BOSTON -- Over the last few years, Jim Rice has watched several former teammates make their way to the Hall of Fame. In 2000, it was Carlton Fisk. Last year, Dennis Eckersley got that rich honor. On Tuesday, Wade Boggs, the five-time batting champ who teamed with Rice from 1982-89, was elected on the first ballot with an impressive 91.9 percent of the votes.
But Rice, who is considered a Hall of Famer in the minds of many of those he played with and against, again fell short. However, this time he did it with 307 votes (out of a total of 516 ballots), giving him the highest percentage (59.5) he's had since first being eligible for voting in 1995.
Rice fell 80 votes shy of the necessary 75 percent. Boggs and Ryne Sandberg were the two players who gained entry this year, with closer Bruce Sutter finishing in third place and Rice finishing fourth.
"I'll be really candid. Wade is a Hall of Famer, but I really have a hard time seeing Wade go in the Hall of Fame and not seeing Jimmy go in the Hall of Fame, to be very honest with you," said left-hander Bruce Hurst, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1980-89. "Both were my teammates and I know what Jimmy meant to our team and I know the kind of player that he was. Jimmy was a great threat, an incredible hitter. He made a lot of people around him better because a lot of people didn't want to pitch to Jimmy. A lot of guys didn't pitch to Jimmy. I just think that Jimmy's a Hall of Famer."
The fact that Rice's total went up by four percentage points could be a sign that he will continue to gain momentum heading into his final four years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. Consider that Rice received just 29.78 percent of the votes in his first year on the ballot.
During Rice's years as a prolific slugger, he seldom went through 0-for-11 stretches at the plate. But that's what he now is when it comes to his years on the Hall of Fame ballot.
In the minds of some, it simply doesn't add up.
| 2005 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
Wade, Ryno are Hall choices
No doubts about Class of 2005
Boggs hits his way to the Hall
Ryno charges into Hall of Fame
Red Sox lavish praise on Boggs
Rays react to Boggs Hall call
From Beantown to Bronx to Hall
Sutter closing in on Hall of Fame
Boggs is fans' favorite to make Hall
"Look at the numbers: he was awesome," said Bob Stanley, the all-time leader in saves for the Red Sox. "And it wasn't just the Green Monster. He hit a lot of his home runs to center field and right field."
In Rice's prime years (1975-86), he was as feared a right-handed hitter as there was in the game. He hit for both average and power. Rice played his entire career (1974-89) with the Red Sox. Until Christmas Eve, when Jason Varitek was named the captain of the Red Sox, Rice was the last Boston player to hold that honor.
"Jimmy is a very, very talented player, probably one of the most special offensive players we had in Boston for a long time," said former Sox catcher Rich Gedman, who called Rice a teammate for a decade. "Hopefully, in time, he can persevere and get there. The problem is, he just needed a little bit more longevity I would think. In terms of being a special player, he was very, very good and certainly Hall of Fame caliber. The thing with Jim Rice, for the time he played, he played as well as anybody."
Never was Rice better than in 1978, when he won the American League MVP for a 99-win team that fell one run short in a one-game playoff against the Yankees, of winning the American League East.
He played in all 163 games that year, leading the American League with 213 hits, 15 triples, 46 homers, 139 RBIs and a .600 slugging percentage.
In those days, Rice was a slugger's slugger. He topped 200 hits in three straight seasons (1977-79), drove in 100 runs eight times in his career and bashed 382 homers in 8,225 at-bats. Rice was a career .298 hitter.
Perhaps one thing that has kept him from Cooperstown was, in fact, that issue of longevity. After hitting just three homers in 1989, Rice retired at the age of 36. In his last three seasons, he produced a total of just 31 homers and 162 RBIs.
But when he was at his best, few hitters were in his class. Someday, that fact might be enough to land Rice in the Hall of Fame.
"I know that someday he'll be in the Hall of Fame, maybe when he's old and grey if it's not done in the next four years," said Gedman, "but I think it will happen eventually."
All-time saves leader Lee Smith, who pitched for the Sox from 1988-90, finished eighth in this year's balloting with 38.8 percent of the votes.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.