I am guilty of overlooking Raines during his career, like many others. He was a great leadoff hitter, overshadowed by his contemporary Rickey Henderson, who was the greatest leadoff hitter. By the time he was in my consciousness, moving to the AL in the early '90s, he was out-shined in my eyes by a leadoff hitter in Cleveland - Kenny Lofton.
But when you take a moment to look back and what Raines did, it's a pretty impressive resume.
The case for Raines as a Hall of Famer
As I always do, I'll start with WAR. Raines spent about 90% of his career in LF and finished 8th all-time in WAR (69.1) at his position. The seven above him? Four Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Henderson, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ed Delahanty), two more recent players who should be Hall of Famers (Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez), and Pete Rose. The next SIX players behind him are all Hall of Famers. The average LF in Cooperstown has 65.1 WAR. So by that standard, Raines is not just deserving, he is raising the bar.
Of course Raines played at age 19 (though he contributed negative WAR those first two seasons) and stuck around until age 42. So maybe he just accrued WAR through sheer persistence? Well, only looking at his peak - his seven best years - he does drop a bit, from 8th to 10th all-time among LF. Six of the seven players previously ahead of him (all except Manny) are still ahead of him. The three new ones are all in the Hall (Al Simmons, Ralph Kiner, and Goose Goslin). The average peak WAR is 41.5; Raines is at 42.5. So he makes that mark, as well.
He was also really good at a lot of other things, but most of those things are more interesting for how they are keeping him OUT than getting him in.
The case against Raines as a Hall of Famer
Magic Numbers make the Hall - 3000 hits, 500 HR, 300 wins. And Raines doesn't actually come up with any of those. He hit .294 for his career, so not quite .300. He did walk a ton, leading to an excellent .385 OBP. For what it's worth, a .300 average would tie for 201st all time; his OBP is 135th. Of course OBP is not part of the history of the game the way a .300 average is.
He had 2605 hits, which is not 3000. He was not a power hitter, hitting double digits only seven times and ending his career with only 170 total.
His biggest skill, in addition to getting on-base, was stealing bases. He ranks 5th all-time with 808 stolen bases. The problem is he seems to be the demarcation line for how many steals gets you in. The four above him all did, the next two below him did not.
Awards also make the Hall. Raines was a seven-time All-Star, and even got some MVP votes. But his best MVP finish was fifth. He never won a Gold Glove (and was not regarded a a strong defender in general).
Players who reporters like make the Hall, too. And Raines wasn't exactly a choirboy. He had issues with drugs during his career, and admitted to using as a player, even during games. He doesn't get the same knock against him as the PED users, but his reputation can't help.
My Two Cents
So the guy is almost a Hall of Famer on a number of different traditional metrics, but doesn't quite make the cut for voters. If he had hit .300, I think he would be in. If he had made it to 3000 hits, I think he would have been in. Another 50 or so SB might have done it.
But when you are almost a Hall of Famer in every individual skill or metric, the whole package is likely to look awfully good. And that is the case for Raines. With the voting rules the way they are, and the ballot as crowded as it is, he would be in danger of falling outside my top 10 this year.
But we aren't playing by those rules and so he gets my vote. He was an elite table setter and base runner, had an impressive peak in the midst of a long and productive career. He was under-appreciated during his career, in large part because he was measured against one of the greatest ever. The voters could, and should, rectify that.