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Tim Raines takes road less traveled to Baseball Hall of Fame

Tim Raines was one of the fastest baserunners ever, but he didn't mind taking the slow lane to Cooperstown.

The longtime Expos' star, who played five years with the White Sox, finally was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday in his 10th and final year of eligibility, joining Astros' slugger Jeff Bagwell and catcher Ivan Rodriguez in the Class of 2017.

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After languishing on the ballot for years with little momentum in his first several attempts, Raines cruised in his last chance with a whopping 86 percent of the votes, second to Bagwell's 86.2 percent.

Getting in the door in his last chance was sweet for Raines, known simply as "Rock" to his friends. Lacking exposure because of playing his prime years in Montreal may have hurt Raines' candidacy early on, as he earned only 24.6 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 2008 and was still at 46.1 percent only three years ago, far short of the 75 percent needed.

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Raines' career numbers, of course, didn't change, but a closer look at them changed perceptions of his overall value.

Still, it wasn't until prominent baseball writer Jonah Keri, a Montreal native, began advocating Raines' candidacy that his chances for election became realistic.

"Social media played a big role, and the new way people look at baseball," Raines said, crediting Keri's articles and the growing reliance on sabermetrics when evaluating players' careers. "It made (voters) look at me a lot closer, and a lot deeper. And the more they looked, the better it turned out for me."

For entrance to the Hall, candidates must be listed on 75 percent of the ballots of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, an organization that has grappled over the performance enhancing drugs issue for years and continues to leave out prominent suspects, including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

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Former Texas Rangers catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez speaks during his induction into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame on July 20, 2013.
Former Texas Rangers catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez speaks during his induction into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame on July 20, 2013. (John Rhodes / McClatchy-Tribune)

While Rodriguez, nicknamed "Pudge," was rumored as a PED user after Jose Canseco claimed in a book he had injected the catcher with steroids when they were teammates on the Rangers, most voters ignored the allegation. They instead looked at Rodriguez's 13 Gold Gloves and stellar career, and the lack of any solid evidence suggesting he had cheated.

Rodriguez (76 percent) joined Johnny Bench as the only catchers selected in their first year of eligibility.

"It means a lot," Rodriguez said. "Johnny Bench was my favorite player growing up. I can't wait until July to see him on the same stage with me."

Bagwell, a four-time All-Star with the Astros, made it in his seventh year of eligibility. He finished 33rd in career slugging percentage (.540) and 38th in home runs (449), and won an MVP award with the Astros in 1994.

The three players will be inducted into the Hall on July 31 in Cooperstown, along with former general manager John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and former Commissioner Bud Selig, who a veterans' committee previously had selected.

Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell speaks to reporters on Jan. 18, 2017, in Houston, after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Former Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell speaks to reporters on Jan. 18, 2017, in Houston, after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Karen Warren / AP)

There were a couple of close calls this year, including closer Trevor Hoffman (74 percent), who fell only five votes short in his second year, and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who garnered 71.7 percent in his first year. Both should breeze in next year, though several quality candidates will be eligible for the first time, including Chipper Jones, Jamie Moyer, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.

Meanwhile, the two most notorious candidates from the Steroids Era, Bonds and Clemens, both pulled a little closer in their fifth year on the ballot. Bonds increased his total from 44.3 percent to 53.8, while Clemens rose from 45.2 to 54.1. That suggests they will get in at some point in their remaining five years of eligibility, as the changing BBWAA electorate grows more comfortable casting votes for alleged PED users from an era in which cheating was prevalent.

The election of Selig, who presided during much of the Steroids Era, was mentioned by some voters as grounds for voting in players suspected of cheating.

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Two other PED-tainted candidates, Cubs' star Sammy Sosa and recent Cubs hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, didn't fare nearly as well. Sosa earned only 8.6 percent, a slight rise from 7 percent in 2016, while Ramirez, who twice had PED-related suspensions, pulled in 24 percent in his first year.

Outspoken pitcher Curt Schilling, who was at 52.3 percent last year, fell to 45 percent after sharing on Twitter a photo that suggested journalists should be lynched. Former Cubs closer Lee Smith was denied in his last year on the ballot, winding up with 34.2 percent.

The White Sox were ecstatic for Raines, a personable player who never seemed to be in a bad mood. He will join former Sox teammate Frank Thomas, who was inducted into the Hall two years ago. Thomas, in a statement, called Raines "a great leader" whose "humor and hustle always brought the team closer."

Raines ranked first in all-time steals percentage (84.7 percent) among players with 300 or more attempts, fifth in career steals (808) and 54th in runs scored (1,571). He scored 90 or more runs in eight seasons, leading the league twice, and stole 49 or more bases nine times, including six straight years of 70 or more steals from 1981 through '86.

He spent five of his 23 seasons on the South Side (1991-'95) and posted a .401 OBP and .880 OPS for the division championship team in 1993.

Though Raines was popular with Sox fans and teammates, he left the organization on a sour note after '95, when general manager Ron Schueler attacked his skills and character.

After Raines signed with the Yankees, Schueler ranted: "I wanted someone that can catch it in the outfield. No runners ever stopped on him. He never threw out a runner. Some days he didn't show up in the outfield. There's a lot more. You expect someone to provide leadership. It wasn't done."

Raines ignored Schueler's attack and wound up winning two World Series rings with the Yankees in 1996 and '98. After replacing Schueler as Sox GM, Ken Williams eventually brought Raines back as a coach on Ozzie Guillen's staff, and he spent four more years on the South Side, earning another ring with the 2005 Series champs.

The 2017 election saw the BBWAA placed under a microscope again for the voting process and ongoing debate over whether PED suspects deserve entrance. A few voters, including former New York Times writer Murray Chass, sent in blank ballots instead of simply refusing to vote, calling attention to themselves.

Former reliever Brad Lidge sent a few tweets criticizing voters, and Chass in particular, for "blank HOF ballots" tweeting: "Seriously? These are the best voters for the HOF?!" Lidge later tweeted: "It is sad to know what we now know about who votes for the HOF. Murray Chass has put himself out. It is essential to get this thing fixed."

Former player Mike Cameron, who received no votes, chimed on Lidge's Twitter timeline, criticizing BBWAA voters he felt were out of touch.

"Half of 'em egotistical the other half don't watch," Cameron tweeted.

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Other writers declined to reveal their ballots, avoiding accountability for their choices while also avoiding Internet outrage from fans who don't agree with their selections.

The BBWAA passed a resolution in 2016 requiring all subsequent ballots to be published, meaning no elector can hide choices in 2017.

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