On Jim F. Rice — In Which the ‘F’ Stands for ‘FEAR’

I'm not going to get into the pros and cons. They've been gotten into, and at this point you're either a Rice supporter, a Rice opponent, or someone who is glad they don't have to decide one way or the other. By tomorrow afternoon, Jim Rice either will or will not join Rickey Henderson in the Hall of Fame.

If he's inducted, the Hall will not implode. If he's excluded, his life will go on, presumably by continuing to mangle sentences and talk too fast with Tom Caron before and after Red Sox games on NESN. All that said, I was once a strong Rice supporter. Then I was a reluctant Rice opponent. Now I'm back in the supporter camp, but with an acknowledgment that leaving him out would not in any way be a travesty. In other words, I agree a lot with Bob Ryan, who has a thoughtful, well written piece on the subject in today's Globe.


Ryan addresses what this go-round has been a major argument of the anti-Rice crowd: That Rice wasn't nearly as feared as everyone says he was: 

We are fond of saying hereabouts that he was the most feared right-hand hitter of his time, and that suggestion has been laughed at by some experts and simply attacked by others. Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star, whose passion for, and knowledge of, baseball is matched by no columnist I know of, does not vote for Rice. He reasons that if Rice were as feared as we Bostonians say, why were his intentional walk totals so skimpy?

You know what? I don't know. I just don't know. What I do know is that once while Jim Rice was in the midst of an ungodly hitting streak Milwaukee Brewers manager Alex Grammas casually admitted to me that, sure, he pitched around Rice to force in a middle-inning run in the hopes of saving the game (which he did). Now that's respect, and I suggest that Alex Grammas was not alone in his fear of what a hot Jim Rice could do during his 12 good years.

I like that Ryan doesn't try to take a stat and twist it to his viewpoint. Rice has many stats that argue in his favor, and many that argue against him. Let them stand on their own. I will give Ryan a hand and posit that perhaps Rice was intentionally walked so few times for the same reason he garnered so many RBI and for the same reason he grounded into so many double plays — because he came to the plate with runners on base a lot. Might be true, might not be. But it's worth a thought.

What most intrigued me though was this anecdote about Rice and the bases-loaded walk. We've heard this before — that managers thought about intentionally walking him with the bases loaded, a tough thing to prove. But this is a much more specific memory, and easy to prove or disprove. As it turns out, it's true.

Rice in his career walked twice with the bases loaded against Milwaukee, and only once when Alex Grammas was manager — July 27, 1977. The Brewers did indeed win the game, though not in any way because Rice was kept from hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth. The Brewers won because they scored 11 runs in the final two innings, but there in the box score is Rice, walking with the bases loaded and two outs to give the Sox a 5-3 lead in the sixth. Grammas' strategy paid off, as Yaz struck out to end the inning, but even if Rice had hit a slam, the Sox still would have lost 14-8 (tip o' the cap to Bob Stanley and Reggie Cleveland for that one). 

Ryan also remembers correctly that Rice was in the middle of an insanely hot streak that July. He entered the game eight for his last 17 with two homers, went two for two with three walks, then went on to hit safely in another seven games for a total 12-game hitting streak in which he hit .467/.556/.911 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

Those were the good ol' days for Jim Ed. No one doubted then that he was on his way to Cooperstown. Thirty-two years later, he may finally get there.

26 comments… add one

  • I have to admit that I’ve heard both sides of the argument so many times that I’m not sure I can be objective about it. And I’m slightly more ambilalent about it since 2004 and 2007. Slightly.
    So I’ll just say this: I’d love to see Jim Ed on the HOF simply because he was the Sox best hitter when I was a kid learning to love and hate the Red Sox. (I didn’t love to watch him hit as much as I loved watching Manny hit, though.)
    I remember seeing Jim Ed snap a bat on a check swing.
    It kind of gives meaning to all those years when the Sox fell short. It puts a stamp on my formative baseball years, give them some substance and justification, means they weren’t entirely wasted watching mediocre baseball.
    Not exactly rational or substantive. My argument now is purely emotional.
    He truly is a borderline HOF-er.
    Good luck, Jim Ed. I’ll be freezing my a$$ off while I’m waiting to hear the news.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 11, 2009, 11:36 pm
  • Actually, I think the argument of the anti-crowd is that fear shouldn’t play any role whatsoever in the decision. It’s an emotion word, and hopefully voting for the greatest players should be predominantly driven by reason.
    Based on reason, I don’t see how anyone can vote for a player with a .789 career OPS away from home. As a no-glove left fielder, that isn’t even an All-Star let alone a Hall of Famer.

