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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Case for Jim Rice

I'm going to break my own rule here and discuss baseball when the NFL playoffs should stand alone in the spotlight. I had to rush to get this one in under the wire today, as I didn't realize until this morning that baseball writers were voting today on the next class of players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Another year, another snub for former Red Sox star Jim Rice. The slugger failed to reach the 75% target for yet another year, leaving just two more shots at Hall entry through the traditional door before he's bumped from eligibility.

The chorus of Rice supporters continues to chime loudly, this year taking on some new timbre, as described in this Nick Cafardo piece in Today's Globe written in advance of today's vote.

The gist is that this year's ballot, and all of its furor surrounding
the first time eligible Mark McGwire, raised new prospects for the steroid-free Rice's candidacy. Jeff Horrigan described the same movement in light of the anti-Mark McGwire mob, noting:
Rice hit 382 home runs, and maintained a .298 career batting average over 14-plus seasons. However, his status as one of baseball's most feared power hitters really dried-up after his MVP-worthy 1986 season. 31 home runs over his last three seasons, while he struggled to keep a batting average over .270.
Other Rice factors:
-Won A.L. MVP in 1978, hitting 46 home runs, 139 RBI, and .315 avg.
- Eight All Star appearances in 14 seasons
- finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year and 3rd in MVP balloting in 1975, losing out on both to teammate Fred Lynn. He hit 22 HR, 102 RBI, .309 AVG.
- Finished 3rd in MVP balloting in 1986 (39 HR, 110 RBI, .324 AVG)
- Finished 4th in MVP balloting in 1977 (39 HR, 114 RBI, .320 AVG) and 1983 (39 HR, 126 RBI, .305 AVG)
- Finished 5th in MVP balloting in 1979 (39 HR, 130 RBI, .329 AVG)
Cafardo wrote hopefully of Rice's chances this year, despite the sentiment of most writers that the hitters' best shot was last year when he stood as tall as any of the other average candidates in the field. Alas, no 75% came his way. With a 2007 ballot that included the likes of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, 2007 didn't look quite as promising at the outset. However, some observed a buzz generating in favor of Rice due to the slugger's eminence in an era far more free of steroids and before expansion brought in far thinner pitching staffs. Cafardo noted:
Rice, though his candidacy has picked up steam, is still struggling for the elusive honor, which might came today when the latest voting results are announced, though competing with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken might prolong his wait another year.

A reason Rice is picking up steam is that this is the first year voters are faced with an otherwise strong candidate suspected of using steroids, Mark McGwire. Rice might have gotten votes that would have gone to McGwire. Polls by ESPN and the Associated Press indicate McGwire won't garner more than 25-30 percent, far short of the 75 percent required for induction.
Interestingly, Rice submitted to Cafardo, "If you cheated, you don't belong in the Hall of Fame."

If Rice doesn’t garner the necessary support of 75% of the writers, he’ll have two more years before he is pushed into the Veterans Committee, which considers the worthiness of snubbed players every other year.

Describing their votes, Sports Illustrated's
Tom Verducci gives Ripken and Gwynn backrubs; some guy from Chicago apparently submitted an entirely blank ballot in protest or something; NY Daily News Bill Madden focuses on the McGwire matter. Washington Post's Dave Sheinin gives one more rubdown to Ripken while chiding the steroid users. Regular Ripken fellator Thomas Boswell was good enough to spare us one more act of service, focusing instead on his McGwire snub.

Apparently, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman was among the converted on Rice, as he observed here:
The one player I've changed my mind on. His six top-five MVP finishes reflect that he was one of the game's best players for a decade. He was fairly one dimensional and didn't play long enough to crack 400 home runs, but I'll give him a "yes" for the second time.
ESPN's Jayson Stark also backed Rice, as well as his equivalent in the pitching world, Jack Morris. Stark observed:
This is about more than just Game 7, 1991. Jack Morris pitched a no-hitter. He started three All-Star Games. He was a huge figure on three World Series pitching staffs. He always started Opening Day. And consider this: From 1979 to '92, when Morris and Nolan Ryan were both doing their thing, Morris had 65 more wins than Ryan (233-168). I've voted for him eight years in a row, and never once felt I'd overinflated what he was in his day.
Of Rice, Stark is "grateful to all the readers who did so much research on this guy to help me see the light on him," adding:
The biggest reason I vote for him: The fear factor. In the 11 seasons from 1975 to '85, American League pitchers would have been happier to see Jack the Ripper heading up their driveway than Jim Rice heading toward home plate.

In those 11 seasons, Rice led the AL in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging and extra-base hits. And the only hitter even in the same neighborhood in most of those departments was George Brett.
I yield that Morris is even more deserving than Rice, largely due to his seminal performance and anchor roles in helping deliver three World Series crowns. Yet, another year has passed and neither will be called to the Hall.

FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal also lined up in
favor of Rice, a position he fully explained in 2006. If it were only up to the national writers, like Rosenthal and the ESPN staff, it appeared that Rice would make it this year.

Not to be, I guess.


Blogger weasel said...

If Rice doesn't make it in as a player (which would be a capital crime, in my opinion) we could pin our hopes on him making it in as a broadcaster. The way he looks at Tom (Maine's Own) Caron as if he is a used Kleenex before correcting yet another of his egregious mis-statements about baseball on NESN is always a highlight of my day, whether the Sox win or lose.

9:40 AM

Blogger Rikki said...

No doubt ... and if not to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he surely deserves inclusion in the fashion hall of fame. Guy surely knows how to pair a peach-colored suit with a sky-blue tie, and yet, I'm fairly sure nobody gives him a hard time about it.

11:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, not mention of Steve Garvey? Odds are that one of us has a good chance of being one of his illegitimate children. If that doesn't make one HOF worthy, then I don't know what does.

12:32 PM


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