Tis the Season!
No, I'm not talking about the year-end holidays, I'm talking about a rite of passage for the last 14 years here in New England. Let the Jim Rice Hall of Fame talk begin.
This will be the 15th and last time Jim Rice will be on the Baseball Writers Association of America's ballots. Last year, Rice garnered 72.2% (392 of 543) of the vote, the largest total of a player NOT elected into the hall. Is this Rice's year?
Rice has a lot of things in his favor this year, foremost being the smallest crop players on the ballot in the history of vote. Within this group of 23 players, only 3 or 4 (Ricky Henderson, Tim Raines and Bert Blyleven) are realistic to garner anywhere near enough of the 75% of the votes needed for election. That combined with Rice's totals last year have experts believing this is Rice's year.
There they are, the cold harsh figures in black and white (depending on how good your monitor is). What is missing from this collection of numbers is actually watching him play. We are talking about a pre-ESPN world folks, believe it or not, we survived, for a time, with Frankie Fix showing us the highlights. The absolute inundation of sports media was just not present, so maybe those west coast writers never REALLY got to see Rice play. Maybe we forget, for a solid decade, just how dominating a player Jim Ed Rice was. 86 Years would not have happened if Verne Ruhl hadn't broken Rice's hand with a little more than a week to go in the 75 regular season. As part of the Gold-Dust Twins, Rice and Lynn were tearing up the American League and no doubt would have provided a bigger challenge with Rice than without.
After that time Rice terrified pitchers throughout the American League with what most baseball people believe to be the strongest wrists in the games history. Rice seemed to be able to hit a ball at will when he was on. Rice was well know for his mammoth blasts in most all of the AL parks. What seems to be forgotten, is that he was also an hitter for average, falling just short of that magical career average of .300 at .298. Want to know just how rare that combination is, there are exactly 9 other players in MLB history with as many HRs and better AVG as Rice (Aaron, Foxx, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays, Musial, Ott, Ruth and Teddy Ballgame) and guess what, Jim Ed Rice is the only one not in the HOF. If you kick it down a notch, there are 18 players with at least 350 HRs and a .290 Average? There 18 of them, and 17 are currently in the Hall of Fame.
So why is it that Rice isn't in the Hall? Is it because he was an SOB to the Media? Possibly. Was it that he seemed to be an angry man? Perhaps (although Eddie Murray was not knownfor his approachability) Why have voters chosen for 15 years to ignore the fact, that for a decade, Jim Rice was THE BEST hitter in baseball?
My theory, as with most discussions of baseball in the last few years, one word needs to be introduced; steroids. Rice first came to be eligible 1993, smack dab in the middle of the steroid era. How can we elect Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame if Brady Anderson is hitting 50 HRs? The writers were so blinded by Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire that they forgot what a player like Jim Rice meant to the game. Look at the stats of hitters the first few years Rice was eligible for the Hall, and you begin to understand why Rice isn't in the Hall. The Steroid swath is cut far and wide in the game of baseball, and Jim Rice is just another casualty. All I need to know is what Goose Gossage said last year when he was inducted. " I think Jim Rice deserves to be in the Hall," said Gossage, "No hitter scared me, but Jim Rice came the closest."
Here is to hoping January 12th is a day Jim Ed Rice and Boston Red Sox fans will remember for a long long time.