Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in the American League over a 12-year span. That says it all.
But for 11 years, Rice has failed to garner enough votes for entrance into the Hall of Fame. This year, with a weak field of candidates, Rice may have his best, and last, opportunity. As a lifelong Red Sox fan with fond memories of Rice's greatness, my hope is that he finally gets to join the other all-time greats in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Rice might benefit from the fact that this year's ballot lacks any first-timers who are bona fide inductees. Without any newcomers to consider, voters may reevaluate nominees they've passed over in previous years.
And upon closer inspection, Rice's case deserves further examination. In an era when power numbers are suspiciously viewed through the lens of steroids and other performance enhancers, Rice's production over the course of his 16 years merits that additional consideration.
An argument used against Rice was that he wasn't a great fielder. Dale Murphy, another player of Rice's era seeking election again this year, was a five time Gold Glove winner, yet his career fielding percentage is just .002 higher than Rice's. Either the criteria for a Gold Glove wasn't as strict in the NL, or Rice was overlooked. Believe it or not, from 1975-1986 Rice led the American League in outfield assists. Simply put, he was always underated as a defensive player.
Rice's numbers are impressive -- 382 homers, 1,451 RBI -- and they aren't tainted. We live in an era era when 40 homer season became common, and when the achievements of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds -- the three best power hitters of their generation -- are highly dubious. Yet there is no such suspicion of Rice.
Sure, Rice fell short of the 400 career homer mark which used to almost assure election. But his accomplishments over a twelve year span were nothing short of spectacular, though clearly under appreciated. Rice was the most dominant hitter of his time, outshining all of his contemporaries. That alone qualifies him for the Hall.
Longtime Red Sox public relations executive Dick Bresciani issued a highly detailed four page report on Rice's achievements, and if Rice gets elected to the Hall, he will have Bresciani to thank. That report has surely been studied by the baseball writers of America.
When it comes to stats, Rice's were considerable. Coming from a Red Sox fan, and someone who grew up watching Rice's exploits, this may sound biased. But Rice's numbers speak loudly and convincingly for him, so I'll let them.
Though some have argued that Rice wasn't great for a long enough period of time, for a period of 12 years -- 1975-86 -- Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145). The other categories were games, at bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and the previously mentioned outfield assists. What these statistics bear out is that over this remarkable period Rice was not only durable, but consistent and clutch as well.
During that span, Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs scored and a .303 average. Though his career slugging percentage is .502, Rice wasn't just a power hitter - he was a hitter, plain and simple. In four of those seasons he collected over 200 hits, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.
Put Rice's accomplishments in context. He led every player in his league in virtually every significant offensive category for twelve consecutive years. Even if you add in all of the National League players from the same era, Rice still leads in five categories and finishes second in three others.
First or second in eight different categories for a dozen years means that Rice is certainly well qualified for the Hall. If Kirby Puckett is deserving, Rice is more deserving.
Some say that if Rice had just hit 18 more homers and lifted his .298 career batting average a mere two points, that his election would be guaranteed. That's splitting hairs.
Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span. He won the MVP award in 1978, when he collected a staggering 406 total bases, becoming the first American League player to crack 400 since Joe Dimaggio. He led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, total bases four times, and was an All-Star eight times. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. He led the AL in total bases for three straight seasons, tying a record held by Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. And Rice, Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx are the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Enough said.
Lest anyone need more convincing, feel free to measure Rice against the all-time greats. Among all major leaguers, only nine players have compiled as high a career batting average (.298) and as many homers. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Stan Musial.
All of them are in the Hall of Fame, and Rice should finally join them -- where he rightfully belongs.
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