Rice hasn’t gotten any better in the 15 years since his name when on the ballot. I guess it just took that long for my colleagues to realize that they had run out of years to make Rice wait. In his last year of eligibility, he finally made the cut.
I’m happy for Rice. He deserved to be in the Hall years ago. But at least he’s in, taking his place among the greatest players ever. That’s what he was, and anybody who remembers him in his prime will tell you as much. This truly is a case of better late than never.
Hall of Fame voting always defies logic, and that goes for the Pro Football of Fame as well as the original sports shrine in Cooperstown. Even this year, 28 curmudgeons couldn’t find a way to put a check in the box next to the name of the greatest lead-off hitter and base-stealer who ever lived — Rickey Henderson.
I guess if Henderson couldn’t reap a unanimous vote, it makes sense that Rice had to wait 15 years to finally take up residence in the sport’s hall of heroes. Henderson, after all, had all-world numbers. No one in the game’s history has more walks, runs or stolen bases than he.
Rice, on the other hand, was a slugger who didn’t even have 400 home runs, didn’t bat .300 for his career, didn’t get 3,000 hits, didn’t drive in 1,600 runs — all of which are numbers that pretty much guarantee being cast in bronze. And if you were a voter who remembered the big home run numbers of the 1950s or came up in the offensive explosion of the 1990s, you could easily look at Rice’s stats and wonder why guys like me dared to even suggest he was Hall of Fame material.
And that’s the problem with baseball’s obsession with all-time numbers. We think of the game as unchanging over the decades, but in fact there has always been an ebb and flow of hitting and pitching, with some eras dominated by scoring runs and others by preventing them. You can’t compare generations in the game, because every one of them is different.
That’s why I always voted for Rice. If you had seen him with the Red Sox star in his prime, from 1975, when he finished second in rookie-of-the-year balloting, until 1986, when he scored 14 runs in 14 postseason games, you’d know what I’m talking about.
If you were an opposing pitcher or fan, he was simply the hitter you least wanted to see come up to the plate with the game on the line. Some hitters you respect, and a few get more respect than others. Rice was the guy you feared. Pitchers saw him walk to the plate with the winning run aboard and looked to the bullpen to see if there wasn’t somebody warming up who could come in and face him. Opposing fans covered the eyes of their children, lest they see the trauma Rice inflicted on their beloved team.
Rice retired in 1989, his career cut short after 16 years and at the age of 36 by injuries. The steroid era came around after he left, overwhelming our senses with gargantuan feats of slugging. By comparison, his numbers look anemic. He hit more than 40 home runs just once, in 1978 when he was the AL MVP. He had 139 RBIs that year, and it’s hard for a modern fan to understand how huge that number was. The last American Leaguer to hit as many or more was Harmon Killebrew, who had 140 nine years earlier. The next American Leaguer to hit more was Don Mattingly, who drove in 145 in 1985. So for 14 seasons, nobody hit more than Rice did that year. Rice’s 46 home runs that year were the most hit in the American League between Killebrew’s 49 in 1969 and Mark McGwire’s 49 in 1987.
Rice led the league in total bases three straight years. He led it in home runs three times, in RBIs twice, in slugging twice. He won one MVP and finished in the top five six other times. What it all says is that he was the best of his era.
That’s all anyone can be. You can’t denigrate modern players because they don’t hit .400 like the old-timers did anymore than you can dismiss Ty Cobb because he never hit more than 12 home runs in a season. You can only judge them by what they were when they played.
And when Jim Rice played left field for Boston, nobody was better. The voters have finally recognized that. That’s good for them and great not just for Rice, but for baseball.
TORONTO (AP) - Maicer Izturis hit a two-run single in the eighth inning and the Toronto Blue Jays won their sixth consecutive game Monday night, beating the Colorado Rockies 2-0 behind Josh Johnson and two relievers.
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.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.