Rice triumphant in final pursuit of Hall
Red Sox star elected into Cooperstown in 15th year on ballot
BOSTON -- For Jim Rice, the sting from 14 years of rejection suddenly became as far gone as many of the 382 home runs he belted during his career with the Boston Red Sox. Down to his 15th and final at-bat on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, Rice received the enormous honor of being elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday.
He joined Rickey Henderson, baseball's all-time stolen base king, as the two members of the 2009 Hall of Fame class.
Befitting the struggle it was for Rice to gain entry into Cooperstown, he didn't make it by much. Rice was named on 76.4 percent of the ballots. Seventy-five percent is the required amount to become a Hall of Famer. Rice received 412 votes, just seven more than the minimum amount he needed.
It was a sweet triumph for the 54-year-old Rice, who fell just 16 votes short on the 2008 ballot.
"I'm not nervous now," said Rice, who proudly wore a Hall of Fame cap during a press conference at Fenway Park. "When I got the call, I was very nervous. It's a big relief. It's over with. I feel real good."
In the minutes before the official call came a little after 1 p.m. ET, Rice was at his Boston-area home watching his favorite soap opera, "The Young and the Restless." Rice, as you could imagine, was a little restless himself. But no longer.
"It was a big relief," Rice said. "It just seemed like, I didn't have any weight on my shoulder before that, per se, but when I got the call, it seemed like everything just fell off. That was a relief then."
Rice, known for his raw strength and the fear factor he gave opposing pitchers, became the third player to be elected into the Hall of Fame in his final year of BBWAA eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967) and Ralph Kiner (1975).
"If you look at the numbers of guys who have played the game that are in the Hall of Fame, my numbers are comparable," said Rice. "As far as what took so long, I have no idea. The only thing I can say is that I'm glad it's over with. I'm not mad at any writers, or what have you. I'm just looking forward today, and the things to come."
Just like the two Hall of Fame left fielders who preceded him at Fenway Park -- Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski -- Rice spent his entire career (1974-89) with the Red Sox. In fact, he joined Williams, Yaz and Bobby Doerr as the only Hall of Famers to play their entire career with the Sox.
Red Sox in the Hall of Fame
"On behalf of John Henry, Tom Werner, our partners, our entire front office, and all of Red Sox Nation, I extend our most sincere congratulations to Jim Rice on his selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "Jim was one of the most dominant hitters to wear the uniform, and his selection validates what Red Sox fans have known for a long time -- that Jim Rice was one of the greatest offensive players to ever play the game of baseball. He belongs in Cooperstown. We are ecstatic for Jim and look forward to celebrating his achievement with our fans at Fenway Park in the near future.
Don't be surprised if Rice's No. 14 joins 9 (Williams) and 8 (Yaz) on the right field facade at Fenway Park during the 2009 season. No Boston player has worn the number since Rice's retirement.
Said Yastrzemski of Rice's election: "Congratulations to Jimmy on his election to the Hall of Fame -- it was long overdue. He was a great teammate and friend. I'm looking forward to his induction in July. I can only hope the day will come when Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant will also join us in Cooperstown."
The reason it took Rice 15 tries to get into the Hall of Fame? Mainly because he didn't have the longevity required to finish with 3,000 hits or 400 home runs. Rice struggled in his final three seasons in the Majors, bringing his career average, which was above .300 just about his entire career, to .298.
But in the end, Rice's impressive totals during his peak years (1975-86) vaulted him into the Hall of Fame, where he will be formally inducted along with Henderson on July 26.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who grew up just a couple of miles from Fenway Park, was an avid Rice follower during his youth.
"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 didn't hang around long after his skills started to decline. His entire career was prime performance. He wasn't out there looking to draw a walk, but he did some serious damage. Especially what he did earlier in his career -- that was incredible."
Rice's candidacy got some momentum a few years ago when Dick Bresciani, who is the de facto historian for the Red Sox among his other duties with the club, began releasing an annual report to Hall of Fame voters on why Rice is worthy of Cooperstown.
Prior to that report, the right-handed masher had topped out at 57.9 percent (2001) and had been as low as 29.4 percent (1999).
But, in 2005, the first year of the Bresciani report, Rice's percentage did the following: 59.5 percent in '05, 64.8 percent in '06, 63.5 percent in '07, 72.2 in 2008, and finally, enough votes to be elected.
Bresciani aptly pointed out that Rice led all American Leaguers in homers and RBIs during his 16-year career. Another interesting Bresciani nugget was that the only retired players with career average and home run totals as high as Rice were Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Williams, all of whom are Hall of Famers.
"It's been a long time and I'm glad to wear the hat and go into the Hall of Fame for the Boston Red Sox," said Rice. "Most of all, I'd definitely like to thank Dick Bresciani for the work that he's done promoting me, and he's still promoting me. Thank you."
Many of Rice's other accomplishments spoke for themselves: He 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 in the AL during his time period.
Rice's critics pointed to his .352 on-base percentage and the fact he never walked more than 62 times in a given season.
"A mailman walks," quipped Rice. "And the guy that delivers papers walk and I did all those except delivering mail. So I did my share of walking, so no I don't want to walk. The years I hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, I probably struck out 100 times and still got 200 hits."
Another reason Rice suspects his entry to the Hall might have been delayed was his sometimes contentious relationship with the media.
"Maybe they thought I was arrogant," Rice said. "That wasn't true at all. I was very protective of the players I played with. My thing was, if you wanted to talk to me about the game or why I screwed up in the outfield or why I didn't get a basehit or a home run, I accepted that. But when you wanted to talk about my teammates or talk about the front office or management, that's where I got in trouble [with the media] a lot.
"They thought if you were the captain of the ballclub, you were supposed to speak for upstairs and management and players. I spoke for the players, I did not speak for management or the coaching staff or upstairs."
The only noise-maker Rice ever had was his bat. Rice's most impressive season, without question, was 1978, when he hit .315 with 213 hits, 15 triples, 46 homers, 139 RBIs and 406 total bases. The Red Sox won 99 games that year, but lost an epic one-game playoff to the Yankees, which prevented Rice from bringing his torrid bat into the postseason.
"It was the most dynamic offensive year of anyone I've ever played with," said fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, a teammate of Rice's from 1978-84. "His acceptance to the Hall is long over-due. As a person, he was a consistent guy. He was always there every day - as a person and a player."
After serving as a September callup in 1974, Rice made a dramatic entry as a full-time player in '75, joining Fred Lynn as Boston's Gold Dust Twins.
Though Lynn was Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player that season, Rice (.309, 22 homers, 102 RBIs) was almost as instrumental in Boston's AL East title that season.
"Throw out the statistics," said Lynn. "Jimmy was the dominant force in his era."
One of the great "what if's" in Boston sports is whether the Red Sox would have won the 1975 World Series had Rice been available. The slugger broke his wrist late in the regular season and was lost for the postseason. The Red Sox lost to the Reds in a classic, seven-game World Series.
"I think if you go back and look at the history of me playing during that time, the last month, that's when I was probably at my strongest so I think I probably could have helped the team at that time," said Rice.
Rice did play in one World Series in 1986, when the Red Sox came one strike away from clinching in Game 6, but lost that Fall Classic in heart-breaking fashion in Game 7.
Since his retirement, Rice has kept close ties with the Red Sox. Rice spent several years as the club's hitting coach and still works as an instructor during Spring Training. Rice also serves as a studio analyst on Red Sox pre- and post-game shows for NESN.
From now going forward, in whatever capacity Rice represents the Red Sox, he will do so as a Hall of Famer.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.