MONTREAL — The 1982 All-Star Game at Olympic Stadium was the first outside the United States, the host Montreal Expos giving the event a distinctive international flair.
As Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn looked on, centre fielder Andre Dawson, catcher Gary Carter and left fielder Tim Raines were among five players wearing that tri-colour hat of the hometown team.
On Wednesday, Raines is likely to join Dawson and Carter as Expos in the Hall of Fame, expected to be voted the honour in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
“If I get in, that’s the team I deserve to go in for, regardless if they no longer have a team,” Raines said in a phone interview from his home in Phoenix on Tuesday. “That was the team I played with and I’m real comfortable with that.”
Despite falling short of the 75 per cent of votes necessary for election last year, Raines was named on 69.8 per cent of the ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers of America. That was up significantly from 2015, when he finished seventh in voting with 55 per cent.
“I was happy that I had gained a lot more votes,” Raines said. “I was only 23 short and this is actually the first year of the 10 years that I really feel pretty excited about the prospect of it happening. But this will be the first year that I really feel that I have a legitimate shot.”
An All-Star in each of his first seven seasons with the Expos, Raines is the only player to have four seasons hitting .300 or higher with at least 70 stolen bases; Ty Cobb and Rickey Henderson each had three.
A switch-hitter, Raines batted .294 with 2,605 hits, including 713 for extra bases, and 1,330 walks. He scored 1,571 runs and ranks fifth with 808 stolen bases in a career from 1979 to 2002 with Montreal, the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland, Baltimore and Florida.
His 84.7 per cent stolen base success rate is the best of any player with at least 400 attempts. Raines finished with a .385 on-base average.
“When you think about the calibre of career that Timmy had, he was an impact player,” Dawson said in a phone interview from Miami on Monday. “You think about all the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, he measures right there.”
To some, Raines’ only fault was that he wasn’t as great as Rickey Henderson, considered the best leadoff man ever.
Carter became the first player inducted into the Hall with an Expos cap on his plaque in 2003, his sixth year on the ballot. Dawson was inducted in 2010 after his ninth try.
“I think it’s a tribute to that organization that they are probably going to have three Hall of Famers that were teammates at the same time,” Dawson said. “I do think that it’s going to happen, first of all, but you didn’t really get the notoriety, you didn’t really get the same publicity as if you had been playing in the States. So it was a really, really tough environment I think playing across the border when it came to recognition.”
Traded by Montreal after the 1990 season, Raines spent five seasons with the White Sox. He hit .444 and scored five runs in the 1993 AL Championship Series, which Chicago lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, and then won the World Series twice in three seasons with the Yankees from 1996-98.
He signed with Oakland as a free agent in 1999 but was diagnosed with lupus midway through the season. A failed bid to make the United States Olympic team in 2000 fueled Raines’ desire to prove he could still play, and Montreal offered him that opportunity in 2001.
Raines was greeted with a standing ovation when he returned to Olympic Stadium as the starting left fielder for the Expos’ home opener. The crowd of 45,183 remained on its feet all through his first plate appearance and cheered wildly when he drew a walk from Mets starter Glendon Rusch.
“The ovation that I got was really, really emotional,” Raines said. “I remember I stole my 800th base against the Expos with the Yankees, and that was kind of emotional. The fans gave me a really big standing ovation, but the ovation I got in ’01 topped anything that I could have even imagined, and at that time I knew that I was in love with Montreal.”
Raines got to play with Vladimir Guerrero, who is on the ballot for the first time this year and could also enter the Hall as an Expos player if he is elected.
“Well, I think he’s among the top players that ever played the game, that’s for sure,” Raines said. “… He didn’t really say much, but when the game started, you know who was top dog out on the field, and it was going to be him.”
Late in the 2001 season, the Expos traded Raines to Baltimore to give him the opportunity to play with his son, Tim Jr., who was called up to make his major league debut with the Orioles.
Raines, who retired after playing with Florida in 2002, was back with the Expos as a special coach at the end of the 2004 season when Major League Baseball announced that the team, which joined the National League in the 1969 expansion, was moving to Washington, D.C.
The world’s second-largest French-speaking city, which embraced Jackie Robinson when he played for the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1946, still pines for “nos amours,” a term of endearment so profoundly French that it defies appropriate translation into English other than to say Montrealers love their Expos.
“Timmy happened to be one of those individuals that really made an impact not only with that organization but with the country for what he did, what he brought to the game, how he played the game, and how he was perceived all around baseball amongst his peers,” Dawson said. “But I do feel that the Hall of Fame itself is the due recognition in the end.”
Sean Farrell, The Associated Press
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