REMEMBERING WHEN IT RAINED COCAINE

By Murray Chass

January 10, 2013

While this week’s results of the Hall of Fame election have prompted widespread discussion about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, I prefer to discuss Tim Raines.

A 23-year major league outfielder, who had 70 or more stolen bases in six successive seasons in the 1980s, Raines, with 52.2 percent, was one of five players who gained more than 50 percent of the 569 votes in this year’s writers’ election. It was his best showing in six years on the ballot, marking the fourth straight year his percentage has risen.Tim Raines 225

Unlike Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Piazza, Raines was untainted by the admission or the suspicion that he used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. Raines, however, made a different admission and had his own special taint.

With Raines’ vote total rising, the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association are either forgetting or ignoring that Raines admitted in 1982 and in subsequent years that he used cocaine.

At one of the drug trials in Pittsburgh in 1985, Raines testified that he kept cocaine in the back pocket of his uniform pants during games and that when he had to slide, he slid headfirst to make sure he didn’t break the glass vial in which he kept the illegal drug.

That was Raines himself saying that – on the witness stand under oath in a federal court room. That wasn’t Clemens denying to Congress that he used steroids. That wasn’t Bonds telling a federal grand jury that he thought the substances he was using were flaxseed oil and arthritic balm.

It was 30 years ago that Raines confessed to using cocaine, but there’s no statute of limitations on using illegal drugs in Major League Baseball. Why aren’t the writers holding Raines as accountable for his transgression as they obviously are, and as they should, in the case of the steroids studs?

Raines first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 2008 election. He received 24.3 percent of the vote that year, then slipped to 22.6 percent the next year. But his numbers have risen every year since and now have more than doubled, from 30.4 to 37.5 to 48.7 to 52.2.

Along the way, some people have wondered why he wasn’t getting more support from the writers. It seems to be obvious from his percentages in the last two elections that some voter who refused to mark their ballots for Bonds and Clemens put an “X” next to Raines’ name.

Yeah, he used cocaine, those voters might argue, but cocaine doesn’t help a batter hit home runs or help a pitcher recover faster from his last start.

But if a voter follows the BBWAA rules in regard to steroids, he should realize they also pertain to drugs such as cocaine.

“Voting,” reads rule No. 5, “shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Voters might not think about it consciously, but when they decide not to vote for a steroids user, they are invoking the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” clause. The same clause applies to Raines.

Some people reject use of that clause, arguing that there are plenty of bad guys in the Hall of Fame and usually cite Ty Cobb as the poster boy for that group. But that’s not an excuse to put more bad guys in.

I’ve never bought the argument that a player should be elected to the Hall because his statistics are as good as or better than a player who is a member. If the writers made a mistake, say, with Rabbit Maranville, their successor colleagues shouldn’t compound their error.

Raines, the former Montreal Expos’ all-star is the last player left on the ballot who was involved with the Pittsburgh drug trials. Dave Parker’s last year of eligibility was 2011, when he received a meager 15.3 percent. Keith Hernandez fell off the ballot in 2004 when he didn’t gain the requisite 5 percent but a minuscule 4.3 percent.

I don’t know if voters shunned them because of their link to cocaine or their record and playing ability. But if the voters don’t hold his cocaine use against Raines, it doesn’t seem likely that they would have penalized Parker and Hernandez for their use.

Incidentally, Kevin Koch has never made the BBWAA ballot. Koch was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot, the man in the parrot costume, who moonlighted as the cocaine delivery man to the Pirates’ clubhouse.

Roger Clemens Acquitted 225In this election, Raines fared better than Clemens (37.6 percent) and Bonds (36.2) and much better than Sosa (12.5). I suspect the disparity among the three first-timers came from the view held by some writers that Clemens and Bonds had established their Hall of Fame credentials before they resorted to steroids.

Future elections will be interesting to watch for the Clemens and Bonds results. Will they establish their own patterns or will they follow the fate of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro?

McGwire, whose highest percentage was 23.7 in his fourth year on the ballot, received 16.9 percent this time, falling from 19.5. Palmeiro, in his third year, fell from 12.6 to 8.8.

The votes for first-timers Craig Biggio (a ballot-leading 68.2) and Mike Piazza (57.8) as well as third-timer Jeff Bagwell (59.6) indicate that writers either haven’t caught up to the latest reports of their alleged steroids use or, more likely, are willing to overlook the reports because the players were never caught using anything illegal.

My favorite, Jack Morris, did not benefit from the absence of surefire first-timers on the ballot. With four fewer ballots cast, the pitcher gained three votes and only 1 percent to 67.7. Next year he could suffer with the addition of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to the ballot, or he could benefit if the voters say let’s put all the good pitchers in.

Most likely, he will join Gil Hodges as the only players who gained more than 60 percent of the vote three times and were not elected.

Of the people who commented on the results, among them Clemens and Bonds’ agent, and you can imagine what they said, I found the most intriguing to come from Michael Weiner, the head of the players’ union, who issued this statement:

“Today’s news that those members of the BBWAA afforded the privilege of casting ballots failed to elect even a single player to the Hall of Fame is unfortunate, if not sad. Those empowered to help the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum document the history of the game failed to recognize the contributions of several Hall of Fame worthy players. To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify. Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings – and others never even implicated – is simply unfair. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Several such players were denied access to the Hall today. Hopefully this will be rectified by future voting.”

In referring to players being exonerated, I assume Weiner referred to Clemens’ acquittal on charges of lying to Congress and Bonds’ acquittal on charges of lying to a grand jury. They were not acquitted, I remind Weiner, of using illegal substances.

The writers serve as judges of players’ careers but are not restricted as judges are in dealing with the law. We are free to use circumstantial evidence, and there is plenty of that with Bonds and Clemens, all of which points to them as cheaters.Barry Bonds Trial 225

In 1985, only weeks after Weiner’s predecessor and his management counterpart reached agreement on a new labor contract, the owners violated it by engaging in a conspiracy against free agents. Yes, the union proved the conspiracy that year and the two succeeding years to two arbitrators.

Some of us, though, didn’t need the arbitrators’ decisions to know what we had been seeing. The owners were cheating, and we knew it based on circumstantial evidence. Maybe our knowledge wouldn’t have done the union and its members a bit of good without incontrovertible proof. But the Hall of Fame voters don’t need any more proof than they used in this election.

In searching for something I had written for The New York Times some years ago, I came across an article written by Alan Schwarz in spring training of 2004.

Schwarz talked to some young fans about the steroids mess that was just starting to emerge publicly.

“It’s cheating,” an 11-year-old Florida fan said while watching an exhibition game.

”I’m angry,” said another young fan. “I don’t like people cheating in sports.”

”I’d feel bad if Barry Bonds used steroids,” the first fan said. ”Hank Aaron didn’t use steroids, did he?”

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.