There was rejoicing in the National League last Saturday. Baseball's Raines of Terror had ended. After stealing 27 consecutive bases over three seasons, just 11 short of the major league record, Montreal's Tim Raines was thrown out by Los Angeles Catcher Mike Scioscia trying to steal third at Olympic Stadium. From New York to San Diego pitchers and catchers embraced, second basemen and shortstops cried for joy and managers began to breathe again, albeit nervously. Raines, a 21-year-old rookie leftfielder, could begin another reign al any moment. For the time being, he leads both leagues with 20 steals in 19 games. When the Cardinals' Lou Brock set the alltime record of 118 steals in 1974, he didn't get his 20th until his 27th game.
That Raines is leading all base stealers is a feat in itself, because there are more good ones now than ever before. More impressive still, he has been one of the pivotal figures in the National League East. Inspired by his base running, the Expos have beaten the Phillies in four of six games and are just one game off the division lead. But the team that deprived the Expos of a title last season was the Dodgers, who beat them 11 of 12 games. When Montreal and L.A. met last Friday night, for the first time this year Raines singled once, walked twice, scored two runs, stole three bases, filled in for 5‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings as an emergency second baseman and won the game 9-8 with his first major league homer, in the 13th inning. Such an all-round performance was more or less routine for Raines, who is among the league leaders in average (.373), hits (28), runs (14), walks (13) and on-base percentage (.478) as well as steals.
After losing divisional titles on the final weekends of the 1979 and 1980 seasons, the Expos suffered another apparent setback last winter when their talented but troublesome leftfielder, leadoff hitter and base stealer supreme (97), Ron LeFlore, became a free agent and signed with the White Sox. Fortunately, Raines was waiting in the wings. The 1980 Minor League Player of the Year as a second baseman at Denver, he led the American Association with a .354 average and 77 steals and scored 105 runs. The Expos thought so much of him that in spring training they installed him in leftfield and made him the lead-off hitter. They did it even though he hadn't played outfield regularly since his junior year in high school and had gone 1 for 20 at the plate in two brief stints with Montreal last summer. He also appeared in six games late in the 1979 season.
At the winter meetings some 18 clubs had asked Expo President John McHale if Raines were available; the Cubs even offered as trade bait their fine reliever, Bruce Sutter. "If we had yielded to the temptation," says McHale, "we would have run the risk of repeating the same error the Cubs made 17 years ago, when they traded a certain Lou Brock."
May 10, 1981
Raines is one of six Expos who are allowed to run on their own. "When he's at bat he makes the infielders play shallower," says First Base Coach Steve Boros. "On base he distracts the pitcher. And he's as much of a threat to steal third as second. When he doesn't get on base there's a definite lull in our attack."
Boros deserves some of the credit for Raines' base-running success. Positioning himself a few yards up the first base line from the bag, Boros surveys the mound from the same angle as Raines, notes whether the pitcher signals his move home with his front leg, front shoulder or head, and records his findings in a notebook. Boros also carries a stopwatch to time pitchers' deliveries home and catchers' throws to second. "I don't time lefthanders because you can't tell exactly when they go home," says Boros. "The fastest righthander I've timed is Rick Reuschel of the Cubs, who takes 1.25 seconds from the time he comes out of the set position. The fastest catcher is our own Gary Carter, who throws to second in 1.88. When Tim times everything right, leans toward second just before the pitch and gets a good jump, he reaches second in 3.2 to 3.3 seconds. So only a combination of the best pitcher and catcher can hope to get him."
Raines has stolen second base 17 times and third three times. "To steal third you have to be moving before the pitch because the catcher has a shorter throw," Raines says, "but you can take a bigger lead off second than first because the second baseman and shortstop don't guard the bag."
