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Jim Murray

One Thing He Couldn't Steal: Away

May 31, 1987|Jim Murray

It was a game in which No. 30 of the Montreal Expos ran wild, stealing four bases, scoring three runs and generally demoralizing the field of play and the losing manager, Whitey Herzog. "Look at it this way," he suggested. "We just got Rainesed out."

The rain in Spain may stay mainly on the plain, but the Raines in Montreal takes second. And third. The weather report for visiting teams is always the same "Raines, heavy at times. Flood watches in effect."

They may have put a roof on Olympic Stadium, but it doesn't stop the Raines. There used to be a song that went, "Into each life some rain must fall but too much has fallen in mine." Put an " s " on rain and that could be the theme of half a dozen National League managers.

Which is why observers of the game of baseball were flabbergasted last year when Montreal's Raines got thrown out stealing.

Of course, it wasn't the usual 90 feet. More like 3,000 miles.

For once, Tim Raines didn't get a good jump. He was trying to go from Montreal to Los Angeles on the pitch. For once, the throw beat him there.

Of course, it may have been a pitchout. Some lawyers around the league suspect so. The arms that threw out Tim Raines belonged to the owners and general managers of the game, none of whom would say that their teams could use a man who won the league batting title, stole 70 or more bases for the sixth consecutive year (a major league record), scored 91 runs, had 194 hits and was third in the league in triples, seventh in doubles, and led the league in getting on base--4 out of every 10 times. Those are good figures for two guys.

You would have thought they would send a car for him. A jet. But the owners put up an umbrella when the Raines came. They pretended he was Claude--the invisible man.

A lot of catchers around the game would like to know the owners' secret. Making Tim Raines disappear is quite a trick. He has one of the best steals-vs.-caught stealing percentages in baseball history. He has 461 thefts, and of his first 60 caught-stealings, only 29 were by catchers' throws. Most were pick-offs. Once Raines starts running, the ball is overmatched.

Montreal is one of the great cities of the world. Two cultures thrive there.

There is an old city, rich in the treasures of the past. It is a river city built on an extinct volcano, and a trip there is like a visit to a magnificent French city.

Then, there is the new Montreal, as vibrant and self-charged, as modern as any U.S. or world center of commerce anywhere.

It is a great place to visit. But ballplayers do not want to live there.

It is not entirely the weather--although one weatherman some years ago jocularly promised his listeners fair summer weather with "intermittent daylight."

It is partly economic. Income tax is 60%, as compared to 38% federal tax in the United States. Some players with dual residence pay dual taxes.

There can also be a language barrier, since the city is 70% French-speaking. Sometimes, Latin ballplayers, already struggling with English, find themselves totally incommunicado in a no-man's land among three different tongues.

There is the matter of endorsements. When Gary Carter got to New York, his face became the most recognizable in the city because of his posters plugging a variety of products and services from subway cards to billboards. Coming from Montreal, it was a new experience for him.

Whatever the reason, Montreal lost Carter, the all-world catcher, to the Mets and Andre Dawson, who took 205 lifetime home runs and 760 runs batted in with him, to the Cubs.

Tim Raines, a career .300 hitter, batting champion and premium base-stealer, took off running after last season. Montreal was so sure he wasn't coming back, it expunged all mention of him from the team media guide this season.

Raines did not want to swap the chilblains of Quebec for those of Chicago or Toronto. Tim wanted to slide into the sun belt. Atlanta or Los Angeles or San Diego would be nice, he advised those interested.

When free agents came into view not too many years ago with mediocre to poor lifetime statistics, sore-armed pitchers, .220 hitters, and slow, halt infielders, major league ownership fell all over itself trying to contract them.

But, when Tim Raines, a man whose figures put him in the top 5 or 10% of anyone who ever played the game, became available, their lines were busy. It was a case of Raines, Raines, go away. Tim Raines got picked off. He had, in effect, to go back to first. To Montreal.

"Was I surprised?" he says. "Well, yes, I would have thought some clubs could use my help."

But Raines doesn't storm.

"I didn't leave Montreal because of the weather or money reasons," he says. "I was disappointed at the way they treated me. After six years, I felt I gave them my best baseball, very productive years and then they throw the offer on the table and say, 'Take it or leave it--or go to free agency.'

"I went to free agency. I thought about taking less money (as Dawson had in Chicago), but I didn't have any negative feelings about playing in Montreal. I was born and raised in Florida, so I was used to a different climate, and I was aware of the money Carter makes on the side in New York, but, basically, I didn't feel I was treated right. That was my bottom line."

So, Tim adds a rare "caught stealing" to his record, but not on the field. There he's proving as elusive and destructive as ever. Only back since May 1, he has already stolen 10 bases. He has 37 hits, is batting .363, has driven in 18 runs and scored 27. Wherever he goes, he, so to speak, puts a damper on the other team. For the National League, as usual, it never Raines but it pours.

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