I finally got around to finishing the transcription of the epic interview I did (along with Brian Woodson of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph) with Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame player Tim Raines (pictured above with catcher Jorge Saez of the Bluefield Blue Jays).
Raines played many of his best years for the Montreal Expos. Brian and I asked him about the Hall of Fame waiting game, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, playing in Montreal as well as his currently role with the Blue Jays.
Brian Woodson: This is your first year with Toronto, what’s your role?
Tim Raines: My role is, I’m a baserunning/outfield coordinator so my role is to come in to all the affiliates – 4 games, usually at a time. Work on outfield work and work on base stealing with them, as well as base running.
BW: Couldn’t have picked a much better person to do either one of those, you were good at both.
TR: Well, you know it’s something that’s important, very important. I think, you know, having credentials and obviously the career plays a big role, especially when you’re talking to a lot of young — a lot of these guys don’t really know who i am, but with social media now, you can get just about everything you wanted to get about a player. Sometimes I ask a question, though: Who am I? What did I do? Stuff like that. Some guys knew and some guys didn’t so it’s kinda funny.
BW: So when you did as much as you do. I think 880 stolen bases and a .300 average, I mean, you did a lot in this game. When you look back on your game now and your career what comes back to your mind and notice about it, what you were able to do?
TR: Well, just my overall game. I tried to … I wasn’t the biggest . . . I don’t know if I was the fastest, but I was pretty fast, but. … just knowing the game. It’s important to players and that’s what I try to tell these guys. The more you can learn from watching games, the better player that you can be. You know, after 23 years in the big leagues and almost 8 years now in the minor leagues, 2 years as a major league coach, I’ve seen a lot of baseball. I’m not going to profess that I know everything that there is to know about the game, but it’s going to be hard to come at me with something that I haven’t seen. Even since my career’s been over. Basically at the minor league level you see a lot of stuff that you’ve never seen before. It’s a learning process. That’s what these guys are here for. You know, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes. And I try to tell them that you have to make mistakes to be able learn how to play this game until you can figure things out. And you figure things out by making mistakes and the least amount of mistakes that you make the better player that you can be.
BW: I gotta ask about this Hall of Fame. Your numbers keep climbing. Last year you got 53% of the vote do you feel like you’ve still got a shot? You’ve got 8 or 9 years left on the ballot.
TR: Well, you know at this point I feel like I’ve got a shot, but you never know. I’ve looked at the stats from Hall-of-Famers that have gotten in, I think just about everyone of them that’s gotten up to 50% usually gets in. So, I feel good about that, but until they call my name, I’ll be waiting.
BW: Is it tough, do you do that every year? Do you wait?
TR: It’s not tough. I mean, when I started playing the game I never thought about it. Never thought about my career was gonna be a hall of fame career so when it comes to getting in or even being thought of as a hall of fame player, it’s something I never really dreamed about or even when I played I never really thought about it. You know, I just played the game to play it and I enjoyed playing the game, so when it came to numbers there wasn’t really anything I was concerned about. I was concerned about winning games, you know, playing the game at the best of my ability and whatever happened happens. So, I kind of feel the same way about the hall of fame. You know, it won’t be the end all if I don’t get in. I know myself that the 23 years that I put in, I enjoyed every minute.
BW: You played with Andre Dawson who made the Hall of Fame.
TR: Yes, yes.
BW: It would be nice to see two of you from the same team make it, the same outfield.
TR: Well, you know, we’re still friends, we’re still best of friends. He’s probably my best friend in baseball and we still talk all the time, in fact he called me about a week ago and I haven’t called him back, so he’s might be pissed at me right now. I’m sure I’ll call him some time. But for me, I was probably his biggest fan as well as teammate. He taught me a lot. He taught me a lot about the game, he taught me a lot about how to play the game, he taught me a lot about, you know, coming to the ballpark, being prepared to play and you know, playing at the best that I could play. And he always said, you know, as long as you could look at yourself in the mirror every day after every game and say you gave it everything you had, you know, that’s all you can ask from yourself and that’s the way I went at it.
BW: Baseball in Montreal in 94, y’all had the best record at the strike. A lot of people have often thought that team had a chance to get to the playoffs and get to the world series. In your opinion, did that lead to Montreal losing baseball, do you think?
TR: I don’t think that was the main reason. I think it played a big role. I was in Chicago at the time, but I think at that time, we had the best record in the American League in Chicago and the Expos had the best record in the National League so it was an opportunity, if it could have happened, to go back. If we both would have gotten into the World Series, it would have been a happy moment for me, not only getting to the World Series, but getting an opportunity to go back to Montreal and play, even though it would have been on opposite sides of the field but it would have been great to see the fans get to see something like that.
Blue Jays from Away: What about that 1981 team in Montreal. I’ve heard people refer to it as the best team to get to the World Series?