Raines has good natural speed—9.7 in the 100—but the key to base stealing isn't so much sprinter's speed as quickness over short distances. "A cheetah is fast," says Expo Pitcher Bill Lee. "Raines is quick." So quick that he can take the standard 15-foot lead—right foot on the artificial turf, left on the dirt at many National League parks—and beat a pickoff back to first without sliding. A stocky 5'8", 172 pounds, he reaches full speed in a couple of short steps, stays low to the ground while running and hits second with a controlled pop-up slide. Though rightfooted, Raines slides off his left foot and hits the bag with his right. "I took off leftfooted as a high school long jumper," he says. "For some reason my left foot's stronger than my right." On the rare occasions he has a bad jump, Raines goes to a quicker but more dangerous headfirst slide.
Raines is equally versatile at the plate. A natural righthanded batter, he's learned to switch-hit so well that he's more comfortable batting lefthanded. Says Phillie Catcher Bob Boone, "We've tried a lot of things with him and he's handled them all well." Unusually patient for a rookie, Raines has walked 13 times and struck out seven. At Denver he taped a picture of George Brett to his locker, and their lefthanded stances are very similar—feet deep in the batter's box, weight back, bat tucked behind the shoulder and at a 45-degree angle to the ground. The results are also similar, namely, line drives to all fields. If Raines' ropes don't usually clear fences, Expo Manager Dick Williams doesn't mind. "Line drives, Tim," he said during batting practice last week. "Balls hit in the air aren't worth bleep."
In the field Raines occasionally misjudges fly balls, but he has made some long running catches and committed only one error. "This kid can do more than LeFlore," says Williams. "He fields better, throws better, hits better, runs intelligently instead of just stealing, has good instincts and gets to the park on time."
If Raines has any complaints, it's that he wants to be known for what he does, not for how he compares with others. It's a legitimate beef. Even while he was starring in four sports at Seminole High School in Sanford, Fla., a town of 23,000 20 miles northeast of Orlando, his father, Ned Raines Jr., bet a coach that Tim's older brother. Ned III, had a better shot at the majors than he did. Ned lasted two years in the Giant and Oriole farm systems. After signing with the Expos in 1977, Tim drew a second comparison, this one with his idol, Joe Morgan.
Now here's a third comparison: Like another noted speedster, the Royals' Willie Wilson, Raines was a prep football star who decided not to play the sport in college, married his high school sweetheart, learned to switch-hit in the minors, began his first full major league season in left and got good advice from people trained by the Royals. Whenever Raines is in a slump, he rereads The Art of Hitting .300, a book written by Charley Lau, the current Yankee and former Royal batting coach. Boros also came out of the K.C. organization. Like Wilson. Raines is shy and likable, but confident and candid enough to discuss his skills without sounding unduly modest. Unlike Wilson, whose performance often varies with his moods, Raines is an easygoing, generally consistent performer. It's hard to rattle him. He has stolen three times on pitchouts. Early last week, when Phillie First Baseman Pete Rose played behind him and sneaked to the bag for pickoff attempts, Raines kept his eyes on the pitcher, got back easily and twice stole second. Drilled in the ribs by one errant pickoff throw, he stole on the next pitch.
The Expos call him Rock, and he calls his 18-month-old son. Tim Jr., Little Rock. Raines deserves the title because his weight is only 7.8% body fat, the lowest on the team. At the same time, he's so loose he can do splits like a dancer. Every bit as relaxed mentally, he prepares for games by listening to soft music or taped speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. "They get me away from baseball, back to reality," he says. "Then when I come out, I'm ready to play." Ready, according to his agent. Tom Selakovich, for anything: "He's preparing for his financial future as carefully as he prepares for ballgames."
Though leftfield is baseball's easiest position, switching there from second requires considerable adaptability. Raines had to stretch out the muscles in his right arm, start throwing overhand instead of three-quarters or sidearm, and learn an unfamiliar territory. Raines is picking up the position as readily as he learned to switch-hit, and he already has an above-average arm.
"Tim is so fast he'll outrun his mistakes," says Gary Matthews, the Phillies' leftfielder. "He's got so much God-given ability that learning left shouldn't be much of a problem. You know, there's so much quickness coming into the game. Dave Collins of Cincinnati is one. Ed Miller of Atlanta is another and Graines [sic] is another, too."
Here we go again. Tim Raines has got himself a reputation, but he's still working on getting a name—his own.