Those who did not see Jim Rice play probably think that, based on numbers alone, he does not belong in the Hall of Fame. While his statistics are, in fact, Hall-of-Fame worthy, it can be said that he was the best hitter in the game for 10+ years.
While others both in the Hall of Fame and not in the Hall have similar statistics, not many of them were as feared as Rice was. Goose Gossage, a deserving inductee last season, said “I didn’t fear any hitter, but he was the closest I ever came to fearing.”
Rice did benefit from hitter friendly Fenway Park, but he did not benefit from the inflated power numbers which now skew the record books. He does not have any of the “milestone” Hall of Fame numbers, but he is just shy of many of them. The writers seem to care about longevity, as they always seem to vote in the players who have reached the magic numbers, even if it did take the player 20+ years to do so, Andre Dawson excluded.
It can be argued that the strike in 1981 cost him the 18 home runs that he needed to get to 400. From 1977-1983 (excluding 1981), Rice averaged 35 home runs a season; he hit 17 in the strike shortened year and finished 18 shy of 400. If he had hit his average number in 1981, he would have been at 400 exactly for his career.
I am certainly not claiming that we say "what if" when tying to justify his numbers, far greater players than Rice have had lost seasons through no fault of their own. I am only using this argument to show how close he was to achieving a Hall of Fame “milestone."
Prior to the current run of 400-plus home run players, the only player with 400 or more home runs not in the Hall of Fame was Dave Kingman.
Rice left the game at age 36 due to an injury-plagued season in 1989, so his career consisted of 17 seasons and only 14 full seasons. Kirby Puckett retired at age 35 due to injury and only had 12 full seasons. Puckett was a fan favorite and a media darling, so he had no problem getting in; Rice was well liked in Boston; however, he was never a fan favorite and was disliked by the media.
The media writers, for those who don’t know, do the voting for the Hall of Fame.
Rice’s numbers are very comparable to other Hall of Fame outfielders and first baseman, such as Orlando Cepeda (1B/OF), Billy Williams (OF), Duke Snider (OF), Willie Stargell (1B/OF), Richie Ashburn (OF), Tony Perez (1B), and Kirby Puckett (OF).
Since a majority of baseball writers either ignore or do not understand Sabremetrics, I am going to show a comparison of some basic statistics. I am going on the assumption that these are the statistics that the voters look at.
Seasons Full AVG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB .OBP .SLG
Rice 17 14 .298 2452 373 79 382 1451 58 .352 .502
Cepeda 17 13 .297 2351 417 27 379 1365 142 .350 .499
Williams 18 15 .290 2711 434 88 426 1475 90 .361 .499
Snider 18 9 .295 2116 358 85 407 1237 99 .380 .540
Puckett 12 12 .318 2304 414 57 207 1085 134 .360 .477
Stargell 21 14 .282 2232 423 55 475 1540 17 .360 .529
Ashburn 15 13 .308 2574 317 109 29 586 234 .396 .382
Perez 23 14 .279 2732 505 79 379 1652 49 .341 .463
I have also taken into account a couple of other factors:
MVP Awards MVP Top 10 Finishes All Star Appearances
Rice – 1 Puckett – 7 Cepeda – 11
Puckett -1 Rice – 6 Puckett – 10
Cepeda – 1 Kaline – 5 Rice/Kaline – 8
Stargell – 1 Stargell – 4 Stargell/Perez – 7
Williams/Perez/Cepeda – 3 Williams/Ashburn – 6
Ashburn – 2
As seen by these numbers, Rice’s statistics are very similar to a number of previously elected players. This does not take into account fielding, but of the players listed, only Puckett has won a Gold Glove award—six to be exact. Rice loses some points from voters because he spent much of career as a DH, but he was an above-average fielder.
Where was he supposed to play when seven-time Gold Glove winner Carl Yastrzemski was in left and eight-time Gold Glove winner Dwight Evans was in right? It can also be noted as well that, although he never played first base, it really wasn’t an option with players like Cecil Cooper, George Scott, and Tony Perez there.
Finally, Rice was overlooked for much of career because he played for mediocre teams. His Red Sox reached the postseason twice, 1975 his first year and 1986 his last healthy year. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist in late September of 1975 and missed the postseason. Not only did he miss the playoff, he may have cost himself the Rookie of the Year award. Fred Lynn went on to win the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award, but notice how similar their statistics were:
AVG H 2B 3B HR RBI SB .OBP .SLG
Lynn .331 175 47 7 21 105 10 .401 .566
Rice .309 174 29 4 22 102 10 .350 .491
He did win the MVP award in 1978, when the Red Sox finished the season in second after a one-game playoff with the Yankees. In 1977 and 1979, he could have also won the MVP award, but he finished out of contention because the Red Sox finished tied for second, winning 97 games in 1977 (three GB) and finished third with 91 wins (11 GB) in 1979, and he was already disliked by the voting writers.
Obviously, this is another "what if" but notice how in some cases, his statistics in 1977 and 1979 were better than the winner and some of those ahead of him.
1977 MVP: 1979 MVP:
.AVG H HR RBI SB .AVG H HR RBI SB
Rod Carew .388 239 14 100 23 Don Baylor .296 186 36 139 22
Al Cowens .312 189 23 112 16 Ken Singleton.295 168 35 111 3
Ken Singleton.328 176 24 99 0 George Brett .329 212 23 107 17
Jim Rice .320 206 39 114 5 Fred Lynn .333 177 39 122 2
Jim Rice .325 201 39 130 9
Rice was the most feared hitter in baseball for a period of time and arguably the best hitter in the American league from 1975-1986. His numbers are Hall-of-Fame worthy in comparison to some others already in and he should be elected in his last attempt next year. There are others that arguments can be made for: Bert Blyleven, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, and Tommy John among others. They are all arguments for another day.
Rice in ‘09!
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