Jim Rice in '09: Hall-of-Fame Voters, Pay Attention, It's Now or Never

David PuccioContributor INovember 6, 2008

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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