Earlier this January, Montreal Expos fans past and present breathed a collective sigh of relief – and uttered a collective “It’s about time” – when it was announced that All-Star stolen base king Tim “Rock” Raines finally garnered enough votes that earned him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And it all came about after his 10th and final time during the eligibility period for potential inductees.
“Entry into the Hall of Fame is the culmination of a life’s work. My journey to Cooperstown started when I picked up a bat and glove for the first time when I was five years old and continued in ways I never dreamed of,” writes Raines in his recently published memoir Rock Solid.
If you were an Expos fan throughout the 1980s, you couldn’t help but notice Raines’ presence on the diamond, especially after a base hit, when he was leading off the bag and ready to pounce, so that he can steal second with lightning speed (which he succeeded most of the time). The excitement that “Rock” brought to the Expos with his base stealing prowess throughout that decade – coupled with the talents of teammates Andre Dawson and the late Gary Carter – helped the Expos to a number of winning seasons (and a National League East title in 1981), and earned it the moniker “Team of the 80s”.
In his book, Raines recounts the good times – and the frustrations – he experienced as a member of the Expos on and off the field, which will certainly bring back a great deal of fond memories for those fans who caught their share of Expos games at the Olympic Stadium.
As well, Raines recounts with a great deal of candor about his cocaine habit that nearly derailed his career in 1982. He admits that being a rookie player in the majors, and barely in his 20s and starting to earn a major league salary, made him an easy victim to fall into the trap of fast living and constant partying, not to mention indulging in the drug of choice of major league players before steroids emerged (he even revealed that he carried packets of cocaine in the back pocket of his uniform, and ended up sliding headfirst when he stole bases). And he credits the help and support of his Expos teammates and front office staff to help him on the road towards kicking the habit before it destroyed his abilities and his life.
“Drugs don’t free you. They greatly limit you,” he writes. “After I kicked the habit, I vowed to play every game in the most uninhibited manner possible. The only white lines I wanted to see were those on a baseball field.”
And Raines certainly played baseball in that promised uninhibited manner through his more than 20 years as a major leaguer. Not only did he rack up those stolen bases (which ranked him as one of the top base stealers in the game, along with Ricky Henderson and Vince Coleman), but he also proved himself to be quite capable as a hitter and outfielder when his base stealing abilities slowed down later in his career. He also chronicles his post-Expos years as a member of the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees during the 90s with plenty of candid details, especially when he played alongside future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and Hall of Famer-to-be Derek Jeter (not to mention earning him three World Series with the Yankees: two as a player in 1996 and 1998, and one as a coach in 2009).
Another thing that you learn about Raines is his strong sense of family, both on and off the field. This is well exemplified as he recounts his efforts during the latter part of his career to play a ball game on the same field as his son Tim, Jr. (who was carving out an impressive baseball career for himself in the minor leagues). This was accomplished in 2001, during a spring training game when Raines returned to the Expos for the final time and his son was playing for the Baltimore Orioles.
Rock Solid is indeed a rock solid baseball memoir of one of the most honest, entertaining players the Expos have ever had on their roster. His vast love of the game, the people whom he played alongside with, and his family is quite genuine and is exhibited quite vividly throughout the pages of his book. Tim Raines has given Expos fans a lot to cheer about when he graced the field throughout the 1980s, and I am sure many of those fans will be cheering loudly for him this July, when accepts his induction plaque in Cooperstown.