Jim Rice, 1977

July 27, 2009

Jim Rice 77

For a little while, the exact years of my childhood in Vermont, this man inspired an unparalleled awe. For me, his induction yesterday into the Hall of Fame was mostly about a happy reconnection to that time when my brother and I saw Jim Rice as the loftiest of the gods. My brother brought back that childhood way of seeing in an email a couple days before Rice’s induction:

“I’ll always remember the spectacle of Rice in his glory like so: Digs into the box, waves the bat through the strike zone twice, then waits, with relaxed, expressionless mien. Stillness, absolute focus. Then that compact, ferocious swing, connecting and sending the pill back the other way so hard that it seems to pick up speed as it nearly beheads the pitcher and leaves the infield, a ruler-straight rope all the way to the triangle in center, *thock* just above the 420 sign, where it leaves a dent visible from all corners of the ballyard. And Rice, churning past second then sitting into a slide at third, bouncing up. Easy triple. Calmly surveys the scene. He is the master of this domain.”

The question is, how long was Jim Rice master of this domain?

In 1980, Jim Rice’s torrid three-year stretch as arguably the best hitter in baseball came to an end, the slugger dropping off to 24 home runs, 86 RBI, and a .294 batting average, numbers that were all below the 30-homer, 100-RBI, .300-average plateaus upon which his reputation as a rare combination of home run power and high batting average were built. In 1981, the strike-shortened year, his numbers were about the same on a per-game basis as they were in 1980. By then I had become a sports pessimist, especially about the parts of the sports world that were most closely connected to me, and so I wondered if the figure in the biggest poster on the wall of my bedroom had begun to decline. It seemed very important to believe that when I was watching Jim Rice I was watching a Hall of Famer. In 1980 and 1981 that belief began to falter.

Over the next half-decade, Rice seemed to regain his touch as a world-class run-producer. He drove in 97 runs in 1982, then 126, 122, 103, and 110 in 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986. I think it’s safe to say that many of the writers who vote on player induction into the Hall of Fame still tend to look at the statistic of runs batted in as an unmatched and even inarguably objective reflection of player’s worth. Just yesterday, in the lead-up to Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame speech, I heard longtime Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan on the radio describing Jim Rice by saying that some guys are run producers and some guys just aren’t; Jim Rice, it was implied, had the stones to stand up there and drive in runs in situations where others with less fortitude would fail. With all that in mind, I believe it’s a fair to assume that had Jim Rice continued throughout the mid-1980s to drive in runs at the sub-100 rate he had in 1980 and 1981, he would not have been making an induction speech yesterday at the Hall of Fame.

So the question is, what changed between the 1980-1981 years and the 1982-1986 years? How did Jim Rice go from an 86-RBI-a-year man back up to a 112-RBI-a-year immortal?

Part of the answer was sitting a few feet away as Jim Rice made his speech. Another part of the answer was not on the stage, though some believe that he has more of a right to be standing there than Rice. I’m talking about Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans, the two hitters who most often preceded Rice in the lineup in 1984 and 1985, the two weakest years of Rice’s mid-1980s renaissance. Boggs in particular deserved a thank you from Rice yesterday (regrettably, he didn’t get one, as Rice—unlike fellow inductee Rickey Henderson, who came off as decidedly more humble and magnanimous than Rice—did not acknowledge any fellow teammates beyond his one-time roommate Cecil Cooper); Boggs’ arrival in the majors and at the top of the Red Sox lineup and as a constant presence on the bases coincided exactly with Rice’s career resurrection. With Boggs and Evans hitting in front of him, Rice was able to appear to be roughly the same kind of hitter in 1984 and 1985 as he had been in 1977 through 1979. But in 1978, for example, Rice had racked up massive RBI totals almost in spite of the tandem hitting in front of him, Rick Burleson and Jerry Remy, who had anemic on-base percentages of .295 and .321, respectively. In 1984 and 1985, by contrast, Rice hit behind Boggs (.407 and .450 OBP, respectively) and Evans (.388 and .378). Jim Rice was a great power hitter in the 1970s; in the 1980s, he was a good power hitter who, because of his talented teammates, looked great.


