Only minutes after Tim Raines could process being announced as the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was live Wednesday on the MLB Network giving thanks to a multitude of baseball personnel who helped on his journey towards Cooperstown. One of the first people he noted was his Montreal Expos teammate Warren Cromartie, whose guidance was as an important factor in his development.
When Raines made his debut at the tender age of 19 in 1979, Cromartie took the young rookie under his wing and showed him the ropes of Major League life. Now some thirty-eight years later, Cromartie exuded with a sense of fatherly pride that his protégé has his rightful place among baseball’s elite.
“I’m very happy and very proud,” Cromartie said via telephone on Wednesday from his Florida home. “I don’t have enough buttons up my shirt.”
Even at such a young age, Raines’ natural talents were evident to his Expos teammates. Once he was given the green light to play full time, Cromartie said that Raines’ brash combination of speed and athletic ability gave the Expos an element they were desperately missing. In only 88 games during the 1981 strike-shortened season, he stole an eye-popping 71 bases. It was evident that he had arrived.
“Tim Raines was a godsend to us when we were playing for the Expos,” he said. “We were looking for a leadoff hitter at the time. When I first saw him I thought he was a tailback playing in the SEC somewhere. He was a switch-hitter—very raw, but there was something about him that added another dimension to our game. Along the way, he set the tempo for the Expos and made the defense nervous. He put an extra step in the defense and really changed the game’s dynamics as far as our ball club was concerned.”
When Raines first came to Montreal, they were experimenting with playing him in both the infield and the outfield. During Raines’ breakout season in 1981, Cromartie shifted from left field to first base so that the Expos could best utilize both of their talents. The change paid immediate dividends.
“They were trying to figure out if he was going to play second base or shortstop or whatever, but they found out to really help the Expos get to the next level, they put him in left field where I was,” Cromartie said. “I moved to first base which was a position that I loved, so it added something else to us. He changed the game by [how he was] running the bases, stealing bases, and getting on base. He was your prototype leadoff hitter.”
Their early years with the Expos were under the watchful eye of the late Hall of Fame Manager Dick Williams. Cromartie cited Williams’ influence as essential to not only Raines’ development, but the entire Expos team.
“Dick Williams came from the old school and tried innovative things,” he said. “He always believed in speed, in taking that extra step. Raines fit right into that mold along with Rodney Scott. Having Dick Williams was a tremendous thing and a learning opportunity for all of us, including Tim Raines.”
Ten years later after Raines made the National League take notice as one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game, Cromartie returned from a seven-year career in Japan for an informal reunion with him in the American League. In 1991, Cromartie once again donned a major league uniform with the Kansas City Royals, while Raines had just arrived in a trade to the Chicago White Sox. The head-to-head experience with his former Expos teammate was one of the things that he relished the most about coming back to the United States.
“In 1991 that was a blast, seeing him and playing against him,” he said. “I was in Japan all of those years from 1984-1990. It was great to see him again and be in the same league. It was a wonderful thing to get to watch him play on both sides. That was a good thing about coming home and playing back in the United States.”
The news of Raines’ election to the Hall of Fame ignited a prophetic moment they shared while watching another Montreal Expo teammate get inducted to the Hall of Fame. The two sat together at Dawson’s 2010 ceremony in Cooperstown and Cromartie predicted in a few short years that a doubting Raines would share the same stage with the rest of baseball’s immortals.
“We were in Cooperstown, and me and him both were sitting next to each other watching Andre Dawson going into the Hall of Fame,” he recalled. “I turned around and said to him, ‘In another five years, you’re going to be up there.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Do you really think so?’ I said to him, ‘Yep.’ And now, what do you know? I’m really looking forward to watching him go into the Hall of Fame.”