why the very existence of that committee is institutionalized racism).

That matches the number of African American and Latino players ever elected to Cooperstown by a Veterans Committee: Larry Doby in 1998 and Orlando Cepeda in 1999.

In my Oct. 8 post examining white borderline candidates who make it into the Hall of Fame and minority candidates who are excluded, I had sections on both Raines and Smith, which I will repeat here (with some minor editing because of the different context):

Tim Raines

Max Carey had a mediocre batting average for his day, .285, and had no power. But he played 20 years, got 2,665 hits, scored 1,545 runs and stole 738 bases. How is that worthy of the Hall of Fame, but Raines isn’t, with a higher batting average, more power, more runs, more stolen bases and nearly as many hits? … Carey peaked at 51 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected by the Veterans Committee. Time will ease some of this injustice for Raines and some other minority players.

I went into more detail about Raines’ case for the Hall of Fame in a post reviewing the chances of former Yankees on the 2015 ballot:

Can you name a comparable player to Raines who’s not in the Hall of Fame? Who else in the top five in any major career statistical is waiting to get into Cooperstown without a gambling ban or suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs?

Throw in four seasons leading the league in steals, a batting championship and two years leading the league in runs. Raines absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame (and mostly for achievements before reaching the Yankees; he gave them three part-time years but contributed to their 1996 and ’98 championships). In baseball discussions during their primes, he was always paired with Rickey Henderson. How did one of them become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the other one can’t get in?

Raines does have a possible added factor in his consideration: his use of cocaine. He testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he used to slide headfirst to avoid breaking the cocaine vials in his back pocket.

But cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, and I can’t think of another person blocked from the Hall of Fame because of cocaine use. Lots of players — Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry — appeared to be on the path to the Hall of Fame, but derailed their careers with cocaine abuse. None of those players reached a level of career achievement where everyone makes it to the Hall of Fame. And Hall voters have honored multiple players tainted by stories of recreational drug use: Orlando Cepeda, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell.

The only players who have more stolen bases than Raines’ 808 are Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb, all in the Hall of Fame.

Next on the stolen-base list behind Raines is Vince Coleman at 752. But stealing bases was virtually Coleman’s only skill. He hit .264, was only an All-Star twice and only scored 100 runs twice (and never led his league in runs scored).

Raines is much more like the four players ahead of him than like Coleman. Let’s set aside Hamilton, who played in the 1800’s, when baseball was much different, including counting as a stolen base when you went from first to third on a single. And let’s set aside Cobb, who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and still has the career record for batting average.

Comparing Raines as a hitter to Brock, he had better career averages at batting, on-base percentage (a leadoff hitter’s job) and slugging (and, of course, OPS): .294, .385, .425, .810 for Raines, .293, .343, .410, .753. Brock never led the league in a single batting category. Raines led the league in batting (.334) and on-base percentage (.413) in 1986 and doubles (38) in 1984. Brock was more durable, though, playing full-time long enough to reach 3,000 hits (Raines was a part-time player after 1992 and retired with 2,605 hits).

Runs combine hitting and running, and Brock had a slight advantage there. Each led his league twice. Brock topped 100 runs seven times and Raines had six 100-run seasons. Brock had slightly more career runs (in 100 more career games), 1,610 to 1,571.

Brock stole more bases, 938, and led his league in steals more times, eight, but Brock was largely a volume base-stealer. Raines was really a more successful base stealer, safe on 85 percent of his steals, compared to 75 percent for Brock. Even with all his stolen bases, Raines never led his league in times caught stealing. Brock led his league seven times. Raines’ worst season, he was caught 16 times. Brock topped that 10 times, getting caught 33 times in 1974, when he set the single-season record with 118 steals. In fact, Brock’s lead of Raines by 130 stolen bases is actually smaller than his caught-stealing lead, 307-146.

