“Rock” Raines, with his infectious laugh and exciting aggressiveness, became a fan favorite wherever he went. Over the 1980s, Raines was inextricably linked to Rickey Henderson, because of their similar ages and the havoc they wreaked on the basepaths. But while Henderson gained more fame by stealing more bases, Raines’ percentage was generally higher. And even though baseball played a slight second fiddle to hockey north of the border, Raines was instantly recognizable on the streets of Montreal. At the end of his career, after a spurt of leg injuries and a terrifying bout with lupus, the muscular leadoff man had made a strong case for the Hall of Fame, with over 800 stolen bases, 1,500 runs, and a .294 lifetime average.
Raines achieved early stardom in the American Association as a second baseman while earning the batting title with a .354 average and being named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1980. Converted to the outfield for his official rookie campaign in 1981, Raines captured the first of four straight stolen base titles with the Montreal Expos and finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year Award voting to Dave Righetti at the end of the season. That early-’80s Canadian team was a powerful configuration of ballplayers, a far cry from the cash-stricken lot of the ’90s. Though they only reached postseason once in the strike-ravaged 1981 season, with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Steve Rodgers, and Jeff Reardon teaming with the speedy outfielder, the Expos were not to be taken lightly.
Like a handful of players and celebrities in the go-go ’80s, Raines found his way to cocaine even in the upper reaches of Montreal, and underwent rehabilitation following the 1982 season. After two months in a treatment center, the outfielder was back on track and found comfort in his wife and son, Tim Jr., who would one day follow in his father’s footsteps.
Raines reached career highs in steals (90) and runs (133) in 1983, leading the NL in both categories. Over the next four years, Raines averaged a .323 batting average, and just over 66 stolen bases and 108 runs scored. In 1986, Atlanta pitcher Rick Mahler acknowledged how much Raines could rattle a moundsman, calling the leadoff hitter “the best offensive player in the league besides Dale Murphy.”
Opting for free agency after his 1986 batting championship season, Raines found that the baseball owners’ collusion on free agents left him without an offer. He returned to the Expos in May 1987 with neither spring training nor a warm-up stint in the minors, homered in his first game, and led the NL with 123 runs scored for a second year in spite of the missed time. Replacing the departed Andre Dawson in the three-slot in the lineup instead of hitting in his usual leadoff spot, Raines also hit a career-high 18 homers. However, his new position in the order forced him to relinquish some of his aggressiveness on the basepaths, and he stole 20 fewer bases than in 1986.
The following year Raines was hampered by injuries, including his first-ever trip to the disabled list, as his average dipped to .270 for the first time in his career and his 33 stolen bases were the fewest he had recorded in a season. After two more years with the Expos, Raines was traded with Jeff Carter to the Chicago White Sox for Ivan Calderon and Barry Jones in December 1990.
Under the management of Jeff Torborg, Raines was pushed back up to the number one slot to to replace the unreliable Lance Johnson. Though he recorded “just” 51 stolen bags, Raines crossed home over 100 times for the first season since ’87. Despite losing a month and a half with a torn thumb ligament in 1993, he helped push the White Sox to the postseason, while batting .306 with 21 stolen bases in 115 games in the regular season. The leadoff man led Chicago regulars in batting in the ALCS, with a .444 clip against the Toronto Blue Jays, but it wasn’t enough to keep the steamrolling Jays from advancing to and winning the World Series.
However, Raines’ initial dream of batting leadoff for the White Sox in front of run producers like Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura soon turned bitter. Rock’s slide to a .266 average with 13 stolen bases in 1994 was a disappointment to the Chicago front office. After another subpar performance the following season, the outfielder was traded to the New York Yankees in December 1995 for a player to be named later, clearing the way for the White Sox to acquire Tony Phillips.
It would be with the Yankees that Raines finally took home some World Series hardware. Just a month into the Bombers’ championship season of 1996, Raines severely pulled a hamstring, sidelining him until mid-August. However, he came back to finish the regular season with a respectable .284 batting average and 10 stolen bases, and contribute eleven hits in the postseason.
Leg problems would continue to affect the aging Raines’ performance and playing time. Though he did bat .321 and .290 over the next two years, the outfielder was limited to just 183 games in that span, battling hamstring and knee injuries. After the Yankees’ domination of the regular and postseasons of 1998, Raines had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
In January 1999, he signed with the Oakland Athletics, but by mid-season was batting just .215 with a .337 on-base percentage, both by far his worst marks to date. Though an aging body could explain some of the effects, it could not account for the overwhelming lethargy Raines sometimes felt. In July 1999, after mysteriously gaining 28 pounds in three days, his skin tight across his face, the outfielder was diagnosed with lupus and took his leave from baseball to undergo treatment immediately.
After a physically and emotionally trying year, Raines had subdued the disease and attempted a comeback with the New York Yankees. At 40 years old, recovering from both lupus and the effects of a 21-year career, the outfielder was, by any stretch of the imagination, a longshot to make the club. Towards the end of spring training, realizing that he would not survive the cut with Lance Johnson and Roberto Kelly vying for backup time in the outfield ahead of him, he opted for retirement. Following his announcement, Raines was invited to a tryout for the 2000 Olympic team, a squad that eventually would win the gold medal in the Sydney Games. He made it to the last cut before being passed over in favor of more youthful players.
With his son Tim Jr. accelerating through the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system, Raines was tempted once again by the national pastime. Saying “I think it’s destiny for both of us to play at the same time,” Raines accepted an invitation to the Montreal Expos‘ spring training in 2001. Not only did the veteran outfielder have the opportunity to play against his son in an exhibition game, but he also made the team as a fourth outfielder, joining Henderson, Mike Morgan, and Jesse Orosco as the only four players active in the ’70s still playing in the ’00s. Raines came out hustling, but a shoulder strain sustained just a month into the season when diving back to first base, shortened his year dramatically.
Raines ranks just behind Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton, and Ty Cobb as just the fifth member of the 800-steal club. At the turn of the millennium, his stolen base percentage of 84.7% was the highest in baseball history for players with 300 or more attempts, ahead of both Henderson (80.8%) and Brock (75.3%).