Rock Solid

by
Samori Benjamin

7-time All-Star Tim "Rock" Raines (2nd from right) says when he was playing with the Expos in the early 80's the only non-black position player in the starting lineup was catcher Gary Carter (#8).

Four of the five men who rank in the top five of major league baseball’s career stolen base list are African-American.  A reminding statistic in an era of a declining number of black Americans in the sport.  23 year major league veteran Tim Raines is one of the greats who grace that top five career stolen base list.  His career took off with the Montreal Expos, where he played from 1979-1990.  The man nicknamed "Rock" was a player who could change the complexion of a game whenever he got on base with his blinding speed which helped him become easily one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the history of the game.  He has the highest stolen base percentage in major league baseball history with players who have at least 300 attempts.  From 1981-1984 Raines led the National League in Stolen Bases and had a career high 90 in 1983, a remarkable number when you consider that  that mark has not come close to being reached in years.

The 78 stolen bases by New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes in 2007 was the most stolen bases by a major leaguer since 1992 when Marquis Grissom stole 78 for the Montreal Expos.  Raines believes the reason we don’t see the prolific stolen base numbers anymore is due to a philosophy change by major league teams which started during the steroid/homerun era of the mid 90’s to early 2000’s  “ I just think the game has changed to the point where you just don’t see a lot of guys stealing a lot of bases, when I think of guys who steal bases now I think of Juan Pierre, Jose Reyes, or Carl Crawford, you can name on one hand  the guys who might steal 50 or 60 bases so the game has changed.”  Having led the National League in Runs scored in 1983 and 1987 Raines made it a priority to make things happen once he got on the bath paths “If I got on base I wanted to get in scoring position as soon as possible so I could give the guys behind me an opportunity to drive me in,”  Says Raines “The name of the game is scoring runs so it was easier for us to score because I could get on base with a walk, I could steal second, maybe steal third, and a guy hits a groundball to the shortstop or second baseman and we would score a run, so that’s the type of baseball I loved to play and that’s the way I played the game and it helped our team as well.”

The seven time all-star, Raines, made all seven of his all-star appearances while with Montreal in the 1980’s.  He says seeing the decline of African-American ball players in major league baseball makes him feel sad, and that it was a lot of fun playing at a time in the 80’s when African-Americans were represented by larger numbers on the diamond.  “It just felt right at the time, I remember playing on the Expos team, I forget what year it was, it must have been 80’ or 81’, we had 8 black players starting on the field and we only had one non black player in the starting lineup and that was our catcher Gary Carter.  I remember the days, we had more black guys on the bench, there were not many black pitchers or catchers but we played all the other positions.” He said “I think we are losing black American players to other sports, with basketball you get drafted out of high school or college and you go straight to the league, football you get drafted out of college you go straight to the league, In baseball you normally go through a minor league system and you have to work your way up through the big leagues,” “We have a lot of black athletes now that feel like they want that money right away and the sports to do it in is football and basketball.  Nowadays in high school coaches are telling players you have to only play baseball to be on the baseball team and I think that’s unfair and it wasn’t like that back in the day.   And I just think maybe major league baseball is not doing enough to kind of bring baseball back to the African-American heritage.  The Rock also believes that the spawning of the international player has added to the drop of the African-American ball player “Earlier in my career there were more African-American players than Latinos or any of the other non-American players, now you see more Latinos, you’re starting to see some Japanese players,  and players are just coming from everywhere now so I think that makes it a little more difficult for some black players, but I think that maybe we’re not doing enough as black athletes to tell our younger black athletes that baseball is a good game to be in, it’s a good game to play and you can play a lot longer in baseball than any other sport.  But also, baseball is getting pretty expensive to play and I think in a lot of inner cities there is just not the money to be able to play baseball so I just think we as ex players and current players need to do something that we can give back and hopefully we can start to bring some of those black players back.”

In his high school days Raines played football and even says initially he liked it more than baseball  “As I got older I realized baseball could prolong your career, and in football I was a running back, so in the NFL my career would have probably lasted 6 or 7 years and In baseball I ended up playing 23 years.  In baseball you can play a long time so I think it’s better when you think of it in that way.”

These days at age 48, Raines is looking to continue his career in baseball as a coach.  Two seasons ago he was on Ozzie Guillen’s coaching staff with the Chicago White Sox.  But Raines said he and Guillen were not able to get along so at the end of the 2006 season Raines was replaced on the coaching staff.  During the recent all-star festivities at Yankee Stadium Raines participated in the celebrity-Legends softball game and hit a grand slam in the stadium he called home from 1996-98.  He says it was a great experience for him playing in New York, making it to the World Series in 96’ for the first time in what had been 17 major league seasons up to that point, and he said the fans were “phenomenal”.  He admits that when he first joined the team in 96’ he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to play in New York because of all the talk we hear about New York being such a tough town to play in, but that it turned out to be the total opposite.  He wants to get back into coaching on the major league level and would even like to coach in the Bronx “I would love to get a job with the Yankees and maybe coach in the new stadium.” Says Raines.  Whether he does or not he will always be a part of the fabric of great memories at Yankee Stadium.

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