Defensively Raines was way better: He had a higher fielding percentage, .988 to .957. Brock had slightly more putouts, assists and double plays, but he played almost 400 more outfield games. But Raines committed only 54 errors. Brock made 196.

Raines was the player in baseball history most similar to Brock. And you can argue that he was a better hitter, base stealer and fielder. How is one guy in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the other isn’t there yet?

The comparison to Henderson is not as favorable for Raines. Henderson never won a batting or doubles title, but he led his league in hits in 1981 and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1990 (his MVP year, an achievement Raines never matched).

For career averages, Raines had the advantage in batting (.294 to .279) and slugging (.425 to .419), but Henderson led in on-base percentage (.401 to .385) and OPS (.820 to .810). Henderson was a better homerun hitter (297 to 170) and drove in more runs (1,115 to 980).

One of a leadoff hitter’s most important jobs is getting on base, and Henderson led his league in walks four times, topped 100 walks seven times and set the record with 2,190 career walks (he’s second now to Barry Bonds). Raines had a respectable 1,330 career walks but never led his league and never topped 100 in a season.

In runs, Henderson blew Raines (and everyone in baseball history) away, setting the career record (still) with 2,295, leading his league five times and topping 100 runs 13 times.

Henderson stole 1,406 career bases, a record that’s safe for at least 15 years. He stole a record (still) 130 in 1982, one of three years that he topped 100, and he led his league in steals 12 times. He was the greatest base-stealer of all time. Raines was a better percentage stealer, 85 to 81.

So Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and significantly better than Raines. But Raines was the most similar player in baseball history to two first-ballot Hall of Famers. He should be in.

Lee Smith

Here’s the section on Smith from my Oct. 8 post on borderline Hall of Fame candidates:

Here are the career stats of five dominant relief pitchers whose careers overlapped for six seasons in the 1980s:

  1. Pitcher 1 led his league in saves five times, played 12 seasons, had 300 saves, four seasons over 30 saves and a 2.83 ERA. He was a six-time All-Star.
  2. Pitcher 2 led his league in saves three times, played 22 seasons, had 310 saves, two seasons over 30 saves and a 3.01 ERA. He was a nine-time All-Star.
  3. Pitcher 3 led his league in saves four times, played 18 seasons, had 478 saves, 11 seasons over 30 saves and a 3.03 ERA. He was a seven-time All-Star.
  4. Pitcher 4 led his league in saves twice, played 24 seasons, had 390 saves, eight seasons over 30 saves and a 3.50 ERA. He was a six-time All-Star.
  5. Pitcher 5 led his league in saves three times, played 18 seasons, had 341 saves, two seasons over 30 saves and a 2.90 ERA. He was a seven-time All-Star.

I’ll tell you more about each of the pitchers shortly, but first try to guess which one isn’t in the Hall of Fame and hasn’t even come close. It’s the guy with the most career saves, most seasons over 30 saves and second-most seasons leading his league in saves, even though only one of the other pitchers had a shorter career. He’s tied for second in the group in All-Star appearances. He’s also the only African American of the bunch, Pitcher 3, Lee Smith.

Bruce Sutter and teammate Willie Hernandez were among the Cubs who signed this ball, which my father gave my mother in the 1970s. Hernandez matched Sutter with a Cy Young Award and also was an MVP.

Bruce Sutter and teammate Willie Hernandez were among the Cubs who signed this ball, which my father gave my mother in the 1970s. Hernandez matched Sutter with a Cy Young Award and also was an MVP.

Pitcher 1 is Bruce Sutter, who pitched 1976 to 1988. His career was cut short by a nerve injury in his shoulder after he joined the Atlanta Braves, his third team. Sutter won the 1979 Cy Young Award and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, his 13th year on the writers’ ballot. He had a 68-71 record.

Pitcher 2 is Goose Gossage, who pitched from 1972 to 1994. He had a 124-107 record, recording double figures in relief wins four times. He won election to the Hall of Fame in 2008, his ninth year on the ballot.

