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.