382 Home Runs, .298 Batting Average, 1423 RBI
Ten to 15 years ago, a player with those statistics would be said to have had a “very good” career. When compared to some of the heavy hitting (now believed to be chemically enhanced) sluggers of the time, this player would have been lost in a sea of 500 foot home runs and oddly shaped craniums.
But, what if one were to turn back the clock a little more.
Thirty-one summers ago, this player was putting together a season for the ages. He was doing it without a cloud of suspicion surrounding every ball that left the park, and without another hitter coming anywhere near him in the MVP race (Rice received 90 percent of the voting shares, with 20 of 28 first place votes, Milwaukee outfielder Larry Hisle finished in third behind Ron Guidry, nearly 40 percent behind Rice).
All of this (and more) earned him a “nickname” which his counterparts still call him to this day;
“The most feared hitter of his era.”
This Sunday, Jim Rice will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor which has been long overdue. His induction represents a changing opinion on who should be considered for the Hall. Jim Rice, one could argue, is one of the last great players to have played before the steroid era took over the game.
His career does not suffer from the allegations of cheating which the players who followed him had to go through. For twenty years after his retirement, he was considered one of the great players of his era, but not “good enough” for the Hall of Fame.
As the players got bigger and the home runs went farther, Jim Rice was regarded as a player of a bygone era, one who didn’t do “enough” to warrant being immortalized into the Hall of Fame.
A few Congressional hearings and some shady clubhouse attendants later, the voters began to shun those who were alleged to have cheated, and began looking at players who played the game “the right way”, who had been forgotten about amidst baseball’s steroid era.
Over the past few years, the voters have made it abundantly clear how they feel about players who are suspected of cheating, leaving hitter who were once considered some of the greatest of all time wondering if they will even remain on the ballot.
Jim Rice represents an age before steroids and HGH, and represents a hope for players who didn’t cheat, played as hard as they possibly could, and got the most out of their ability; that someday they too will be among Baseball’s pantheon.
And this time, it won’t take them 20 years to get there.