    Rob January 12, 2009, 5:29 am
  • I honestly can’t believe that any honest broker of statistics could support Rice’s candidacy. He doesn’t have the counting nor rate stats. Two seasons above 150 OPS+ for a left-fielder?
    Comparing Rice and Reggie Jackson, and thinking they could be part of the same club, is amazing. Dwight Evans has a stronger case.
    I understand why Sox fans want to remember something positive from lost years of their history. But Jim Rice? If he gets in, it will be a strange victory for the Red Sox PR shop.
    Who’s next, Mo Vaughn or Ellis Burks?

    Rob January 12, 2009, 5:55 am
  • Lest any one think I’m biased, if Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, so too is Donnie Baseball (longer, higher peak and with Gold Glove defense). Problem is, Don Mattingly is no Hall of Famer.

    Rob January 12, 2009, 7:04 am
  • I honestly can’t believe that any honest broker of statistics could support Rice’s candidacy.
    It’s statements like that that turn people from statistical analysis.
    Rice’s strongest case is the 1975-86 argument. It’s a 12-year period in which Rice led or was in the top three/five of nearly every major offensive category, counting or rate. Are the endpoints selective, and chosen to skew the results in Rice’s favor? Yes, but choosing decade markers is selective, too, and picking any timeframe necessarily is going to leave someone out. If a player can dominate for a decade, that generally is considered a good benchmark for the Hall, and Rice did that — a 120 OPS+ or better in 10 of the 12 seasons, 125 or better in six, 130 or better in five, plus the monstrous three-year superpeak. Had Rice retired after 1986, he’s similar to Kirby Puckett, who breezed into the Hall (Puckett had much better defense), but he kept trying to play for three extra years, which dragged down his rate stats — something for which I don’t believe he should be punished.
    Everyone brings up the home/road splits as if they mean something, and I’m not sure they do. Do home games not count? Do road games count more than home games? If Rice receives demerits for having subpar road stats, does he receive extra credit for having amazing home stats? Do we check every candidate for the Hall of Fame to make sure they were a Hall of Famer on the road, too? And what if he was terrific in half his road games and terrible in the other half (which Rice was)? Do we keep him from the Hall because he wasn’t a Hall of Famer in 40 out of 162 games? At what point do home/road splits become so pertinent as to keep a player out of the Hall, given that the following road lines easily went into the Hall: .264/.357/.422 (Yaz) .302/.387/.395 (Boggs). Rice, by the way, was .277/.330/.459 on the road, a 115/85 tOPS+ home/road split that mirrors Yaz’s and is better than Boggs’ (118/82).
    Evans does indeed have a stronger HOF case than Rice. His not being in the Hall, especially given his amazing defense, is a travesty, and Tiant’s exclusion is unfortunate, as well. But then, I’m more of a big Hall kind of fan.

    Paul SF January 12, 2009, 7:49 am
  • The unfortunate thing about this argument is that it is being twisted into a “Sox fans and the Sox’ front office vs. the rest of the world” discussion by some. It’s not. There are independent voters from all across the country who have voted both for and not voted for Rice; not all are Sox fans, not all are easily swayed by the “PR machine” of the Red Sox’ front office. It takes 75% vote to successfully enter the Hall. At last check, the voting membership isn’t comprised of mostly Bostonians and Sox fans.
    There are compelling arguments both for and against Rice’s inclusion, hence the continued debate over his potential induction. I have absolutely no stake in the discussion (despite being an impressionable young Sox fan during Rice’s prime), hence my lack of involvement. But I think that the tenor of the discussion is unfortunate, particularly amongst those convinced that Rice is not even worth talking about, dismissive of the debate as if the Hall has hard and fast rules about who gets in and who doesn’t.
    Whither Phil Rizzutto and his lack of credentials?

    SF January 12, 2009, 8:33 am
  • I personally don’t think Rice is a HOF-er, but why can’t ‘fear’, imagined or otherwise, be part of the equation? As has been said before by many, it’s called the Hall of FAME, not the Hall of Excellence.

    AndrewYF January 12, 2009, 8:34 am
  • Well, SF, Rizzuto was selected by a Veteran’s Committee vote in 1994. Not sure if that’s a different process or not, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

    AndrewYF January 12, 2009, 8:42 am
  • Membership in the Hall of Fame is membership in the Hall of Fame, as far as I am concerned. The veterans, one might suppose, should probably be guarding the “sanctity” of the insitution more than anyone. That’s not to say they will “get it right” on every occasion (IMHO, the only way Rizzutto should be in the Hall is if someone disinters him and rolls his casket up to Cooperstown and pays full admission, but hey, he’s in and who am I to worry?). If they let in a lesser player like Rizzutto then what are they saying about the end-all be-all need for every player to meet statistical requirements? Stats aren’t, as should be clear, the only consideration. If they were, why bother with a voting process and not just automate?