  1. Good points about Boggs and Evans (though Rice also far fewer games in ’80 and ’81, I just looked him up on B-R.com and his RBI per plate appearance did in fact drop those two years as well). RBIs are so given to circumstances, it’s hard to believe it’s still such a revered measuring stick.

    Bob Ryan– who is one of my favorite writers– wrote some truly appalling and antiquated things about Rice this weekend, reaching back for the dreaded he-was-feared-when-he-played argument. I remember fans chanting “6-4-3” when Rice was up, so he was feared at home on occasion as well. The odd thing, as has been pointed out before by more asute observers than myself, is that right after Rice retired, his HOF vote was quite low and rose, indicating, I suppose, that people who were closest to his career thought less of him than they do now, which seems to work against the he-was-feared-when-he-played argument. Given that some voters apparently thought Rice’s numbers look better after the steroid era, I find it funny that steroids will keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame and put Rice in.

    In any case, he was a huge star when I was a kid, and even though I’d never have voted for him, I’m glad for Rice.

  2. Earlier today I wrote a piece about Jeff Francoeur and RBIs so it was funny to come across your piece on Rice and basically the same subject.

    In 1978, Rice had 359 PA with runners on base, including 237 runners in scoring position. He drove in 93 others (RBI-HR)and drove in 20.2% of the runners who were on base.

    In 1986, Rice had 355 PA with runners on base, including 285 runners in scoring position. He drove in 90 others and drove in 17.5 percent of the runners who were on base.

    In 1986, Rice was second in baseball in others driven in. However, his 17.5 percent mark trailed at least 17 other people in the majors.

  3. In 1986 he actually seemed to have better numbers than he had in ’84 and ’85; I wonder what his RBI percentages were those years.

    I read somewhere recently that in one of those years Boggs set a record for most times on base without scoring. But I blame Boggs for that, that lead-ass.

  4. Good Article Josh.

    I’ve read about the Evans/Boggs angle and it’s ashame it hasn’t been brought up more often.

    This is what I posted on a previous Jim Rice Article it pretty much sums up my feelings:

    I’m thinking about Jim Rice today and I still can’t believe he’s going in the HOF.

    Jim Rice to me is a great example of perception vs. reality and how people internalize their belief system at a certain age and stay with it regardless of facts. It’s kind of reminds me of how your father would still wear black socks with his sandles in the middle of summer during the 1980’s.

    Rice wasn’t even considered a strong HOF candidate before all the sabermetric stuff like win shares, war, and warp came out. But those 3 measurements just point out how awful his HOF induction really is. In all three of those measurements Rice ranks about 250th in career value, around George Foster, Andy Van Slyke, and Daryl Strawberry.

    My main problem with the writers is Why do they consider George Foster a laughable HOF candidate and then vote for Rice when they were basically the same player.

    It’s not like Rice had this great long “peak” to go against his rather pedestrian career value. As far as his “peak” goes it lasted for about 3 season: 1977-1979.

    Rice wasn’t even the best OF of the Red Sox teams, Evans and Lynn were better players. And Evans was much better and he should be the one going into the HOF.

    I even checked on his career stats at baseball reference and it’s amazing for a guy that was a LF/DH who played his entire career at a great hitters park like Fenway, he only finished in the top 50 in 2 offensive categories!!: Sac Flies and Grounded into Double Plays. And when you consider that Sac Flies only became a accepted stat in 1954 and GIDP is a negative statistic which Rice finished 6th, it really makes you shake your head.

    What is comes down to is some kind of B.S. notion that can’t be proven like being “feared”.

    But what really bothers me is that guys like Grich,Whitaker, and Dwight Evans aren’t even on the ballot and guys like Santo, Raines, Allen, Trammell, Blyleven, Torre, Wynn, can’t get elected.

    There are literally 100 better position players than Rice not in the HOF. And about 100 pitchers with more value than Rice not in the HOF

    I was also thinking, Is there another corner outfielder or 1rst/third basemen who was elected by the baseball writers who is not in the top 50 in at least one!! offensive category other than Sac Flies?? Even Brooks Robinson is 42nd in all time hits.

