Friday, December 28, 2007

Jim Ed Rice

I’m not sure what possessed him to do it, but in the Boston Globe this week, Dan Shaughnessy opines that Jim Rice will finally get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this time around, and also insists that he certainly deserves it. I agree that Rice probably will get in this year, since he doesn’t have a lot of competition, and that he’ll also likely be joined by Goose Gossage. I think Gossage’s induction is long overdue, and I’ll be happy for Rice if he does get the call. It’s always great to see another Red Sox player be inducted, especially one I watched his entire career, but I think Rice is the classic “just shy” guy. He had about 12 good years, from his rookie season in 1975 to 1986. During those years, Shaughnessy insists Rice was the most fearsome hitter of his time. That’s stretching it a bit, Dan. Actually, that’s stretching it a lot. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker were all at Rice’s level, and each of those three had years as good or in some cases better than most of Rice’s. None of them are in Cooperstown. There are also guys named Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and a few other pretty good hitters, who have been rightfully inducted. Rice was a fearsome hitter, but certainly not the most fearsome of his time. Although he had the quickest and strongest wrist snap in the game, credentials for Cooperstown, especially for a slugging outfielder in an age of hitters, have to be examined carefully. When you do that, I actually believe that Dwight Evans is more deserving of induction than Jim Rice, and in a minute I’ll prove why.

Rice’s great claim to Fame was his power, but he only had 382 career homers, and that ranks him 53rd on the all-time list, well behind Carlos Delgado, Jose Canseco and Darrell Evans. He’s 4 behind Chipper Jones, 3 behind his former teammate, Mr. Dwight Evans (did you know that?), and 1 behind Larry Walker. Rice is tied with Frank Howard. Nobody I just mentioned is in Cooperstown, and none of them are going to be. Rice had a few fantastic seasons, though none of them strung together, and he won the MVP in 1978. In that golden year, he truly was the most fearsome hitter in the game. But that was 1 year. Rice had 11 seasons of 20 or more homers. Dewey did that, too. So did Barry Bonds’ father Bobby. Joe Carter had 12. These are very good numbers, but not Hall of Fame caliber, and that’s what we’re talking about here. Total bases: Rice led the American League 4 times, which is terrific, but he still ranks only 66th all time, well behind Harold Baines, Dave Parker, Vada Pinson, DWIGHT EVANS, and about 30 behind the immortal Steve Finley.

Rice was exceedingly 1-dimensional. He wasn’t blessed with great speed, either defensively or offensively. He did lead the league with 15 triples in 1978, but he led the league in everything in 1978. After that, his high was 7 in 1984. Defensively, he ranged from indifferent to abysmal. His arm was never better than average, and he played in an outfield that also included Fred Lynn and (ahem) Dwight Evans, who holds the Red Sox franchise record with 8 Gold Gloves. The contrast, for those who might not remember it, was best described as striking. Rice was never in great danger of winning even one Gold Glove. Offensively in his own league, Reggie Jackson and Eddie Murray were each as fearsome, if not moreso than Rice (Murray from both sides of the plate), and they’re both in Cooperstown today. Both of them were far better defensively than Rice, as well. You’d also have to admit that Dawson (mentioned above) is in a league above Rice defensively, too. Hawk belongs in a class with Robin Yount and my buddy Dwight Evans for flashing the leather.

I mentioned Dave Parker earlier. The "Cobra" was, in many ways, the National League version of Jim Rice. Parker finished 43 career homers behind Rice, though 40 RBI ahead. He also won an MVP award as Rice did, but Parker managed to lead the National League in batting average twice and picked up 3 Gold Gloves as well. If Jim Rice gets into Cooperstown, Dawson should be there first (playing on significantly inferior Expos and Cubs teams: 438 career HR, 8 Gold Gloves, 8 All-Star appearances). Dwight Evans next, THEN Rice. Parker should be soon after. Anyone for inducting Dave Parker into the Hall of Fame?

Jim Rice wasn’t even the best player in his own outfield for the vast majority of the time he called Fenway home, and I don’t hear anyone screaming for Dewey’s induction. To be fair, Rice did terrorize pitchers for much of his career, and he was great fun to watch. I loved writing his name in my scorecard when he played, and knowing that he was ours. It’s not like the Red Sox didn’t respect him. Nobody else has been issued a #14 jersey since Rice retired almost 20 years ago. Rice had a unique characteristic that I only encountered one other time before or since: the ball sounded different coming off Rice’s bat. There was a more authoritative, sharper CRACK when Rice hit the ball. The only other guy that I remember creating that sound in my lifetime was Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson is certainly no Jim Rice, but Jim Rice is certainly no Reggie Jackson, either. If you’re looking at sluggers from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Jim Rice might well be in the top 10, and perhaps even the top 5, but this is a discussion about comparing him to (literally) the best ever. By that standard, I’m sorry but he doesn’t qualify. He’s just shy, but that “just” makes all the difference.

1 comment:

vard said...

DAMN he was snacky, though. %^>