THAT OL’ HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCEMENT
I’ve stayed away from commenting on the Rise of Jim Rice as a Hall-of-Fame candidate because the whole thing seemed inevitable, a group of self-appointed reactionaries making a comment on the steroids era. The problem is that the logic of it escaped me. “Look! Jim Rice was mediocre without the help of drugs! We’ll show Mark McGwire and the rest of those overinflated bodybuilders what we think of them by putting in this guy! Sure, he didn’t run, didn’t play defense, didn’t hit outside of Fenway Park, was done as a useful player at 33, and was completely uncommunicative, but he was clean!” The vote sure wasn’t about Rice the ballplayer, who peaked from 1977-1979 and had a bunch of seasons around those years that were just decent, and wouldn’t even rate that if he hadn’t been so good at taking advantage of Fenway. Yes, that’s a skill, but given Rice’s other shortcomings, it shouldn’t have been enough.
It’s done, though, and there’s not much to do about it but shrug. History is always a tug of war, and different perspectives gain ascendance at different times, leaving their detritus behind even as they vanish from the scene. Every Hall of Fame is like that, in whatever guise it exists. Fifty statues stand under the U.S. Capitol dome. Each state gets to send likenesses of two native greats, state hall of famers if you will. The resultant collection is a fascinating congeries of legitimate heroes and scumbags who have no business being there (as well as many complete obscurities), but I guarantee you that if we started debating exactly who belonged in each group, no two of us would come up with identical lists. In fact, I can think of reasons to disqualify some of the guys I personally favor.
Really look that list over. There are some “great” Americans represented who you would think twice about leaving alone in a room with your wallet. The Hall of Fame is a lot like that, except that the inductees should in theory be less open to debate, given that we have a statistical record of their accomplishments. The life of a president or general is not so easily reduced to wins and losses, hits and outs, and so there is more room for interpretation. With the Hall, the best you can do is make an argument that the numbers aren’t representative, that there are other factors at work, and that’s usually where Hall voters get themselves into trouble. That’s what we have here, Rice going in because 76 percent of the voters decided to put their faith in unprovable ambiguities like Rice’s fearsomeness, or even just parked their political position on PEDs over his body.
Thus, Rice is merely one more scorched-out battleground. Grass will grown on him, cattle will graze, some people will visit sometimes, perhaps. In the long run, though, just saying someone was great because you have an agenda for them doesn’t make them so. Time renders its own verdict. When some of those statues were erected under the Capitol dome, many more than 100 years ago, there wasn’t sufficient perspective for objections, for a large enough body of people to say, “Hey, wait — this guy was a drunk!” or “This guy was a slaver — why are we putting him here so school children can come through and think he’s some kind of all-time great?” When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there’s a more educated electorate on the rise, but it’s time isn’t yet here. Rice gets his plaque, and it is hoped he enjoys the honor. He certainly wasn’t a bad ballplayer. But in the final analysis, his election is a rearguard action, a reaction, and it’s not about him, it’s about honoring a time when the old men who voted for him could still claim to understand the game.
AND JUST TO KICK THIS HORSE EVEN HARDER
We’ve talked about Rock Raines and his Hall-of-Fame qualifications before; on the YES Hot Stove show, I said that if Rickey Henderson was the No. 1 leadoff hitter of all time, Raines was 1-A. I don’t want to rehearse all the arguments again, but when Andre Dawson gets 361 votes and Tim Raines gets 122, something is amiss.
RICKEY IS THE GREATEST …
… But you knew that. No disrespect to Don Mattingly, but Rickey should have had the 1985 MVP award as well.