Rice's credentials up for consideration
Feared Sox slugger hopes to gain entry into Hall on 14th try
BOSTON -- No. 14 will always be linked to Jim Rice. That was the number he wore for his entire career with the Red Sox, and no Boston player has put it on since then. This year, it takes on added significance. Rice, the lethal slugger that instilled so much fear in opposing pitchers, is making his 14th attempt at gaining entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Rice -- along with former Yankees closer Goose Gossage -- is considered one of the leading candidates on this year's ballot.
In 2007, Rice received 346 votes, which was 63.5 percent.
A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2008 The Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 8, 2008, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
If Rice doesn't get elected in 2008, he'll have just one more crack at the BBWAA ballot. After that, Rice's only chance would be to get elected via the Veterans Committee.
This could be Rice's last, best shot, because there are no new slam-dunk candidates on the ballot. Rickey Henderson is considered a near-automatic first-ballot Hall of Famer for 2009.
The Red Sox of the 1970s and '80s were loaded with star hitters. If it wasn't Carl Yastrzemski, it was Carlton Fisk. If it wasn't Dwight Evans, it was Fred Lynn. If it wasn't Wade Boggs, it was Tony Armas. But during that time period, no Red Sox hitter gave opposing pitchers a more sickening feeling than Rice, who played his entire career (1974-89) in Boston.
Dick Bresciani, who is the de facto historian for the Red Sox among his other duties with the club, releases an annual report to Hall of Fame voters on why Rice is worthy of Cooperstown.
As Bresciani notes, 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?
When Rice was at his best -- from 1975-86 -- he mashed the opposition with pure strength and hitting technique.
During those golden years, Rice led all AL players in games, at-bats, runs, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, total bases, extra-base hits, go-ahead RBIs, multihit games and outfield assists.
"I know what Jimmy meant to our team, and I know the kind of player that he was," said former Red Sox left-hander Bruce Hurst. "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."
Check out some of Rice's other appearances on the top 10 list: hits (eight times), total bases (nine times, including four firsts), home runs (seven, including three home run titles), RBIs (nine times, two firsts) and extra-base hits (six).
In other words, during his peak years, Rice was a consistent force to be reckoned with. Consider some of the players that baseballreference.com compares to Rice from a statistical standpoint: Orlando Cepeda, Duke Snider, Billy Williams and Willie Stargell. Those four men are all Hall of Famers.
"Look at the numbers: he was awesome," said Bob Stanley, the all-time saves leader 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."
Anyone who wants to know just what Rice was when he was at his absolute best need look no further than 1978, the year he played in all 163 games (including a one-game playoff) and won his lone AL MVP Award. During that season, he became the only man to lead either league in triples (15), homers (46) and RBIs (139) in the same season. His 406 total bases were the most by an AL player since Joe DiMaggio in 1937.
"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."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.