We’ll get back to Smith.

Pitcher 4 is Dennis Eckersley (and the reason that I didn’t post win-loss records in listing career achievements. His was 197-171). Eck started from 1975 to 1986 for the Indians, Red Sox and Cubs, going 20-8 his best season, for the Red Sox in 1978. His first bullpen season, 1987 for the A’s, wasn’t very impressive, going 6-8 with just 16 saves. But in 1988, he led the league with 45 saves, starting an incredible five-year run, capped in 1992, when he won the Cy Young and MVP awards, saving 51 games with a 1.91 ERA. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2004.

Pitcher 5 was Rollie Fingers, who burst on the scene anchoring the bullpen for the A’s in their 1972-4 championship run. In 1981, he won the Cy Young-MVP combo. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992, his second year on the ballot.

I’m not saying that any of these white relievers don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. They all do. But Smith was clearly their peer, matching or exceeding their achievements in the very same era when they played. And in 13 years on the writers’ ballot, his peak has been 51 percent of the vote. If he doesn’t get over 75 percent in the next two years, he’ll have another five-year wait, then be eligible for consideration by Expansion Era Committees.

I should add that two other relievers of the era were clear peers of Smith and the four Hall of Famers, at least at their peaks:

  • Dan Quisenberry led the league in saves five out of six seasons, tying him with Sutter for save titles, with more than any of the others. He was in the top three in Cy Young voting four straight years and absolutely should have won in 1983. His 1980-85 performance was the best prime of any of the six, better than Eck from 1988-92 and Sutter from 1979-84. But the Hall of Fame (except in Smith’s case) has a strong bias for longevity over peak performance, and Quiz almost vanished after 1985. Quiz made the Expansion Era ballot in 2013 but fell short of election.
  • Puerto Rican Willie Hernández had an even shorter prime than Quiz, winning the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1984 and having two All-Star seasons after that. But he was a prime closer only for those three seasons.

 

 

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7 responses

10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] came tantalizingly close (Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines this year)? Who fell short in his final year on the writers’ ballot (Alan Trammell this […]

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1 02 2016
Baseball Hall of Fame president is wrong about how ‘very selective’ Cooperstown voting has been | Hated Yankees

[…] (Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada), hoping for writers’ election in their last year eligible (Tim Raines) or were rejected by the writers and will never make the Hall or will wait years for Veterans […]

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8 04 2016
The 5 best left fielders in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] Raines, who has his last shot next year on the writers’ ballot for the Hall of Fame, played about 50 games a year in left field for the 1997-99 Yankees. His Cooperstown credentials […]

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14 04 2016
The 5 best relief pitchers in Yankee history | Hated Yankees

[…] relief tradition would include the Cardinals, with prime years of Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith and McDaniel; the A’s with prime years of Hall of Famers Eck and Rollie Fingers; the Padres, […]

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19 07 2016
Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers? | Hated Yankees

[…] top 10 starting pitchers among his contemporaries. His early career overlapped with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, all substantially better, as well as Curt […]

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25 07 2016
Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’ | Hated Yankees

[…] Tim Raines has his last year on the ballot next year. He got 69.8 percent of the writers’ vote this year and will probably make it into Cooperstown next year. If not, he’s a certain selection by a Modern Baseball Committee. He’ll go into the Hall primarily for his play for the Expos and White Sox, but he was a valuable contributor to the Yankee championships in 1996 and ’98. Though Raines played until 2002 and had more years in “Today’s Baseball,” he clearly belongs in Modern Baseball Committee consideration. All seven of his All-Star seasons and all his seasons leading his league (four times in steals, twice in runs and once each in doubles, batting average and on-base percentage) came before 1988. […]

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18 01 2017
Tim Raines finally makes the Hall of Fame; other Yankees fall short | Hated Yankees

[…] Tim Raines was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Wednesday, as I predicted last year. He joined Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez as candidates elected this year by the Baseball Writers […]

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