TR: You know, I still think about that as it was just yesterday. You know, we had a great team I mean, we were a game away. All we had to do was win one out of two games, at home. We weren’t able to pull that off. I actually felt like we had the best team in baseball that year. Player for player, I don’t think there was any other team that could play with us even though we didn’t get there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we weren’t the best team. We had the bases loaded and two outs and a ground ball, get a base hit there we go to the world series and probably win it because I felt like we had a better team than the Dodgers that year. We actually proved it, but we just couldn’t get that last win. But, you know, I think about it. I remember the last out being made and just sitting on the bench, just pondering what could have happened and what did happen. You know we felt like we had a good team. Losing our closer though was a big part of us maybe not getting to where we were trying to get. But I mean, that’s baseball. But I just know that 81 team was one of the finest teams that was ever assembled.
BW: So you won three World Series as a coach?
TR: One as a coach and two as a player.
BW: Player with the Yankees?
TR: With the Yankees.
BW: One as a coach with the White Sox?
BW: So you’ve still got those world series rings . . I know you would have like to have one as a player with Montreal, but you were able to get two as a player.
TR: When you’re a player, your goal is to make it to the World Series and win. Everybody doesn’t get that opportunity. Some guys get more than others and some not … don’t get any. I think about that when I think about Andre Dawson. He had a hall of fame career but never got the opportunity to win a world championship. There are probably a few guys that are in the hall of fame that never got that chance. A lot of them did. To me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about .. one: going through the system, making it to the major and hopefully being on a team that’s good enough to do that. You don’t do it yourself but you hope that the organization can put together a team that allows you that opportunity. I was lucky enough to, you know, not in Montreal and not in Chicago, to get that chance in New York.
BJfA: Even though you weren’t playing with Montreal at the time, did you feel hurt a little bit when they left Montreal and went to Washington?
TR: Oh, most definitely. That’s where it all started for me. That’s where I grew up as a player. I was a 19 year old kid when I was first called up to Montreal and they had adopted me as a one of their players . . . one of the big name players in Montreal. I still go there now and people know who I am. I felt for it. I was there that last game, I was a part of the organization. I was a manager in A-ball and I was there the last week of that season and it was probably one of hte worst days in baseball of my career, even though there were some bad days. But to know that a place where I grew up and played and heard all the cheers and to know that they love the game there to know that they were no longer gonna have a team was really saddening for me.
BJfA: Did you ever feel or did you know about, before you got to Montreal, the connection, because the Jackie Robinson movie 42 was released this year and it kind of skipped over a lot of his time in Montreal. But, I think for a lot of people, they really see that as one of the great moments in Montreal baseball. Did you know about that connection before you went to Montreal? Did you learn about it there?
TR: No, I learned about it there. As a matter of fact, when I was there, they had a day for Jackie, his wife was there, Chuck Connors was there, and they had a big ceremony for them and I think at that time, that’s when I kinda clued in. I didn’t really know that much about baseball history at the time because I was more of a big football fan than I was baseball. And from Sanford [Florida, Raines’s hometown], he played there. I did not know that until I really started playing professional baseball. I learned a lot more about it once I really got into baseball but, you know, he came through Sanford first before he went anywhere else. I think he went to Sanford, he went to Jacksonville, they wouldn’t let him play there and that’s how he ended up in Montreal because they were the only team that would let him play. So, I got to know a lot about that once I got to Montreal, but growing up in Sanford and knowing that they had baseball back in the day. Didn’t really know that much about baseball history but anything about football you asked me, I would know. But you know, like I said, once I got there, I didn’t really know that much about the Expos. Even though they had spring training in Daytona Beach, we had the Twins in Orlando so when it came to baseball I was more leaning towards the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins in Orlando. I remember, as a high school senior though, going to a spring training game. Again, I went to see the Twins because the Twins were playing the Expos, didn’t really know that history. Dawson, Carter, Valentine . . . all those guys were there, not knowing a couple of years after that I would be playing with those guys. It’s weird in a way but it kinda was something that I didn’t really know about and the next thing I knew, I was a Montreal Expo.
BW: Didn’t I read that you kinda wanted to play football but baseball would give you a longer career.
TR: Well what happened, the reason why I signed out of high school because I felt like . . . You know, and I had played baseball longer than I played football but you know, my dad played semi-pro so he never really played at a professional level so I knew more about baseball as a player but I knew more about football as a fan. So I decided to sign out of high school because I felt like, you know, give myself a year and a half to two years that I had. If things didn’t work out I felt like I had a chance to go back . . .I’d be, what, 20 at the most? 19 or 20. I could still go back and pursue a football career. But thank God it all worked out and baseball ended being the sport that I ended playing.
BW: And what’s your idea about the stolen bases, the high batting average, overall . . . there’s so much emphasis on the home run in the last 15 years. You weren’t a big home run hitter but you did everything . . . you hit some, but you were the overall type player and I always loved that about you, you and Rickey Henderson both. That’s kind of the player you all were, you just kind of went there and did everything.
