Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Jim Rice: Hall of Famer

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jim Rice: Hall of Famer

The news came around lunch time, and boy, was it ever welcome. After 14 years of eligibility with no results, Boston Red Sox Jim Rice was finally elected into the Hall of Fame on his last year of eligibility. Rice was a powerful force on the Red Sox during the 1970s and '80s, and, maybe because that's the period when I first started paying close attention to doings around Fenway, he was always one of my favorite players. He was certainly something to be reckoned with when and Freddie Lynn were rookies together in 1975, and then when you threw Yaz, Pudge, and so many others into the mix, that was a team worth paying attention to. I was a teenager, so I can't say that I was always consistent, but there were certainly days on which he was my absolute favorite player.

Rice was a dominant hitter, but he didn't quite play well enough quite long enough to be a lock for the HOF. He was 18 home runs shy of 400, 49 RBIs shy of 1,500, 48 hits shy of 2,500, and 2 points shy of a lifetime .300 average (care of baseball-reference.com). A little bit higher on any two or three of those would have been all he needed, but he didn't have it, so he had to wait. Players need to appear on 75 percent of baseball writers' ballots to make it in, and last year he made it to 70--close, but not close enough. Twenty previous players who hit the 70 percent threshold made it up to 75 percent the next year, so I was optimistic, but you never can tell.

This has nothing to do with stats (although it has everything to do with why he deserves to be in the hall), but one of my most prominent Jim Rice memories highlights a demonstration of his sheer power. I can't find an actual link at the moment (although there are other people talking about it), but Rice had such pure strength that he once broke a bat on a check swing--he stopped the bat handle from going around, but the end of the bat had such force that it couldn't be slowed. It's my understanding that he's not the only major leaguer to have accomplished such a feat, but he's the only one who's among my favorite players.

Congratulations, Jim. It's about time.

9 Comments:

At 5:33 AM, January 13, 2009, Blogger Stevie T said...

Wow, this is awesome. I had given up.

 
At 9:40 AM, January 13, 2009, Blogger Stevie T said...

I think the broken bat on check swing happened more than once, but he was my favorite player, and I was only a child, so maybe I'm remembering wrong.

 
At 11:54 AM, January 13, 2009, Anonymous Doug said...

Like I said, I couldn't find a link to pin it down, but my memory is that he did it more than once, too.

 
At 12:55 AM, January 15, 2009, Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Hate to be a contrarian, but I don't believe that Jim Rice was a Hall of Famer on the best day of his life. He was slow, couldn't play defense, had mediocre on-base ability, and made a TON of outs. His team had much to do with his RBI totals, and there are far better players--some of them also members of the 70s Red Sox--who aren't in the Hall of Fame. Had he played in Pittsburgh, Montreal, or Seattle, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Again, sorry to be contrary.

 
At 10:13 PM, January 15, 2009, Anonymous Mike said...

Had he played on Pittsburgh, Montreal or Seattle he might have been in the Hall years ago. In Pittsburgh, he could have won a couple World titles because he would have allowed Pops to move to first and given them a a boost in the division races they lost to the Phils in the late-1970's. Montreal? They also finished second to the Phil in the early-1980's. With Rice playing Left instead of Ron Leflore, they might have won more.

Had he played in Seattle, in the late-1970's and early-1980's he might have had a lower average, but he would have probably hit more homeruns. Possibly getting to 450 or so.

A lot of other people played in Fenway. Not all of them got 400 total bases in a season. His team did have much to do with his RBI totla. So does everyone' team. He led the team in RBI baically every year, though, and that's pretty good. It's not like they could have replaced him with just anyone and those guys would have driven in 139, 130, 126, 122, 114 runs. Dwight Evans is a guy peole consider under rated. He also played in fenway which was also pumping up his numbers, one assumes. He drove in over 120 runs exactly once. He hit over 35 homers as many times as I did. His career average was 16 points lower than Rice's His hit total about the same. I think he's an excellent candidtae, bunch his defense aside, hi hitting numbers are quite similar to Rice's, and again, he also played in Fenway.