  5. In 1985, Rice drove in 15.3 percent while in 1984 it was 17.2 percent.

    And Rice did indeed finish 18th in the majors in driving in other runners with his 17.5 percent mark in 1986. That’s a very good total but he finished behind Steve Sax and Darnell Coles, who certainly did not have “the most feared hitter” reputation that Rice did. In 1985 he was 55th overall and in 1984 he was 24th.

    In 1978 he was 5th. Dave Parker led the way by driving in 22.8 percent of other runners.

  6. Johnq, gosh, you’re right about George Foster. I didn’t realize how well he compared to Rice until I looked him up just now. Rice had ’77, ’78 and ’79 and Foster had ’76, ’77 and ’78. Very similar. Foster even tailed off at the end like Rice. I suppose you get more attention playing for the Red Sox, but Foster played for the Big Red Machine and also in New York. Rice, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez in, Dave Parker and George Foster out. It’s hard to explain. That’s not even getting into Bobby Grich and Ken Singleton.

    It’s almost like it was decided about 1979 that Rice was an HOFer and the next 30 years were spent making him into one. There was a theory that at first the writers held a grudge against Rice, but the Boston writers who covered him all voted for him from the start.

  7. Those are good points sb1902.

    There were two books back in the early 80’s, one by Maury Allen and one by Ritter/Honing about the top 100 players in baseball history.

    Allen’s book has Foster ranked as the 72nd best player of all time. That’s 72nd, among pitchers and positions players. Jim Rice was ranked 98th. Now here’s a question, If Foster was the 72nd best player of all time in the early 80’s what did he do to not be considered anywhere near that today. I guarantee that Allen never voted for Foster for the HOF and he probably voted for Rice.

    Ritter/Honig rankings were not ranked but they have both Foster and Rice among the top 100 players of all time.

    Foster had a career ops+ of 126, Rice had a career ops+ of 128.

    What happened that Foster’s case is laughable and Rice is considered by many as many years overdue????

    Here’s two players:

    Player A: .303/.369/.516
    Player B: .298/.352/.502

    Both leftfielders which one is the HOF?? Which one will probably not get enough votes to staty on the ballot?

    Player A is Moises Alou, Player B is Jim Rice.

  8. SB1902,

    Your right about the 1979 mark with Rice and the writers almost making up a case for him to be a HOF.

    One of the points the writer made about Rice was that he won 3 HR titles and 2 RBI titles. Big Deal!! George Foster won 2 HR titles and 3 RBI titles. I’m not saying Foster deserves to be in but seriously Rice and Foster are about the 250th best position player in Baseball history. It’s an absolute joke that Rice is in the HOF.

    I remember Rice broke his wrist in 1980 and it seemed like he was never the same player after that. Like you said it seems like a whole generation of writers just decided that he would be a HOF in 1979.

  9. Frank Howard.

  10. After reading Rice’s bizarre comments about today’s players, I’m REALLY sorry he’s in the HOF. He really sounded like an cranky old malcontent. When Rice played, every other guy was using cocaine and holdouts over contracts were all the rage (though Rice, to his credit, never tried to renegotiate a contract).
    I loved in Bill James’s Historical Abstract when he had a quote from every decade of a retired player bitching about the then-modern player. Boy, do I ever hate the “back when I played” guys.

    I’m a Red Sox fan and a saber-minded fan, and I always felt Jeter was overrated, but never have heard anybody suggest he wasn’t a guy who was out to do anything but win or that he brought ill-repute to the game the way he played or the way he carried himself. Jeez. Ridiculous.

  11. Here’s what seems to be the entirety of Rice’s comments:

    “You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod, you see Jeter. Guys that I played against and with, these guys you’re talking about cannot compare. We didn’t have the baggy uniforms. We didn’t have the dreadlocks. It was a clean game, and now they’re setting a bad example for the young guys.”

    I think the story that newspapers seem to have run with–that Rice was “attacking” Jeter–was a little overblown, but nonetheless Rice does come off as a doddering old blowhard. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of awareness of others when he opens his mouth for the hot air to come out. Another example of this came during his induction speech, when he boasted that the ’75 Red Sox unquestionably would have beaten the Reds had he been healthy for the World Series. I had two thoughts: first, he was being disrespectful to Morgan, Bench, and Perez, who were all sitting a few feet away, and second, he was making an ass of himself in light of the fact that the same Reds team won the next year, too, while Rice’s theoretically unbeatable Red Sox sunk out of the playoffs altogether.