    SF January 12, 2009, 8:50 am
  • To return to the home/road argument real quick, I just wanted to clarify that Yaz of course did play his best years in a depressed offensive environment, so I’m not arguing that his road line is worse than Rice’s when adjusted for the context around him, just that it’s the same step down from his overall line and probably wouldn’t have merited HOF induction had his career line been similar.

    Paul SF January 12, 2009, 8:58 am
  • Had Rice retired after 1986, he’s similar to Kirby Puckett, who breezed into the Hall (Puckett had much better defense)
    This is the same argument used by some in favor of Donnie Baseball (except he was also great defensively).
    If Rice receives demerits for having subpar road stats, does he receive extra credit for having amazing home stats?
    That’s the thing. His home stats aren’t that amazing, especially when we realize his BABIP was .340 at home and .300 on the road (and his average, split similarly, shows the same forty point difference). The point is his home park was enough of a factor that we shouldn’t assume he’s one type of player when clearly that park was exaggerating his offense (and sure for Yaz and Boggs too, but they has other redeeming qualities).
    The unfortunate thing about this argument is that it is being twisted into a “Sox fans and the Sox’ front office vs. the rest of the world” discussion by some. It’s not.
    There’s no denying the Sox management has been pushing a Heisman-type campaign. They have a guy consistently sending out material (except no doubt what James has written) to voters all across the country. There’s been no similar effort, by the Yankees for instance, for Mattingly.
    As for Rizzutto, just because mistakes have been made previously doesn’t mean we should keep making them. We know so much more now. If Rice goes in, the doors certainly should fly open for Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, Harold Baines, Will Clark, etc. etc.

    Rob January 12, 2009, 9:21 am
  • Ugh. Forget Rice. The biggest Boston news today is that my beloved Broncos have made the huge mistake other teams have made recently of stripping away a couple of New England’s coordinators.
    Why can’t teams see the mistake in this stupid line of thinking.
    Sorry to hijack. Needed to vent, and Rice isn’t going to get in anyway. He doesn’t deserve to, and if he does it’s a PR win for the Red Sox versus clear common sense.

    Brad January 12, 2009, 9:46 am
  • Like I said, I can see the arguments both ways, and I’m more of a big-Hall person. My ballot would be a lot larger than many people’s in any given year, and I’d probably vote in Rice. I’d also vote in Dawson, who is also borderline, but clearly had a better career than Jim Ed. I don’t think you can vote for Rice and not vote for Dawson.

    Paul SF January 12, 2009, 10:13 am
  • Lots of good points in here.
    Andrew is spot on. Fear IS a part of the equation. It changes the way to attack/approach/manage against a player.
    In my mind, Rizzuto, in effect = Bill Mazeroski. (Maz’s induction speech, by the way, was one of the great moments on baseball history. THAT justified his induction, in my book.) Is there a reason that good but not great players should be kept out if they were involved in some great moments? (Perhaps I’m worn down by so much shoveling this weekend and feeling a bit too charitable.)
    One more thing about Rice and his stats: How many players who were his contemporaries are in the Hall? One argument that is so often overlooked is the “era” argument. Historically, players are compared with their contemporaries, not all of history. (Although on second thought that’s probably Paul’s Puckett argument.)
    SF: On the hard and fast rules … also spot on. People love to lean on the stats when it’s convenient. I don’t think the voters use the same set of standards from player to player when they vote.
    And Brad: Yes. You, too, are spot on. McDaniels is a horrible hire. He’s been great for us as OC. But the best guy to replace Shanny is Shanny. McDaniels would be best served with 2-3 more years as the Pats’ OC. BIGGER news out of Boston, though is the possibility that we might be losing Pioli. That’s what scares me the most. We’ve replaced Crennell (sort of), Weis and we’ll replace McDaniels, too. But Pioli … I’m not so sure about that one.
    Hey, at least we haven’t degenerated into the “WTF is going on with the NHL all-star voting” debate.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 12, 2009, 10:44 am
  • “I don’t think you can vote for Rice and not vote for Dawson.”
    Exactly.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 12, 2009, 10:44 am
  • “But the best guy to replace Shanny is Shanny”
    Oh, I couldn’t agree any less. Shanny was an EXCELLENT coach, if in fact, that was all he was doing. But, as soon as the owner gave him the hat-rack of titles, things started going downhill. The problem is, he wasn’t going to take a “demotion” to just being head coach, nor is he going to do that now. My guess is that he ends up in Dallas, to once again replace Wade Phillips, and he’ll be wildly successful there.
    But, his time was up in Denver. For what Bowlen gave him to work with, and the freedom he was afforded in every single draft in the last seven years, he failed miserably.
    My first choice would have been Billick, but whatever. I hope he McDaniels does well, but if offense is what Denver needed, Shanny would have served fine. That offense is one of the best in football, thus, not the problem at all. Plus, I feel that the coordinators from NE are way OVERRATED due to the head coach.

