Hopeful Tim Raines awaits Hall of Fame vote

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Tim Raines wasted no time laying groundwork for a spectacular career. As a rookie with the Montreal Expos in 1981, Raines stole a major-league record 27 consecutive bases before getting thrown out. If not for the sensational Fernando Valenzuela, Raines would have been the rookie of the year.

Thirty-six years later, Raines appears to be hours away from getting elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Why it would take this long is a head-scratcher for many — the fleet and powerfully built switch-hitting left fielder is generally regarded as the second-best leadoff man of his era behind first-ballot choice Rickey Henderson — but why quibble now about timing when a seemingly sure thing is about to unfold? A recent poll of nearly half the voters had Raines on 91 percent of ballots, compared to 69.8 percent last year and 55 percent in 2015. He needs 75 percent to get elected in this, his 10th and final year.

“I was happy that I had gained a lot more votes,’’ Raines told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “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.’’

The results will be announced at 5 p.m. Wednesday on MLB Network.

“He could hit and he could steal bases,’’ said Robin Ventura, who played during each of Raines’ five seasons with the White Sox from 1991-95. “If you talk Rickey Henderson, you talk Tim Raines. He was an impact player. His presence in the game of baseball was impressive.’’

His career spanned 22 seasons, including his first 13 years with the Expos before being traded to the Sox along with Jeff Carter for Ivan Calderon and Barry Jones.

Raines, 57, seems to have built more than a legit case. Former Sox teammate and first-ballot Hall of Famer Frank Thomas (who declined to talk about Raines because he didn’t want to jinx his chances), has called him the “greatest leadoff hitter of all time” because of career numbers like these: a .294 batting average, .384 on-base percentage, .425 slugging percentage, 2,605 hits (713 extra-base hits) and 1,330 walks. His 808 stolen bases ranks fifth all-time. His 84.7 stolen-base percentage is higher than anyone in the Hall.

Voters also are taking notice of Raines’ four seasons with 50-plus extra-base hits and 70-plus stolen bases. Henderson and Ty Cobb combined to do that only four times. Voters also know that of the first 18 players with at least 2,600 hits and 1,300 walks, 16 are in the Hall and two are not — Raines and Pete Rose.

In 1983, Raines became the first player with at least 50 extra-base hits and 90 stolen bases in one season since Tim Brown in 1891. It hasn’t been done since.

Nicknamed ‘‘Rock,’’ Raines batted .334 in 1986 to win the National League batting title, was a seven-time All-Star and a four-time stolen base champion.

“He hit for average but he wreaked havoc once he got on base,’’ said Ventura, who watched Raines bat .444 in the 1993 ALCS between the Sox and Blue Jays. “He’d get on, steal a base and next thing you knew, we had a quick run.’’

Jeff Bagwell, also on 90 percent of revealed ballots, also seems certain to get in alongside Raines. Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Ivan Rodriguez also have reason to be hopeful.

“This will be the first year that I feel I have a legitimate shot,’’ Raines said.

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Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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