There was a time when Tim Raines could throw a swift jab into the side of Andre Dawson’s torso and Raines, who is fifth all-time in Major League Baseball steals, could run away with ease.
Eventually, Dawson would always sneak up on his Montreal Expos-teammate and get his payback, though. And Dawson’s punches left their mark, too.
“I still have those bruises,” Raines said at a news conference on Saturday, with his good friend Dawson to his right, and Orlando Cepeda and Tony Oliva to his left. The four were honored at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s 2016 Hall of Game ceremony at Gem Theater on Saturday night.
Beyond the punches, the impact Dawson made on Raines — the “brotherly love”, he called it — is why Raines pointed to Dawson while talking about what got him through the league and eventually to the Hall of Game.
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When Raines, a seven-time All Star and three-time World Series champion, came into the league at 19 years old in 1979, he was scared to approach the stern-faced Dawson, who stands an intimidating seven inches taller. But eventually he did, and started to watch him — how he played through injury, completely undistracted and tuned into the game after first pitch.
And it was the temperate, stern Dawson who showed Raines the ropes of the league. Though he didn’t talk much, Dawson taught and led by example, and it rubbed off on the oft-playful Raines.
“That’s the way I learned how to play the game,” Raines said. “Everywhere he went, you saw me. … He was the guy that kind of molded me into the player that I became.”
Dawson felt the impact Raines left on him, too. At times, with his way of staying high-spirited, Raines could keep Dawson positive and lighten him up.
“He has this way of loosening me up,” said Dawson, an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner. “Even though he was younger, you never saw pressure with him. He played the game, he had fun, he enjoyed the game.
“It kind of rubbed off on me, and that’s what made our relationship so special.”
Raines named his son Andre after Dawson when he was born on Dawson’s birthday. Every year as the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting rolls around, Dawson coaches up Raines, who many believe should be in the Hall of Fame but hasn’t yet been inducted, on how to compose himself. And of course, they talk every year around Dawson’s birthday.
While they’re not together in the Hall of Fame yet — and may never be if Raines isn’t inducted this year — the two can celebrate being inducted into Hall of Game together. For NLBM president Bob Kendrick, the two represent a way of playing the game that’s exactly what he looks for when selecting the Hall of Game class.
“Both of those guys play the way they did in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said. “They had that flare, they had that excitement, that flavor, and they’re obviously highly skilled. … It was a no-brainer from that point.”
Kendrick also spoke highly of the other two players in this year’s class, Cepeda and Oliva.
Cepeda, a seven-time All Star and 1967 World Series champion, remembers a time in Puerto Rico when his father played with players in the Negro Leagues.
Oliva, who was born in Cuba and played his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, has been a close friend of Kendrick and the museum, as well as Buck O’Neil, who was board chairman of the museum before he died in 2006. Oliva was an eight-time All Star.
“We have two great Latino ball players, which I hope sends the impact about the Negro Leagues had on our sport,” Kendrick said. “(Cepeda) knows his history, he’s familiar with it, and it means something to him. It’s a proud moment for him, but I think maybe even more proud because of his father.”
Oliva, who isn’t in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, expressed extreme gratitude to Kendrick and the museum for being invited and honored in the ceremony.
“A month ago they selected me to be here, to be a part of this, and I didn’t know what to say,” said Oliva, an eight-time All Star and Gold Glove Award winner. “I don’t have enough words to express how happy I’m feeling about this opportunity, and what it means to be a part of this Hall of Fame here.”
Christian S. Hardy: @ByHardy