Better late than never
Jan 12: Jim Rice talks about finally being elected into the baseball Hall Of Fame after so many years on the ballot.
Jim Rice watched Carlton Fisk’s home run stay fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. He was in left field in ’86 when Mookie Wilson’s grounder went through Bill Buckner’s legs.
The lesson the former Red Sox slugger took away from his career and the long wait for a call from the baseball Hall of Fame: “Be patient and wait until the last out.”
Rice was rewarded on Monday when he was elected to Cooperstown in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. After missing out for 14 years, he received 412 votes from the 539 ballots cast to earn induction alongside stolen bases leader Rickey Henderson.
“I don’t think it matters what ballot I was on as long as I got in. That was the key thing right there,” Rice said during a conference call. “I guess everything was just timing, because my numbers have not changed over the last 14 years. The only thing I can say is I’m glad it’s over with. I’m in there and they can’t take it away.”
Rice received seven votes more than needed and became the third player elected by the baseball writers in his final year, joining Red Ruffing (1967) and Ralph Kiner (1975). Also to be honored at the July 26 induction ceremony are former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, elected last month by the Veterans Committee, as well as broadcaster Tony Kubek and writer Nick Peters, the winners of the Frick and Spink awards, respectively.
Rice, who was 16 votes shy of the required 75 percent last year, was named on 76.4 percent of the ballots this year.
“It’s about time,” said former teammate Fred Lynn, who edged Rice for the 1975 AL Rookie of the Year award. “Throw out the statistics. Jimmy was the dominant force in his era. That’s really all you can say when you’re trying to compare guys that played in the ’70s and ’80s to the guys that are playing now. ... In his heyday, Jimmy was a feared hitter.”
Henderson, who received 94.8 percent of the vote, appeared in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Rice and Henderson will be the 20th and 21st left fielders to be inducted and the first since Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, who preceded Rice in the shadow of the Green Monster and entered Cooperstown in 1989.
“I’m going to let Rickey do all the talking. I’m just going to sit back and make it short,” said Rice, notoriously taciturn during his career, which might have been a reason some writers took so long to vote for him. “Some of the media said, ’He didn’t talk to us.’ That could have been it. I don’t know.
“My thing is: You don’t have to like me, but give me the respect.”
Playing at a time when offensive numbers paled in comparison to the steroid era, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs from 1974-89. He earned eight All-Star selections and finished in the top five in AL MVP voting six times, winning the award in 1978 when he batted .315 with 213 hits, 46 home runs, 139 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage and 406 total bases — the only AL player to top 400 since Joe DiMaggio in 1937.
“It was the most dynamic offensive year that I have ever played with anybody,” Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley said. “As a person, he was a consistent guy. He was always there; every day as a person and every day as a player.”
Rice joins Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr as the only Hall of Famers who played their entire careers for Boston.
“It was long overdue,” Yaz said.
Rice drove in 100 or more runs eight times when runs were more scarce than today, batted over .300 seven times and topped 200 hits four times. He is the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).
Rice joked that he would be making $27 million a year if he were in his prime now and on the free-agent market. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein agreed, adding that Rice was his favorite player while growing up.
“He was the first guy to check in the boxscore,” Epstein said after a Fenway Park news conference. “His career was a prime. He didn’t hang around long after his skills started to deteriorate. Obviously, he’d be a player any team would like to have in the middle of its lineup.”
It’s possible Rice would have made the Hall sooner if he’d hit 18 more homers, to reach 400, or kept his average above .300. He said Monday that, if he had to do it again, he would not have changed to a more selfish style to reach those plateaus at the cost of his team.
“I never considered myself a home run hitter, but I could hit home runs. I thought it was my job to get the guy in,” he said. “Give me 3-for-10. If you’re a power hitter, give me 3-for-10 and give me some jacks behind it. The mailman walks. The mailman, the milkman, and the guy that carries papers.”
Rice helped Boston reach the 1975 World Series, but missed that postseason with a broken hand. He and the Red Sox returned in ’86, but Rice never won it all. Since retiring, he has worked for the Red Sox as a hitting coach, special assignment instructor and broadcaster.
“I would like to thank the Red Sox for keeping me this long. It’s just like family,” he said at Fenway. “I probably had an opportunity to go to another team, but I chose to stay here. And I’m still here.”
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