For fourteen consecutive years, Jim Rice fell short of qualifying for the Hall of Fame. But this year, Rice, along with Rickey Henderson, finally got the requisite 75 percent the votes needed for induction (76.4%, to be exact).
It never should have taken this long.
Rice had eight seasons of 100-plus RBIs and hit .300 seven times. He slugged 382 home runs, had 2,452 hits, 1,451 RBI, and a .298 average in 2,089 games. He was clearly dominant in his era, perhaps the most dominant hitter of his time, but what he lacked was longevity.
That lack of longevity didn't hurt Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. Playing only 12 seasons, Puckett was inferior to Rice in every offensive category, except batting, and yet he still achieved the immortality that induction confers. Either Puckett's induction was a mistake, or Rice was unfairly shut out all these years.
While it's often said that Rice played 16 season in the majors, he didn't. Rice was a September call up in 1974 and had only 67 at bats in 24 games. It wasn't enough to qualify him as a rookie, and it's not enough to be considered a season. Furthermore, Rice only played in 56 games in 1989, his final season. That year Rice had just 209 at bats. To be considered for a batting title, a player must have at least 400 at bats. In a typical season, an everyday player might see as many as 600 at bats. So the reality is that Rice played just 14 seasons, and in that time he amassed absolutely phenomenal statistics. The truth is, if Rice had just sat out those 56 games in 1989 - when his eyesight had long since failed him - he would have finished his career with a magical .300 average. I say magical because many believe that if he'd lifted his average a measly .002 points that he'd have been in years ago.
From 1975-1986 Rice averaged 29 homers, 106 RBI, 91 runs and a .303 average. During this period, Rice led all American League players in 12 different offensive categories, including home runs (350), RBI (1,276), total bases (3,670), slugging percentage (.520), runs (1,098) and hits (2,145), as well as games, at bats, extra base hits, multiple hit games, go-ahead RBI, and outfield assists.
Rice dominated his era, finishing in the top five in the MVP voting six times in an eight-year span. He won the MVP award in 1978, when he became the first American League player to collect 400 total bases since Joe DiMaggio. He led the AL in homers three times, RBI twice, total bases four times, and was an All-Star eight times. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. He led the AL in total bases for three straight seasons, tying a record held by Ted Williams and Ty Cobb. And Rice joined Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx as the only players in AL history with three consecutive 39 homer, .315 average seasons. Need I say more?
Rice was often perceived as a power hitter because of those three consecutive 39 + homers seasons, and because he hit 25 or more homers seven times in a ten year span. But Rice wasn't a power hitter so much as he was a hitter, plain and simple. Between '75-'86, he collected over 200 hits four times, hit .300 or better seven times, and .290 or better nine times.
First baseman Tony Perez was considered worthy of the Hall after batting .279 with 379 home runs and 1,652 RBI over 23 seasons. He certainly had the longevity, and therefore the durability, but a lifetime .279 average can qualify one for the Hall? And Perez only averaged 16 home runs and 72 RBI per season. That is not dominant.
But Rice doesn't just outshine Hall of Famers Puckett and Perez. Some would argue that it's only fair to compare players by position. For example, second basemen generally don't hold up well against outfielders in terms of offensive production. They generally get into the Hall based on their their defensive prowess and how they compare to other second basemen offensively. But for argument's sake, I think it's fair to compare Rice to other Hall of Fame players of similar offensive stature.
Rice outperformed Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in every offensive category: runs, hits, homers, RBI, total bases, walks, OBP, slugging, and hitting. Rice also had more homers, RBI and a higher slugging percentage than Roberto Clemente. Rice had more hits, home runs, and total bases than Joe DiMaggio. Rice had more runs, hits, homers, RBI, and total bases than Hank Greenberg. Rice crushes Ralph Kiner in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases and batting. Rice had more hits, total bases and a higher average than Eddie Mathews - not to mention a nearly identical slugging percentage and RBI total. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases and a higher average than Willie McCovey. Rice bested Johnny Mize in runs, hits, total bases, home runs and RBI. Rice surpassed Enos Slaughter in runs, hits, total bases, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and had a nearly identical average. Rice had more hits, total bases, RBI, and a higher average than Duke Snider. Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, and a higher average than Willie Stargell. And finally, Rice had more runs, hits, total bases, homers, and RBI than Hack Wilson.
Only nine players in Major League history have compiled as high a career batting average and as many homers as Rice. They are: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial. Naturally, each of them is in the Hall.
Only 199 former major leaguers have been elected to the Hall of Fame. The numbers bear out the obvious; Jim Rice has deserved to be among them all along. He deserved better than the injustice of this long wait.
Despite the fact that not enough voters got it right for 14 years, the evidence is clear: Jim Rice has always been worthy and deserving of the Hall of Fame. Rightfully, this year the voters finally did him justice. Simply put, Rice earned it.
Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.