Jim Rice was one of the most feared hitters in American League history, who over a stretch of four consecutive seasons, beginning in 1976, placed first or second in slugging percentage, and first in total bases three times, and third once.
After 14 years of disappointment, the one-time Boston left fielder had his day in the sun along with Rickey Henderson and the late Joe Gordon last Sunday in Cooperstown, New York, as they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This was Rice’s final year of eligibility to be selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
“It doesn’t matter that the call came 15 years later,’’ Rice said. “What matters is that I got it.”
Rice was always direct with the sometimes cranky New England press, and some felt he had a chip on his shoulder, unlike media-darling Fred Lynn, who scooped up the AL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors in 1975 over Rice.
“It’s hard to comprehend. I am in awe to be in this elite company and humbled to be accepting this honor,’’ Rice said. “I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be than to be right here, right now, with you and you,’’ as he pointed to the more than 50 Hall of Famers sitting behind him on the stage.
Some said this slight caused the first-round pick to commence his rocky relationship with the Boston writers.
“The media often asked me about my players (teammates),’’ said Rice, who eclipsed 100 runs batted in eight times, and produced 200 hits three straight seasons. “I refused to be the media’s mouthpiece. I came to Boston to play professional baseball, and that’s what I did. And I did it well.”
Rice did everything superbly in 1975, ending with a .309 batting average, 102 RBIs, 22 home runs, and 92 runs scored.
The Red Sox advanced to the World Series, fell in seven memorable games to the Cincinnati Reds, and did so without Rice, who broke his wrist late in the regular season.
Current Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein was an avid fan of Rice, who retired during the 1989 season.
“He was a slugger,’’ Epstein said. “He had incredible power. He was one of the most feared guys throughout his whole career. His career was a prime. He wasn’t out there looking to draw a walk, but he did some serious damage. Especially what he did earlier in his career.”
Rice’s 1978 season is the stuff of legend, and earned him an AL MVP award. That year, Rice hammered 46 homers, with 139 RBIs, a .600 slugging percentage, 213 hits, 121 runs scored, and a .315 batting average, but the Red Sox and eventual World Series champs New York Yankees tied for first in the AL East. The Yanks won a one-game playoff, but Rice had to settle for being the best player in the Junior Circuit.
Rice got his chance to appear in a World Series when Boston lost again in seven games, this time to the New York Mets in 1986, where he batted .333 with a .455 on-base percentage.
Rice finished with 382 homers, 1,451 RBIs, a .502 slugging percentage, and a .298 career batting average. Yet all of this pales in comparison to Sunday.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.