I would have more of a problem with Rice if the Hall did not already have Chuck Klein, Hack Wilon, and Chick Hafey. And at least we have been spared twenty years of whining by Rice supporter. Well, twenty more year...

 
At 4:28 PM, January 16, 2009, Blogger Stuart Shea said...

The argument that Rice belongs in because other, lesser, players are in is not to be trusted, sorry. Sliding standards produce, for instance, hosannas for Barack Obama.

Second of all, Rice would have been a far inferior player in the big parks of Pittsburgh or Montreal, both because playing on turf would have exposed his lousy defense even more and because he couldn't have hit for as much power there as in Fenway.

Seattle might have given him a few more homers, but then again it might not have; in its early years the Kingdome had larger dimensions than later.

The point I was trying to make is that had Jim Rice played in a smaller market, one where a dozen newspapers traveled with the team and fill the voting ranks of the BBWAA, he wouldn't be thought of as anything but a very good player--which he was.

Rice led the AL in homers three times and RBI and slugging percentage twice. He's 55th on the all-time RBI list. He had a strong throwing arm.

But those things don't make him a Hall of Famer.

The most important offensive statistic is on-base percentage: his was .352. That's not in the top 100 of all time.

The second most important is slugging average. Rice's career slugging average was .507. At the start of the 2008 season, he ranked 82nd of all time.

Rice played half of his games in a home ballpark that inflated his offense. (His lifetime home BA: .320. On the road, .277.)

He played for Red Sox teams full of guys who got on base in front of him. He had below-average range in left field. He couldn't run, wasn't liked by his teammates, and didn't treat fans well.

What Jim Rice has to sell is 382 home runs. And that's three fewer than Dwight Evans.

 
At 4:30 PM, January 16, 2009, Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Note that the above comment should have said, "had Jim Rice played in a smaller market, one where a dozen newspapers DIDN'T travel with the team..."

Sorry.

 
At 7:29 PM, January 16, 2009, Anonymous Doug said...

Rice was better than average in left field (though I won't argue by very much), the position he primarily played, and he improved over time, but the case for Rice was never going to be based on defense. It's all about the power. It's not for nothing that he's the only American League player to exceed 400 bases in a season since Joe DiMaggio did it seventy-some years ago (which is even more of an accomplishment if we have to factor in "mediocre on-base ability," as well).

Although he doesn't stand out at any single offensive stat, it's often the combination of abilities that get you far in life. In one of the articles on the Sox site on this subject, there was a stat even I didn't believe:

"The only retired players with career average and home run totals as high as Rice were Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and [Ted] Williams, all of whom are Hall of Famers."
I went and looked it up myself, and except for adding Larry Walker, who retired after the 2005 season, that's correct.

And by the way, Stu, if you're starting to build a case for Dwight Evans in the Hall, maybe we can talk.

 
At 9:31 PM, January 16, 2009, Anonymous Mike said...

I'm not making a sliding standard argument. A sliding standard argument would be "Hey, Mike Greenwell should be in because Fred Lindstrom is in, and Greenwell was better than he was." That's true, by the way, Greenwell was better.

What I am saying is that the actual standard the Hall of Fame uses is such that Jim Rice is way, way, way, way above it. Jim Rice is not as good as say Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or even Willie Stargell or Ralph Kiner (though he is certainly closer to their wheel house.) But those guys are not the standard for the Hall of Fame, and really haven't been since a few years after it started. Jim Rice was a hell of a player, and every bit as good as Billy Williams or Orlando Cepeda or Lou Brock or Doggie Perez. You might argue that those guys don't belong in there either -- well, Brock got the 3,000 hits and a major career record, so nobody will try to argue against him, but you have to wonder about an outfielder who drives in more than 70 run exactly once in 19 years. However, at some point, if someone is as good as or better than 60-70 percent of the players in the Hall of Fame, then it is no longer a sliding scale argument. It's a "Hey, this guy is way beyond the established standard."

I mean, if you look at the convenient Hall of Fame monitoring scores at Baseball Reference, you'll notice that Jim Rice is well beyond the likely Hall of Famer stats. He is ranked 89th. That puts him in the top half. How can there be a sliding scale if you let the guy in, and he is automatically in the top half of inductees in terms of qualifications.

 

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