Rice not worthy, Rickey the greatest

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.

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.

… But you knew that. No disrespect to Don Mattingly, but Rickey should have had the 1985 MVP award as well.


  1. juliasrants

    Gee – I’m not feeling the love for Jimmy. No – he wasn’t one to sit around and talk shop with the media. GET OVER IT! Rice was asked about that today. He said as Captain of the team he was more then willing to talk about the game – what had happened. But it wasn’t his place to comment on his team mates – what was wrong with them…etc. He was a TEAM player and true team mate. His comment tonight – if the media really wanted to find out what was wrong with another player they could go ask that player. He wasn’t going to tattle. Maybe a few players from today could take that lesson to heart. I think many of the people who voted for Rice also looked at something besides where he landed on “the lists”. They looked at the impact he had on the game during the time that he played. He had a major impact. He was one of the most feared hitters of his era. That should have – and did – count for something. Even Rickey Henderson , being on the top of the “the lists” wasn’t deemed worthy enough to receive a vote on all the ballots. Sorry – but I will have to whole heartedly disagree with your opinion of Jim Rice.


  2. sadaharuo

    “He was one of the most feared hitters of his era.”

    I believe Dan Shaughnessy gets a nickel every time this old chestnut comes out.

    So I guess we’re going to have to put Albert Belle into the Hall as well? He was head and shoulders better than Jim Rice. Certainly one of the “most feared” hitters of his era. Forced to retire ahead of his time, through no fault of his own. Where Jim Rice hung on for 3 extra years trying to pad his stats, Belle was still a fairly potent hitter almost to the end of his career.

  3. buzah

    I wonder how those 315 GIDP’s, limited walks and horrible defense were viewed by the idiots who elected Rice today. That Rock Raines didn’t get in instead is a joke. And don’t be so sure Rice was clean. He and Lynn really bulked up for the `79 season and that’s really when the problem was starting.

  4. charlief

    Steve – you mention his indebtedness to Fenway. Not until I really looked did I realize how bad it was. Career splits were .320/.374/.546 at home vs .277/.330/.459 away. Some of that could be explained away with age, but even in his 1978 MVP season the splits were extreme – .361/.416/.690 home vs .269/.325/.512 away.
    It’s clear that someone who ranks 177th all time in OPS+, tied with Olerud, Sosa, and Alou, would not have ranked that high if he didn’t play in Fenway.
    I think there are a slew of LFers today that you might want to start over him, not including Manny, who is a HOFer himself. Ryan Braun, Holliday, Lee… if not definite, there is at least a strong case to be made that there are guys you’d rather have right now than what Rice usually brought to the table.

  5. bigjay21

    Although I am too young to have seen Jim Rice play, I don’t think he was not Hall worthy. He only had decent stats was one of the many players whose primary position was DH…. If your primary position is DH (or if your defense was suspect), then your stats should be awe-inspiring…… and honestly, his stats weren’t…..
    Ricky was a lock, and rightfully so…. I honestly want to take the people who didn’t vote for Rickey and take away their voting privileges….
    The only real “snubs” was Tim Raines…. But truthfully, I didn’t think Raines would be voted in this ballot… but I could definitely see it in 3-4 years…..

  6. charlief

    Since you are such a great historian:
    people keep telling me that since I was too young to know how feared Jim Rice was, I can’t appreciate him. If that were the case, are there any other HOFers that fit that bill? Or do most of them also have the stats to back it up?

  7. mlbmark

    I almost caved in at the whole “feared” retro-labeling of Jim Rice but then I remembered that I grew up a baseball fan in the Rice era and never once told myself: “He should be in the Hall of Fame someday.” He was a good player. Once he is inducted, it doesn’t matter anymore, I suppose. I just hope my peers will continue to visit Cooperstown and actually appreciate the hallowed sense you get as you walk through the Gallery room and survey the plaques of true elite. Ted Williams…Cy Young…Jim Rice? OK. I am actually more concerned that after voting for Big Mac three years in a row, I am apparently becoming dumber and dumber. I always thought the Commissioner was the one who keeps an evil person off the ballot for consideration, not people with journalism degrees and gut feelings.

    Lifetime Honorary BBWAA member/HOF voter
    One of McGwire’s 118 and fast-shrinking supporters

  8. bigjay21

    @charlief: I am sure there are a few people in the HOF that got in that I have absolutely no clue how influential to the game they were. To be honest, I would like to think of the Hall of Fame as where the people who were truly bigger than the game are enshrined. It is where I envision the Babe Ruths, Joe DiMaggios, Mickey Mantles, Jackie Robinsons, Nolan Ryan’s of the game to be – people who were bigger than any team or even the game. I truly don’t think there SHOULD be too many men WORTHY of that honor, although I am sure there are people who slipped in under the radar… And I am fine with that. I just won’t be stopping by Jim Rice’s plaque anytime soon to stare in awe at his amazingly fearsome Fenway Park swing……

  9. comedy2345@yahoo.com

    I saw Jim Rice play and he was fear–in Fenway Park–not so in Yankee stadium. when he came in for a series, in June of 1977 I think, after hitting a couple of fly balls near the 430 sign, he was bitching an moaning. He and Carlton Fisk wouldn’t stop. I’m sure Munson was cackling–“This is my world and welcome to it.”

    If Rice had played his whole career in Yankee Stadium he would have had a hundred fewer home runs. (Maybe 80–they probably would’ve pulled the fences in for him) If so, he wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Joe Gordon’s numbers in the old stadium and Municipal stadium are much more impressive.

  10. dachshund4

    Rice was a decent hitter that could not ( or would not ) run. Talk about Manny! I agree 110% with you about Rock. He was a better hitter than Rickey. Jim Rice couldn’t carry the Hawk’s jock. We all know the obscurity of playing in Montreal hurts him. All those games on carpet destroyed his knees and his offensive numbers are no where near where they could have been. The one good thing that comes out of Rice making the HOF is we don’t have to listen to all the whining and crying about his getting there anymore.

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