MONTREAL â€” When Tim (Rock) Raines opted to do an “as told to” autobiography, he led off with perhaps the darkest period of his stellar baseball career â€” his cocaine use during the 1982 season.
“I figured I’d get all the tough stuff out of the way early and then people can read about my career,” Raines said Monday about his newly released book “Rock Solid: My Life In Baseball’s Fast Lane,” (Harper Collins) co-written with journalist Alan Maimon. “It started early in my career, when I was just a kid, easily influenced.
“It goes to show that you can get into trouble early but you can right the ship. That’s the way it happened. It kind of matured me sooner rather than later. I was 21 years old with no direction other than baseball in a city that is known for partying. I just kind of got caught up in it.”
With the help of Expos general manager John McHale and teammate Andre Dawson, Raines describes how he was able to put drug use behind him and go on to a Hall of Fame career as one of the best hitters and baserunners in the sport.
The book was released only weeks after the Sanford, Fla., native was voted into the Hall in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
He is to go in as an Expo, even though his two World Series titles were with the New York Yankees in the 1990s. He spent his first 12 seasons with the Expos, and returned to Montreal near the end of his 23-year career in 2001.
“This is where it all started for me,” said Raines. “It’s where I made my name.
“I had my best years in Montreal. Plus, Dawson and (Gary) Carter went in as Expos. It’s only fitting that I go in as an Expo as well.”
The Expos of the early 1980s were considered by many the most talented team in baseball, although they never won a World Series. They were the only Expos team ever to reach to playoffs in 1981, but the dream died on Blue Monday, when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers pounded a Steve Rogers pitch over the wall in the decisive game of the best-of-five National League playoff.
Those were heady days for the Expos. Their popularity rivalled hockey’s Canadiens, with huge crowds at Olympic Stadium to watch one of the best and most distinctive teams in baseball. Raines lit up when asked about being an early 1980s Expo.
“I kind of compare it being a rock star,” he said. “It was a great time.
“The fans here were different from fans anywhere else. It was a totally different atmosphere, a totally different sound. We’d have 35,000 or 40,000 people come in and it was a like a big party every time. And the players could feel that. Every time you go out there you hear the roar and you see (mascot) Youppi and you see the chickens up on the screen and you hear the different songs in the crowd. French songs. It was fun.”
Raines was one of the few players in favour of the chickens, which appeared on the scoreboard each time an opposing pitcher threw to first to hold a baserunner on. As one of the sport’s premier base-stealers, he felt anything that annoyed pitchers was a great idea.
There is not a lot of controversy in the book, but what is striking is how the seven-time NL all-star was involved in so many of the major moments of the modern era.
He lived through strikes and was a victim of collusion among owners that prevented players from pursuing free agency. He testified to a grand jury about cocaine use in baseball in 1985. He saw a chance to compete for a title dashed while with the Chicago White Sox when the end of the season and playoffs were cancelled by a work stoppage in 1994.
He was a teammate of two-sport star Bo Jackson and of basketball great Michael Jordan, who tried his hand at baseball during his first retirement. He played for George Steinbrenner’s Yankees and enjoyed the victory parades. His penchant for getting on base saw him sign with Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” Oakland As.
He played clean through the steroids era. He fought and won a battle with Lupus, a disease that turns the body’s immune system against itself.
Perhaps the best of all came at the end of his last season in Montreal, when he was traded to Baltimore so he could play two major league games with his son Tim Jr.
It was like a century’s worth of events crammed into just over two decades.
His election to the Hall of Fame may have had much to do with lobbying on social media by advocates of advanced statistics, whose findings showed Raines’ combination of hitting, on base percentage, run production and base stealing was one of the best of all time. One of his backers, journalist Jonah Keri, wrote one of the introductions to the book. The other was by Dawson.
He also saw his first team, the Expos, fade away until they were sold and moved to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season. There is hope the Montreal can get another team, either through expansion or by moving a struggling franchise like the Tampa Bay Rays.
Raines, currently working in player development for the Toronto Blue Jays, would love to see it happen. He saw the crowds that turned out to the Jays’ two exhibition games against Pittsburgh on the weekend. He was guest of honour at one of them and got a huge ovation.
“I don’t think there’s going to be an expansion any time soon, but hopefully there’s a team out there now that might find itself here,” he said.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press