Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame

By | February 24, 2006

Jim Rice is angry that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. [The Boston Globe requires a free login, but if you don’t want to sign up, go to www.bugmenot.com to get a login.] The more he talks, the more I hope he never makes it.

Don’t get me wrong — I think Rice deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think he probably should have been elected somewhere around his tenth or eleventh time on the ballot, kind of like Duke Snider was. In the article linked above, Dan Shaughnessy makes the case for and against Rice in one paragraph:

We all know Rice was dominant. In his 12 prime seasons, he led the American League in games, at-bats, runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, total bases, slugging, extra-base hits, outfield assists, and multihit games. He was the first player since Joe DiMaggio to amass 400 total bases in a season. He is the only player in baseball history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. But his body betrayed him in his mid-30s and it ended too quickly for Jim Ed. He finished with 382 homers, not an overwhelming total for a slugger who couldn’t contribute much with his glove or legs.

People have made the Hall of Fame on shorter spurts of greatness than Rice had. Sandy Koufax started his career with six mediocre seasons, but he made the Hall on the strength of one good season and five amazingly great seasons to end his career. Duke Snider earned his Hall of Fame status in the nine seasons from 1949 to 1957. Joe DiMaggio only had 11 great seasons. You could make the case that Rice’s 12 seasons (from 1975 to 1986) were great enough to put him in the Hall of Fame. Of course, Rice isn’t interested in making THAT case; he is interested in making the case that other current and future Hall of Famers DON’T belong.

I will now present his arguments, and then I will point out how each one is stupid.

“Why is [Cal] Ripken going in?” he asked.

When the consecutive-game streak (2,632) is offered, Rice said, “Exactly. But would you start your team with Ripken? Can Ripken bat .345?”

First of all, by implying that you wouldn’t “start your team” with Cal Ripken, Rice is apparently also implying that you WOULD want to build a team around Jim Rice. I’ve never been a Major League GM before, but I’d be willing to bet that if you asked all 30 if they would rather build a team around Jim Rice or Cal Ripken, more than half would vote for Ripken.

Rice asks if Ripken can bat .345. As I read that, I wondered if Rice is even thinking before he talks. Did Ripken ever bat .345? No. His career high in a full season was .323 (although he did bat .340 in a half-season in 1999). More to the point, Rice’s career high batting average was .325. And if you take Ripken’s 12 best seasons and compare them to Rice’s 12 great seasons, you see that Ripken’s batting average in those 12 years was .301, just two points below Rice’s .303 average from 1975-86. Sure, Rice had more power, averaging 29 homers a season over those 12 years, compared to only 25 for Ripken’s 12 best seasons, but that still only added up to a .011 advantage in OPS over those dozen years (.871 to .860).

So Rice had a minor offensive advantage in those 12 years, but let’s not forget two things: Ripken also played solid defense, winning two Gold Glove awards; and Ripken had six additional solid, productive offensive seasons to go along with the 12 mentioned before, ending up with over 3000 hits and 400 home runs.

But don’t worry, Rice isn’t done.

“OK, now give me [Tony] Gwynn,” he continued. “Why is he going in?”

Three thousand hits (3,141 to be precise) is a good start.

“How many years did he play? [20] Would you start your team with Gwynn? Case closed. Longevity. That’s all it is. Longevity.”

Again, Rice implies that he is the number one choice to build a team around. I was glad to see that he didn’t make any stupid batting average comparisons with Gwynn like he did with Ripken, since Gwynn had ten seasons with a batting average higher than Rice’s career high of .325 (including seven where he surpassed the .345 number that Rice pulled out of his rear). But Rice really didn’t do his homework on this one. Gwynn’s 12 best seasons produced an OPS of .876, a nickel better than Rice’s .871. Gwynn’s 12-year batting average of .350 trumps Rice’s .303 by a mile, too. Gwynn also had four other very good seasons, and his batting average never dropped below .309 after batting .289 in 190 at-bats in his rookie year of 1982.

Gwynn was also a stolen base threat early in his career, averaging 32 stolen bases a year from 1984 to 1990 (including 56 in 1987). He led the league in batting average eight times and hits seven times, and he won seven Silver Slugger Awards despite never really being a power hitter. Oh yeah, and he also won five Gold Gloves.

Rice then compares himself to 2006 inductee Bruce Sutter, which is a ridiculous thing to do. His point seems to be that since Sutter never hit 40 home runs in a season, he wasn’t as good as Rice. Anyone with half a brain can turn that one around on him, and since I trust my readers to have more than half a brain, I will leave it at that.

Rice’s final comments:

Is it longevity, or dominating? Gwynn didn’t dominate nothing. Cal Ripken didn’t dominate nothing. If you look at Bruce Sutter, Bruce Sutter ain’t dominated nothing . . . If you are talking about guys that are going to the Hall of Fame, what are the criteria? Were you a dominant player? Was it longevity? It all depends on good guy/bad guy, I guess. I have no idea.

Mr. Rice, if you really believe that the reason you aren’t in the Hall of Fame is because people don’t like you, I don’t know if crapping on the legacies of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn — two of baseball’s most beloved players of the last half-century — is the best way to swing the vote. I believe that your statistics merit a place in the Hall of Fame, but it’s days like this that make me glad that I am not a voter, because I would never vote for you again.

3 thoughts on “Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame

  1. Nathaniel Davis

    Jim Rice is not in the Hall of Fame because of his reputation as having a surly attitude and not being cooperative with the media. These sports writers are petty and biased who exact their petty grievances by denying greatness. Since Mr. Rice did not shuck, jive, and shuffle for the sports writers who are majority white, they are refusing him ntrance into the Hall of Fame. Mr. Rice has every right to look at others who have been granted entrance into the Hall of Fame and wonder why. I read your article and I did not see anywhere where you said you would start a team with Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn.
    Sometimes the truth hurts.

  2. Ben Benedetto

    I do believe Ripkin and Tony Gwynn should be elected to the Hall of Fame, but so should Jim Rice. Regardless of his talking too much and being bitter that does not change the fact that he is a Hallof Fame player.
    Rizzuto, Rick Ferrall and many others are far behind Rice in both stats and feared by pitchers, I can name more who are in, as i know you can also.

  3. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    To Nathaniel Davis:

    You may be right that Rice isn’t in the Hall of Fame because writers don’t like him. Of course, writers have been the Hall of Fame voters for a long time (all of Rice’s career), so if he was so interested in being voted in, he could have made an effort not to be a jerk. Doesn’t make it right, but like you said, sometimes the truth hurts.

    As you noticed, I mentioned twice that I think Rice deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. You said, “I read your article and I did not see anywhere where you said you would start a team with Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn,” and while that is technically correct, I did say that I believe most GMs would rather start a team around Ripken than Rice. And since it is important to you to hear me say it, here goes: I would definitely rather start a team around a guy who bats .350 or a power-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop than a defensively challenged, power-hitting left-fielder. YES, I would take Ripken or Gwynn over Rice any day.

    Finally, where does “sports writers who are majority white” come from, and where does it fit into your argument? Grammar aside, are you really telling me that Rice isn’t in the Hall because he is black? Tell that to the dozens and dozens of black Hall of Famers (including Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, Satchel Paige, Kirby Puckett, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Willie Stargell, and Dave Winfield). I am not denying that racism exists; I’m saying that your implication that Rice is denied because he is black is so absurd that it makes the rest of your argument look dumb for being in the same paragraph.

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