Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tim Raines: 5 Autographed Cards

I usually post personal stuff on my birthday, and this year I'd planned on doing the same as last year: feature Tim Wallach, who shares a birthday with me. Unfortunately, I haven't unpacked those cards yet, but I did find a dozen or so of Tim Raines, my favourite baseball player of all time. I chose to feature the following five cards first because, judging by the pen and signature, they may have been from the same period; I never get more than two signed at a time in person unless I know the person, or know it's totally cool - particularly if I plan on going for, say, three straight days, which may have been the case here in 2001. So here they are:
The Rock may very well have been the second-best lead-off hitter of all time; unfortunately for him, he was a contemporary of Rickey Henderson's, undoubtedly the best of all time, and the only player in Raines' career who could even come close to him in the stolen bases department.

Which hinders him when it comes to Hall Of Fame voters, obviously. There are, however, sites using advanced metrics to make a strong case for him. I'll tell you, 808 stolen bases, and a stealing percentage of 84.5% - second-best of all-time for players with at least 500 attempts - bests even Henderson. 2605 hits, 430 doubles, 170 home runs, 980 RBIs, 1330 walks for 966 strikeouts...

From the very beginning, in the strike-reduced 1981 season, Raines proved he was for real: sure, he was second for the Rookie Of The Year award, but he also garnered some MVP votes on the strength of 71 steals in just 88 games - the National League record was 75, by Benny Kauff, in a full season. His 27 steals in his first 27 attempts remains a record, though. In the American League, he set a record with 37 straight stolen bases in 1995.

The seven-time All-Star Game participant will be remembered for one of them in particular - in 1987 in Oakland - as he went 3-for-3, and produced both of his team's runs in a 2-0 victory with a two-out, 13th-inning triple against Jay Howell.

My own defining Raines moment came in the 1990s, when he must have been nine feet away from first base, in a stealing attempt, and the pitcher pretended four or five times to throw to the first baseman to get him out; not only wouldn't Raines budge, but he stared straight into the pitcher's eyes, not just daring him to, but pretty much defying him to throw the ball, and there probably was a beating going his way of he did. The pitcher eventually threw to home plate, and Raines stole second.

Raines got used to sliding into second head-first from the beginning, because he was a pretty big cocaine addict in 1982 (his stats did slip noticeably that year) and kept his vial in his back pocket, because had he kept in in his locker, he could have gotten caught; sliding feet first gives the runner the advantage of leading with his shoe, which strikes the fear of some pain in the second basement - but Raines had his drugs to protect, and was quick enough that he didn't need the extra intimidation that sliding cleats would have provided.

He also voluntarily checked himself into rehab following the season - after spending upwards of $40,000 on cocaine that summer (those are 1982 numbers, by the way).

Gary Carter was a legend, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero were the purest raw talents, but Tim Raines, to me, defined the Montréal Expos. And, like Carter, he eventually came back in his twilight years. The Expos did him a favour by trading him to the Baltimore Orioles at the tail end of 2001 so he could play with his son, Tim Jr.

He won two World Series with the New York Yankees (1996 and 1998), and batted for .299 with them in three seasons of part-time work (a high of .321 in 1997, a high of 109 games in 1998).

He also played with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and 98 meaningless games with the Florida Marlins.

There are many ways I could get into the specifics of the cards - all of them signed in blue sharpie - but I decided to go my usual route and separate them by uniform, starting with the Expos' classic powdered-blue (away) uniform:
The card on the left is from Fleer's 1988 Fleer set (card #193), probably showing him during pre-game warm-ups or between innings; in the middle is card #40 from Score's 1989 Score, showing the ambidextrous hitter in his most common plate position, hitting lefty; on the right is a card from Leaf's 1990 Donruss set (card #BC-7 of the MVP insert sub-set).

Card companies rarely sent photographers to Montréal, probably because they were afraid of summer snow, igloos, and us not having electricity (or Doritos) and only speaking French; that's why when the powdered-blue uniform wasn't chosen on cards, it'd usually be the red t-shirt from Spring Training, which took place in Florida:
The card on the left is from Fleer's 1987 Fleer set (card #328) in an obvious ''pose for the camera, Tim'' shot, while the one on the right is from Leaf's 1988 Donruss (card #345) in another ''official team photo'' type of pose.

By the way, check out the consistency/lack of originality of the Donruss backs, two years apart:
If it wasn't that he gained 15 pounds and had two more career highlights to speak of, it'd be the exact same back; same design, same ''last five seasons'' statistics, same font...

I have never visited the (Baseball) Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown. And I don't plan to, any day soon. That might change if they come to their senses and induct Tim Raines.

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