  12. In spite of what ex-Oriole relievers say, you are generous in your opinions, Josh.

    It pains me to say it because he was such a staple of the time I came to love baseball, but Rice has proven himself to be an incredibly arrogant humble person.

  13. So the last word on this was 8/23/09; timelessness is one of the chief attributes of this type or subject matter. Jim Rice was famous, who knows how he did it but the sign’s on the door in Cooperstown. And he was damn good, too – from the talk at any bar. I loved that he statistically checks-in in the neighborhood of Roy White in someone’s statistical matrix. Go to your collections (or collective memory) and pull out the Topps 1979 card for each. Which one had odds on the HOF?

    Anyway – the whole reason I’m posting here was completely without regard to Rice but I couldn’t figure out how to leave a general post so, I looked at the index and chose Rice (just a nod in front of Dock Ellis) I mean – he was famous for Christ’s sake. Okay, I almost chose Paul Mitchell too, whatever. But I think the HOF election process is perfectly set-up to steward over its collection of nostalgia. I mean sportswriters of all people…they are the arbiters of fame – this is their essential task. I always read Jay Jaffe but his JAWS is just a small piece of fame [Congrats to Blyleven and good luck to Raines]. And the veteren’s committee – brilliant.

    So, I buy two slices of pepperoni today and at the counter is a red plastic fries basket with baseball cards stuffed in wax paper bags. Its cloudy but I can clearly see a Brewer kneeling with a bat on his shoulder. You know right a way its a common, probably are. “What’s up with the cards?” I nod.
    “Oh just give aways, for the kids mostly…you can have some, no one’s been grabbin’ any.”
    “Thanks…I’ll just take two [I’m 39].”
    Driving away, I open one bag – slide ’em out. Score brand, bright orange – don’t recognize them. After some squinting they’re ’88 traded issue, Al Leiter is the most significant. Huh. Next bag…the Brewer, Julio Machado; he doesn’t have a bat. Mickey Tettleton would have to rank as most, “famous.” But there’s another, my favorite a non-baseball sports card slipped in. This time football, Jim Everett from the Los Angeles Rams from 1988. I’ve heard of him…
    …and then there are these two cards in plastic sleeves, the very cheapest kind. They are doubles, ’87 Donruss, 2B, Expos, Casey Candaele. Who the f*&%? is Casey Candaele [I’ve already mispelled it about 6 times in last two sentences]. Set them aside and continue to drive.

    Back at home I pick them up again only because now I have to put them somewhere. I look again at Casey. Rookie year, 24 hits, 15 Strikeouts, 0 homeruns, 3 stolen bases and a triple. Born: Lompoc, CA.

    I’m in Santa Barbara, Lompoc is the next city to the northish. He’s a hometown boy. Though not to me – I’m a total transplant. Grew up all around you in Stowe, Lincoln and Middlebury. MUHS ’90. It was reminiscent of some allegiance I had to Fisk because of a partial connection to VT (born, I think) but confusing because he also had a connection to NH which is never good, relatively speaking, I mean.

    I wondered if someone around here remembered Casey Candaele and would like this card, I felt a little sheepish about scooping from the counter at Giovanni’s. Maybe I’ll bring ’em back. But I love that you write about baseball cards. Only child, Vermont winters, baseball cards spread all round me, my favorite was to organize them by their rookie team, that way Cooper and Oglivie could be Red Sox. Its a world so tangible still, I feel I can step inside.

  14. Paul Mitchell? I meant Mitchell Page. Like Pocoroba and Apodaca. Like Roy White and Jim Rice.

  15. I have at times confused Casey Candaele with Buddy Biancalana. Thanks for bringing him to (my beclouded) mind again!

  16. Does anyone else think it weird that the photo for this Jim Rice card was taken at Yankee Stadium? Topps must have had a photographer with Yankee Stadium priviledges in the 70’s. Many of the non-Spring Training photos of AL players were taken at The Stadium, which is an honor for lesser mortals, but just seems odd for a Cardboard God like Jim Rice.

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