TR: Well, I think, you know, when you can be a player that can beat you in a lot of different ways, not just one way. You know, it’s tough to stop a player that way. If he’s a hitter, you can probably pitch to him or pitch around him to stop him from hitting home runs. But if you’re a guy who steals bases, you’ve got to try to keep him off the bases, so if he’s a good hitter, there’s no way you can stop him from doing what he wants to do. But you’re that type of player that before the game even starts, everybody says, all right, there’s one or two players on this team that we have to stop in order to win. Usually it’s going to be myself, Rickey Henderson, guys like us, that are the guys they talk about. Sure they talk about home run hitters but home run hitters . . . it’s hard to find guys like [Miguel] Cabrera who’s a home run hitter who can also hit for average. Davis is having a great year this year. He’s doing similar things but it’s hard to find those type of players in the game. They’re not runners but they drive runs in, they hit home runs, they hit for an average and they score runs. The name of the game is to score runs. For those guys it’s tougher from them to score if you have to score from first base. But for us, we can steal second, steal third and walk to home. They can hit it out of the park and score a run or if anyone’s in, it’s the same way. If you’re that guy, you know, you can’t run but you can hit for a high average, you can get on base, but it takes two or three hits to score him. Guys like myself, we can get on base and it doesn’t even take a hit to score a run. And the name of the game is scoring runs and that was what we did. I mean, we stole bases but a stolen base doesn’t count as a run scored. So we got ourselves in position more often than anyone else to score runs and that’s what the game is all about.
BJfA: I’d be a bad journalist if I didn’t ask you about the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame where you were, I think, inducted this year. What can you tell us about that experience for you?
TR: Well, for me, it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in my career, thus far. The only thing that could top that would be getting into, you know, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For me, I figured if I didn’t get into the Canadian Hall of Fame and I got into the Baseball Hall of Fame [in Cooperstown] then something would have been wrong. It was great, I mean, I went in with George Bell and Rob Ducey. Both guys I played with as teammates and that I knew very well. So, I mean, to look at that list that’s in the Canadian Hall of Fame is an awesome list of players and most of those guys are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a proud moment for me as a player and as a guy that played in Montreal and in Canada to be able to receive that award.
BJfA: I’ve just got one more question. It more pertains to what you’re doing now with the Blue Jays organization as a base running and outfielding instructor. I’ve talked to a couple of guys down in Lansing that I think you’ve had a chance to work with and you’ve got two guys down there with Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith, Jr. who have had phenomenal success stealing bases. What is it that you’re working on with them that helps them get to that point?
TR: You know, what I try to do is, one, is try to make them feel that you know, to be successful you have to be aggressive. You have to have that aggressive feeling about yourself that, you know, once I step out on the base paths, everybody’s gonna know that I’m trying to steal, but when I can do it, when everybody knew it, then, I mean, I’m going to be successful doing that. And they’re young guys. They’re going to get thrown out, they’re gonna get picked off. But I told them, I say, don’t worry about that. As long as you don’t do it in key situations in the game but the only way you’re going to learn is you’re gonna have to be aggressive, you’re gonna have to do it. The more you do it, the more confidence you get and if you have it in you, the more successful you’re gonna be. But the keys . . . you know, there are certain things that you look at and certain ways to do it. There’s no one way to steal a base but I look these guys as individual guys. I mean, one’s faster than the other, one’s a little quicker than the other. Knowing all of that, I work with them in different capacities. With Smith, his key is maybe to get that cross-over and react to what they see. I think what happens as young kids, they try to anticipate things when they’re out on the base paths and that’s when they get in trouble instead of reacting to what their eyes see. And I think that it’s coming along quite well with those guys and I think they’ve got a chance. I mean, they’re guys that are young that got a long way to go but the quicker they can pick it up, the quicker they advance.
BW: One more quick question. The stolen base doesn’t seem as important as they used to be when you played. Do you ever see it coming back? I guess you’d like to see it coming back because like you said, that’s a key part of the game.
TR: I think it will. I think it will because you know, for a while there, there’s been the steroid era. And during that era, the emphasis has been more about hitting the ball out of the ball park. And I think teams were starting to rely on the long ball to score runs. But I think now, pitching is starting to come more to the forefront, as you could see in the All-Star game, I think, whatever, there was only only like four or five hits the whole game, and this at an All-Star game. So obviously the pitchers are starting to be more of an importance. I think when you have good pitching, speed plays a big role in scoring runs. When you’ve got a guy who can strike everyone out, if you got a guy who can get on base, steal second, steal third, you don’t really need a hit to score a run. A fly ball, a ground ball. You score runs that way. And I think that it’s gonna come back. I think eras change. During my era and Rickey’s era, we did it all. It’s just hard to find guys who played the way we played. The closest guy that comes to us is [Mike] Trout. You know, he’s a leadoff guy but he could probably be a third or fourth place hitter because he’s that big and that strong and that fast. Last year he stole a lot of bases, I’m not sure if this year, he’s stealing as many bases as he did last year, he’s gotten off to a slower start than last year. He’s the type of guy that’s a game changer. He can beat you a lot of different ways. He can beat you on defense, he can beat you on the bases and he can beat you at the bat, so, you know, when you have guys like that, that’s special. Those are special type of players.