    Brad January 12, 2009, 12:13 pm
  • “Plus, I feel that the coordinators from NE are way OVERRATED due to the head coach.”
    I agree.
    It’s 12:50p CST. My prediction: Jim Ed falls fewer than 10 votes short.

    I'mBillMcNeal January 12, 2009, 1:48 pm
  • I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
    Thank God he’s in!

    I'mBillMcNeal January 12, 2009, 2:04 pm
  • Yup, Rice is in, now can they retire my – I mean – his number (they being the Red Sox – I wore #14 all through little league, high school and college).

    dw (sf) January 12, 2009, 2:07 pm
  • I’m just glad the argument can now be put to rest. Congrats to Jim, I think he deserved it.

    LocklandSF January 12, 2009, 2:14 pm
  • I’m just glad the argument can now be put to rest.
    Hahaha. You really think this is going to put the argument to rest? This will be used as a cudgel against Sox fans arguing lots of things down the road unrelated to Rice, and whether we felt Rice was deserving or not. Just wait. This one isn’t over.

    SF January 12, 2009, 2:36 pm
  • Jim Rice is going right next to Kirby Puckett for arguments against lowering the bar for HoF selection. The argument of *if* he is a HoF-er is put to rest, technically, but the deserving aspect will never be until several worse players are let in. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the way it is, just like we don’t have to like Rice in the HoF, but that’s also the way it is.

    AndrewYF January 12, 2009, 2:54 pm
  • You really think this is going to put the argument to rest?
    The organization supported the behind the scenes politicking. That seems to make it fair game for criticism. This wasn’t just the writers coming to their senses. This was a massive PR campaign for what should be a historical honor. Congrats. They’ve shown the process can be rigged even beyond the Veteran Comm.
    Looking forward to Albert Belle’s speech.

    Rob January 12, 2009, 3:11 pm
  • I’m curious why a team should not be allowed to argue for its players who are eligible for the Hall of Fame. Jim Rice played his entire career with the Red Sox, and the Sox sent out a press release with a series of statistics. Baseball writers weighed those stats against their own evidence. I fail to see how such a process is “rigged,” unless the Red Sox bribed or blackmailed the voters.
    More teams should argue for their players for the Hall of Fame. It would add to the discussion and perhaps act as a way to add a statistical element from a source the older writers might be more willing to listen to. I nominate the Twins on behalf of Bert Blyleven and the Nationals for Tim Raines.

    Paul SF January 13, 2009, 2:29 am
  • I nominate the Twins on behalf of Bert Blyleven and the Nationals for Tim Raines.
    Yeah, they should do a lot of good.
    The “fear” argument is biggest bunch of baloney and mythology. If, in his first year of eligibility, he was “feared” less than Tony Oliva, what’s changed? I’m just looking forward to Don Mattingly Day now. There’s no reason Rice should be “elected” after 15 years and he isn’t.

    Rob January 13, 2009, 7:09 am
  • sf broke one of his own rules…he made this a yankee v. red sox discussion by bringing rizzuto into the debate…look, phil had one mvp campaign in 1950 batting .324, while being the runnerup mvp the prior year…he was surrounded by superstars…he played on 7 ws champion teams…despite the lofty mvp batting average, he wasn’t noted for the stick as much as his glove…he spent 40 years as a broadcaster, love him or leave him, calling some memorable moments like roger maris’ 61st home run…i’m an unabashed yankee fan, but do i believe he belongs in the hall?…no, though he’s in my personal hall of fame…he was a sentimental pick by the committee…but, this is interesting: ted williams, you guys heard of him, once said that the sox would have won many of the series in the 40’s and 50’s if they had rizzuto at short stop….

    dc January 15, 2009, 12:04 am

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