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Former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.Jonathan Daniel

The team may not exist any more, but that doesn't mean folks have stopped caring.

So the buses will roll from downtown Montreal to Cooperstown, N.Y., this July to disgorge hundreds of baseball fans for the solemn (okay, maybe not so solemn) occasion of former Expos outfielder Tim Raines joining the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Things ended badly for "Nos Amours," what with the deserted stands and the losing teams, but there is a residual nostalgia in Montreal for Canada's first Major League Baseball franchise, and in a lot of ways it is underpinned by Raines.

He played with Rusty (le Grand Orange) Staub, the original Expos superstar, and with Vladimir Guerrero, the franchise's last great player.

Alongside fellow Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, Raines got Montreal to within one swing of Rick Monday's bat of a World Series berth in 1981.

He could easily have chosen to wear a New York Yankees cap (he won two World Series in the Bronx), or maybe even that of the Chicago White Sox (whom he helped lead to the 1993 American League Championship Series).

When Raines's plaque is unveiled next summer, he will be wearing an Expos cap.

"That means his time in Montreal wasn't for naught. Montreal's baseball market still exists, and now an extra piece of it will live forever," said Matthew Ross, a radio personality and founder of the Expos Nation fan group, and one of the key figures in the grassroots campaign to elect Raines.

The man himself was at home in Arizona when he found out – he later shared a video of the moment with close friends and supporters, including Ross and CBS Sports writer Jonah Keri.

As the vote was confirmed Raines sent out a statement on social media indicating he was "overcome with a wave of emotion" at the news of his impending enshrinement, adding "Merci, Montreal."

It was in keeping with a man former teammate Steve Rogers has said "had no 'me' in him."

After the official announcement, Raines told MLB Network that "being a part of Montreal for 13 years and seeing the support from Montreal fans and the country … it's nothing but unbelievable. I'm in the Hall of Fame; there's going to be a lot of proud people in Canada."

That's true, as it happens. Raines received public congratulations from politicians – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, a well-known baseball fanatic who insists the return of the Expos is a "when," not "if" proposition – and all manner of fans and prominent Quebeckers.

The honour is well deserved, and long overdue.

Raines is the most efficient base stealer in baseball history. He is fifth on the career list of total steals, and isn't higher on that list mostly because personal totals weren't really his thing.

And he spent more time on base than Tony Gwynn and Willie Mays (his .385 on-base percentage is well above the Hall of Fame average).

The 57-year-old Florida native debuted with the Expos in 1979 as a teenager, and returned for a final bow in 2001 at the age of 41.

By then he'd won a couple of World Series rings and battled both a cocaine problem and lupus. And in the 1980s he was the best player in the National League.

An electrifying athlete, Raines would be the best leadoff hitter in history if it weren't for his contemporary, Rickey Henderson.

"He's not Rickey Henderson, but he was the Rickey Henderson of the National League for a long time. Tim had a Hall of Fame career," Dawson, a long-time friend of Raines, told TSN radio Wednesday.

If anything, it's a minor scandal that it took the Baseball Writers' Association of America took 10 years to elect Raines, who played for five teams (in 2001 the Expos traded him to Baltimore, where he suited up alongside his son Tim Jr.).

In fact, the Toronto Blue Jays' roving minor-league base-running instructor pulled off a rare feat in qualifying for Cooperstown after earning less than 25 per cent of the vote share in his first year of eligibility.

Contrast that with his fellow 2017 honoree Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, who became only the second catcher to clear the 75-per-cent vote barrier in his first year of eligibility.

They will be joined by former Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who clubbed 401 career home runs.

Former Expo Larry Walker increased his vote total to 21.9 per cent.

He will remain on the ballot for three more years, which may give the folks who talked up Raines's candidacy enough time to stage a repeat.

Raines will travel to Cooperstown on July 30, the third person to enter the Hall with a Montreal Expos cap (the others being Dawson and Gary Carter), having been chosen on 86 per cent of ballots.

He won't be the last.

Guerrero fell just short of Hall consideration in his first year of eligibility (at 71.7 per cent).

There's every chance the buses will be needed again next year.

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