CENTRAL ISLIP, NY- Specks of gray hair dot the manager’s beard as he stands just a few steps from the visiting dugout railing. The facial hair is about the only indicator the man wearing a black-and-white Newark Bears pullover and cap is not a player.
Tim Raines still looks like he can run to first base, time the pitcher’s release and slide into second ahead of the catcher’s throw. But Raines will not be adding to his 808 career major league stolen bases. He now is busy trying to help Newark’s 16 former big leaguers on its roster back to the big time as manager of the Bears, which play in the independent Atlantic League.
Raines forged a borderline Hall of Fame career playing 23 seasons. After retiring from the Marlins in 2002, the man nicknamed Rock managed in Single and Double-A before capturing a World Series ring as a White Sox coach in 2005, marking his third championship overall. Managing in the big leagues is about the only thing left on the checklist, though the soon-to-be 50-year-old said he’s enjoying the freedom of 6,000-seat ballparks and East Coast baseball.
“At least here, you pretty much run your club and you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder telling you what to do and telling you who to play,” Raines said. “This is a pretty neat situation for me as far as managing is concerned. I haven’t gotten the managing bug at the major league level yet.”
When minor league teams hire prominent former players, the conventional wisdom is that the club’s youngsters and struggling veterans will benefit from picking the brain of someone who has already scaled the game’s greatest heights.
As a seven-time All-Star, Raines certainly falls into the accomplished athlete category. Raines said an impressive track record doesn’t automatically mean his opinion is a premium commodity.
“I think sometimes players don’t understand what they have around them,” Raines said. “A lot of them think they already know how to play the game. And as you see here, a lot of them are not where they want to be.
“I’m not one to go after guys. I’ll take it upon myself to try and help guys out but if these guys really want a chance to go back and get better, they need to take it upon themselves.”
Entering Friday, Raines has helped Newark surge into the Freedom Division’s top spot at 16-9. Even before a pitch was thrown, Raines’ presence helped the Bears acquire a potential MVP candidate. Carl Everett spent two productive seasons for the Ducks before saying he would retire. Then Raines signed with Newark and Everett signed on to play with his friend.
During games, Everett can be seen standing immediately to Raines’ left, looking like a coach himself. As the designated hitter, Everett can spend most of his time in that spot, moving only to take his turn at bat, which usually results in good thing for the Bears.
“We’re friends. When he said he was becoming the manager, I said I would come here and help him out,” Everett said. “It’s as simple as that. Other than that, I was good hanging out with my kids.”
In a career that spanned 1979-2002, Raines’ best seasons came for Montreal, the club for which he made all his All-Star appearances, including MVP honors in the 1987 exhibition. The Sanford, Florida native played with the Expos from the start of his career until 1990, where he also won the Silver Slugger award.
Raines’ stolen base mark is still fourth all-time, behind greats like Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock and Ty Cobb. Before the steroids era, Raines was a peripheral Cooperstown candidate after logging 2,605 hits and a career. 294 average.
Now, with modern sluggers like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa linked to performance enhancing drugs, players like Raines might receive stronger consideration for enshrinement, evidenced by Jim Rice’s induction after more than a decade of falling short of the necessary vote total.
Though his legacy was built in Montreal, Raines is known in New York as a key role player on the Yankees 1996 and 1998 championship teams, when he served as a complementary designated hitter and left fielder.
Before his Bears took on the Ducks at Citibank Park this week, Raines showed he is still candid about baseball. When asked if he was excited to manage a majority of former major leaguers, he smiled.
“If they were playing better, they wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Guys are trying to fight their way back.”
Hall of Famer Gary Carter was in the opposite dugout as the Ducks manager. The Atlantic League also boasts other big-name managers like Somerset’s Sparky Lyle and Bridgeport’s Tommy John.
“The Atlantic League is the best independent league out there,” Carter said.