Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cocaine, Collusion and Canada: The Shocking Story of Tim Raines

Thank you, Jenni, for letting me contribute to this Blog. I'll try to be a team player as baseball blogging is not my area my expertise (basketball blogging is my area of expertise). But I'd like to focus as much as possible on baseball players in their physical prime between 1985 and 1993. These were the glory years of baseball before the strike, steroids and loss of the Montreal Expos.

Few of these players captured the imagination quite like Montreal Expo, Chicago White Sox (and briefly New York Yankee) left fielder, switchitter and "speed demon" Tim "Rock" Raines. Raines had a long career, stole a historic number of bases and hit a remarkable number of triples-- the single most exciting play in baseball (the balk is also exciting).

To summarize Raines career and the impact he's had is folly, so let me point out three shocking episodes where this RainesMan was academy award deserving:

1. cocaine. A lot of Major League Baseball players did cocaine in the 80's but only one was called "rock." Raines checked in to rehab in 1982 admitting that he had spent $40,000 in the last nine months on the same drug that would fell Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Steve "even a cat has only nine lives" Howe. During grand jury probes 100x more interesting than the steroid probes of the past three years, Raines described keeping a gram in his uniform's back pocket to snort between half-innings. Always carrying cocaine on him created a problem: the great base-runner admitted that's why he started diving head first to steal a base.

2. collusion. In 1986, in the last year of his contract, a new lean, mean and clean Tim Raines won the batting title. On becoming a free agent you would think that the cash would raines in. But Raines was one of the "untouchable eight" a collection of eight top-rate players including "The Hawk" Andre Dawson that were not offered free-agent contracts. It was clear the owners colluded with each others. The NYT filed this punful report from 87:

Mariners' manager, Dick Williams, best summed up that situation. ''It'll snow,'' Williams said, ''before it Raines.'' ...It might now might be said that when it Raines, it pours gasoline on the bonfire of ''collusion'' among major-league club owners not to sign a free agent still wanted by his previous team, as charged by the Major League Baseball Players Association. ''The spectacular way Tim Raines returned,'' said Don Fehr, the Players Association's executive director, ''certainly highlights the absurdity of basically no team wanting him.
An arbitrator eventually ruled Fehr, and Raines, were right. The whole incident contributed to bad blood between labor and management, the '94 strike, the downfall of Major League Baseball, and the current crisis of western economic and cultural life.

3. Canada. Raines spent the first 12 years of his probably-not-going-to-make-the-Hall-of-Fame -but-he-could career in Canada, French Canada, at that. He was right in the middle of the Quebec freedom movement until signing as a free agent in the White Sox in 1991, the same year the White Sox unveiled their black baseball caps.

So desperate were the Expos to make money that in 1984 they sold Tim Raines novelty items we would laugh at today.

Montreal would eventually become the Washington Nationals leading to a parliamentary crisis in Canada.

Cocaine, collusion, and Canada. When you think of the most interesting moments in professional baseball over the last 30 years, you should think of Tim Raines.

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