Let me begin this intellectual exercise by stating that Tim Raines should be elected to the Hall of Fame. Any player that Bill James rates as the 2nd best leadoff hitter of all-time should be in Cooperstown. Now let me also add that Joe Jackson and Pete Rose should be there, as well. Oh and while we are discussing great players with character flaws, let me mention that Barry Bonds should go in with 100 percent of the vote when he is eligible. Some players reach levels of greatness on the field that supercede their own personal judgement mistakes.
Of course, Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle aren't in Cooperstown and Bonds looks to be a long-shot for making it in at least during his first year. Why I mention these men with Raines is that there seemed to be more than one reason why his nickname was Rock. Here is Raines in his own words on the subject of cocaine use from an interview he did for Baseball Prospectus with David Lauria in August 2007.
DL: Early in your career there was an issue with cocaine use.
TR: Yes, and it’s not something I’m proud of, but I also don’t want people to have the wrong idea about what happened. I was never a drug addict or anything like that. Not to make excuses, but I was young and it was a part of the culture at the time--I simply made a bad decision. But I was never arrested, or caught doing anything. I voluntarily sought help, because I didn’t want it to get in the way of my career, and coming clean was part of that therapy. I took what happened as a learning experience, and going forward I think it made me a better person.
Now many would offer up in defense of Raines that unlike steroids, cocaine would not have helped him perform better. While I never consumed anywhere close to the amount that he did, I used the stuff some during college and I can tell you that I can see where it could have had a benefit. For many of the same reason players have been using amphetamines since the 60's, doing a few lines could help stimulate your body and have the added bonus of making you feel a bit more confident. Do you think these players would have risked using this illegal substance if they thought it hurt their ability on the field? Now I'm not saying it was the reason for Raines success and I'm not singling him out, as many other major leaguers were using blow than as well, (at this time, coke wasn't seen as the absolute evil it later became when crack came on the scene), but I don't see where voters can okay this transgression, but castigate Bonds.
Anticipating some of this discussion, BP's Joe Sheehan in January offered this on the subject.
Raines, of course, has a black mark on his record, that being his use of cocaine in the 1980s. I would argue vociferously, however, that the BBWAA has made it clear that it doesn't believe that to be a serious offense. My evidence? Paul Molitor, who also used coke in that period, appeared on one ballot and was swept into the Hall with 85% of the vote. If Raines' use becomes an issue in his candidacy after that experience, I would strongly suggest simply ending the process of electing players to the Hall.
It's instructive, in the current environment, to remember how big a deal it was in the mid-1980s to learn that all these baseball players were doing cocaine, and how little it mattered when one of them came up for Hall of Fame consideration.
I don't disagree with anything Sheehan offers here. My problem is with the Hall of Fame hypocrisy that is steroids versus cocaine. Sure both of them are illegal, but ask about anyone who isn't a supermodel or child actor which is the worse drug and 9 out of 10 times you would get cocaine as the answer. It is ridiculous to me that Bonds might end up going to jail over lyring about using while so many other players who used as well were never put in this courtroom situation. (This includes NFL and NBA players, as well.)
I have a mostly Libertarian-view about drugs, so my problems with players using drugs only begins to bother me when the drugs have been made illegal by the sport, itself. Since baseball didn't have a real drug policy until a couple of years ago, it is impossible to know who was on them and who wasn't.
Here would be my Hall of Fame voting rulebook.
If a player's credentials are borderline like Jose Canseco, I can see it being a determining factor in saying No to their entry.
If a player's credentials state they should be solidly in, but not much above that (see Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero) I can see delaying entry for awhile.
But if they are on the level of the career hit leader (Rose) or the greatest player of the past 40 years (Bonds), you put them in and mention their transgressions against the game in their exhibit.
I didn't write this piece to try to hurt Raines' chances at the Hall. It just seems unfair that a player like Rock, who admitted during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he would keep coke in his uniform, use it during the games, and would slide headfirst so not to break the vial, would get a pass, while modern players who used steroids are seen a pariahs. Sure, Raines' rehabilitated himself, but do we really know that cocaine didn't aid his career? His best seasons were when he was under the influence. During a period when basestealing was at its peak (1980's), who is to say that cocaine didn't have as much to do with this spike as steroids did with the increase in homeruns? Yes, I know it is a pretty explosive question, but I think it is a fair one to ask, especially considering the careers of similar type players like Lonnie Smith, Vince Coleman, and Tony Phillips, who also were cocaine users.
Put Tim Raines in the Hall of Fame. He deserves for his career resume. If you believe he should be selected as well, just keep in mind that if you are also one of the people who feel that steroids should eliminate you from Cooperstown, it is time to reexamine your reasoning. Since amphetamines came into the game of baseball, drugs have had varying degrees of influence on the abilities of many of its players. We will never know how many or what percentage were using some illegal substance, so slamming the door on future enshrinement for those who were outed is unfair. The best approach the Hall of Fame voters should take is grading everyone on the curve.
Postnote: In the comments section it is brought to my attention that Raines claimed that he only used during the 1982 season. My belief had been that he had used up until 1985, before the Pittsburgh Drug Trial happened. I regret putting out any wrong information towards Mr. Raines. The point of this piece was one where I was trying to get to the issue that steroids are not the only drug that has helped players achieve more success on the field. Considering the massive usage of cocaine during the eighties by athletes in all sports, I believe that it had its benefits on the field. Sure, over time, users have to use more to chase the same high, which becomes more dangerous and destructive to the individual. Guess what, same goes for steroids. While they achieve different things for their user, steroids, amphetamines, and cocaine all have a lot of similar affects.
Finally, the drug that has negatively impacted and often destroyed more players careers than any has been alcohol.