From a 1978 Time article about my all-time favorite Red Sox player, James Edward Rice:
But it is power, lean-muscled, quick-wristed power, that stirs excitement when Jim Rice comes to the plate. In Fenway Park, where the fans have a connoisseur's appreciation of the slugger's art, the cheers begin when he strides to the on-deck circle. Rice has sparked Boston to its best start since 1946, when Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio returned from World War II to win the first Red Sox pennant in almost three decades. Says one Sox fan: "They can be down six runs in the ninth inning, but if Rice still has a chance to bat, nobody leaves."
What crowds wait to see is one of the smoothest righthanded swings in recent baseball memory. With his bat held letter high and his head arched over a cocked shoulder, Rice explodes with a compact swing. Says he: "My strength comes from my wrists and legs. But then I bring my left shoulder back so that, all my momentum jumps out to the ball. It's like a rattlesnake —he coils and then he springs out." Rice springs eternal: his force is lethal to pitchers, who admit that the rattlesnake swing is the most formidable in the big leagues.
This is Jim Rice's 14th year on the ballot, one removed from his last chance to be elected before he goes to the Veterans' Committee. There is no one in baseball I have more respect and affection for than Jim Ed, the man most responsible for sucking me wonderfully and inexorably into Red Sox Nation, a place from whence I have never looked back and from whence I will never return. That regal bearing, that beautiful compact swing, that sense of the moment...not to mention that drop-dead gorgeous face and smile (he still fills out a suit pretty nicely!) At 14, I was completely enamored of him. At 44, I still am.
Jim Rice is worthy of enshrinement. Has been from Day One. It's more than annoying than marginal guys who played a long time (like Gary Carter) have plaques and Rice still sits on the outside, looking in. Consider the following, from mlb.com:
Rice's 382 homers and 1,451 RBIs were tops among all American League hitters during his 16 years. Furthermore, Rice topped 20 homers 11 times, 100 RBIs eight times, was an All-Star eight times, hit .300 in seven seasons and he finished in the top five in the AL MVP voting six times. Also, Rice hit 39-plus homers four times, the most of anyone who played during his time period.
Rice, who hit for average and power, and to all fields, was a dominant slugger.
Clearly, the thing that has held Rice back thus far in his quest for Cooperstown is the longevity stats. The home runs are just shy of 400. The hits (2,452) are a few seasons short of 3,000. And, oh, the batting average. If only Rice hadn't taken a free fall in his final three seasons, that .298 career average would have been well over .300.
But what means more? Longevity or dominance?
Remember, there are a lot of players who didn't play a long time but whose dominance has garnered them HOF credentials, and not just in baseball. Sandy Koufax, for example. Jim Brown. But maybe they were nicer to reporters.
Besides, the story of Jim Rice's time in Boston is powerful, especially if you ever read Shut Out, which I highly recommend you do. Sports writing is fine, but I always find myself much more drawn to the human stories in the game, of which baseball provides a plethora. Jim Rice's journey is one of the most compelling baseball human interest stories ever.
He belongs in the Hall, especially as his career is considered in the light of Bonds and MacGwire and Canseco. Jerry Remy said it best: “There’s got to be a place for him in Cooperstown. People have to understand what he was.”
Let's hope this time, finally, those with a vote did understand it.
(Photo lifted from nice story on Rice's hall chances on SI.com)