Rice ready to receive due at Hall induction
Longtime Red Sox left fielder to be enshrined Sunday
He waited 15 years, Jim Rice did, and then his entire baseball legacy changed with one phone call. That was more than six months ago, the day the slugger who played his entire career (1974-89) for the Boston Red Sox learned that he was at last a Hall of Famer.
Sunday, however, is the day. That is when Rice will stand on stage in Cooperstown, N.Y., and give his induction speech as a member of the greatest team he's ever been on.
It is a moment Rice will savor -- the culmination of a career of one of the most fearsome hitters of his generation.
"You just cherish what you have," Rice said. "You cherish that you're in the Hall of Fame. You cherish that you're in an elite category of guys that have played the game and have played the game one way -- hard."
There's no way Rice can know what he will feel until the crowning moment finally occurs. But he has a sense it might be overwhelmingly sweet.
"Well, I think emotion is probably going to happen -- no doubt it's going to happen probably [Saturday or Sunday] when you're really getting everything situated for your speech and hope that you don't stumble over your speech," said Rice. "But as far as excitement, the excitement will be there also during that time."
Rice was always linked with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, the two Hall of Fame legends who preceded him in Fenway Park's left field.
Now he'll be connected with Rickey Henderson, the man he is being enshrined with, and Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray and Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench and so many other baseball giants who have plaques in the Hall of Fame.
"You're talking about going in with guys you played against, guys that you watched play," Rice said, "and all of a sudden, you're in that one percent of guys that played the game of baseball that are in the Hall of Fame."
His speech will be short and sweet, much like the swing that produced one prodigious blast after another during his years of terrorizing opposing pitchers.
"I think overall I'm more likely to keep it short, five minutes. That's it. Just keep it short," said Rice. "Get right to the point and get out. It's hot out here. So that's what I heard."
In truth, a short speech just fits Rice's personality. He was never about words, always about actions. He never craved the credit. He just liked getting the big hit.
To get a true understanding of what a force Rice was, you have to ask those who played with him or against him. Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Famer himself, did both.
The Eck still recalls the awe-inspiring season Rice had in 1978, when he edged out Ron Guidry for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.
"I played with him in probably the best year I've ever seen offensively," said Eckersley. "In 1978, what a great year. I remember all the numbers -- 46 home runs, 139 RBIs. He hit 15 triples, which was incredible. I'll never forget that. It was a pleasure to play with him.
"He not only had power, but he hit for average. He was hard to get out. He wasn't just a guy who was going to swing and miss. He was the whole package. I think he just dominated for close to 10 years."
Though Henderson -- baseball's all-time stolen-base king -- figures to be the headliner in Cooperstown, Rice will get plenty of love. Because of his affiliation with just one team, the Red Sox, you can bet that New Englanders will be out in full force to give Rice one thunderous ovation on Sunday.
Former Red Sox icon Nomar Garciaparra, now with the Oakland Athletics, remembers what it was like to win two batting championships when Rice was his hitting coach. Garciaparra is thrilled that his former coach is finally receiving the ultimate honor a baseball player can receive.
"Congratulations to Jim. That's awesome," Garciaparra said. "That's great. He was a great teacher, mentor and a friend. I couldn't be happier for him. I think that's wonderful. I am truly happy to see that."
Rice brings back a flood of memories for baseball fans of the 1970s and '80s. Along with Fred Lynn, he helped form the Gold Dust Twins that fueled the 1975 Sox to the American League pennant. He played in the epic one-game playoff of '78, losing a 5-4 heartbreaker to Bucky Dent and the Yankees.
In 1986, Rice belted a three-run homer in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels, thrilling the Fenway faithful.
Rice came one strike away from winning the World Series against the Mets in 1986 and retired without winning it all. But he's completely at peace with that.
"I have no regrets," Rice said. "One day I was able to play professional baseball. One day I was able to play in a World Series. One day I was able to be a Hall of Famer. One day I was able to be an MVP. As far as disappointments, I have no disappointments at all."
He will have a staunch support system with him in Cooperstown.
"Just my wife and my family and, you know, the grandkids," said Rice. "That's special. My mom and dad passed away and so my wife of 37 years and my son and my daughter [will be there]."
And Rice's plaque will forever have a place in Cooperstown, joining the two other iconic left fielders who played their entire careers with the Red Sox.
"When you play with one ballclub," said Rice, "and you have three Hall of Famers who played the same position ... I think when they speak of me or they speak of the Red Sox or they speak of the Green Monster, that's what they're going to think about -- Williams, then Yaz and next comes Rice."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.