Jim Rice always wanted to be left alone. He asked that he be judged by his numbers. Nothing else.
Monday, the Baseball Writers of American told Rice that his numbers are not worthy of the Hall of Fame. Not even close. Of the 460 writers who cast ballots, only 137 (30 percent) voted for Rice. A player needs to be named on 75 percent of ballots cast to be elected.
And so today Jim Ed Rice stands alone, outside the gates of Cooperstown, holding a career stat sheet that has been judged woefully insufficient for admission to hardball heaven. Monday’s totals are loud and clear. Rice is not going to the Hall - not unless some Veterans Committee sneaks him in sometime in the next century.
Here in Boston, Rice’s poor showing in his first bid is a little shocking. Locally, he has been viewed as a borderline first-ballot Hall of Famer. It turns out that the rest of Baseball America did not take his candidacy very seriously. This is tough to swallow, particularly when comparing Rice’s numbers to some of the ex-players who are enshrined in Cooperstown.
Boston Globe sportwriter Nick Cafardo polled 13 baseball scribes before the totals were announced. Only four said they voted for Rice. Of the nine who admitted not voting for Rice, three said it was the toughest decision they’d made as a Hall voter. Those sentiments won’t help Rice. Borderline candidates do better than 30 percent.
This typist is left wondering … Was Rice snubbed because he failed to give good sound bites? In his 15-year career, Jim Ed was rude to just about every baseball writer in the country, and this paltry vote total makes one wonder if some petty scribes have taken their revenge. Rice may have given too many people reason to turn their thumbs down. This is wrong. A streak of surliness shouldn’t damage a worthy candidate. Van Morrison didn’t have to cooperate with the media to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
From the day he first came to the big leagues in 1974, Rice looked like a Hall of Famer. In his rookie season of 1975 he hit .309 with 22 homers and 102 RBI. But he broke his hand in September and missed the World Series.
From 1977-1979, when he was the dominant slugger in either league, Rice had at least 200 hits and 35 homers in three consecutive seasons, something which had never been done before. Those were the days when he could draw an intentional walk even if the bases were loaded. Can we ever forget his MVP season of 1978? He hit .315 with 46 homers and 139 RBI. He had 406 total bases, the first time an American Leaguer had cracked the 400-mark since Joe DiMaggio did it in 1937.
He wound up with a lifetime average of .298 and 382 homers in 15 seasons. Too bad he lost it so quickly. Rice was done by the time he was 36. His eyes, elbow and knee stripped him of his power. In his final three seasons he was a singles hitter. His career average dipped below .300 and he was unable to crack the 400 homer barrier. Too bad. A lifetime .300 average and 400 homers would have been tough to exclude from Cooperstown - even for a guy who thought notebooks and microphones were weapons.
Rice’s defense adds zero to his candidacy and he never had a monster postseason. In the 1986 World Series, Rice failed to knock in a single run despite batting cleanup for seven games. But he’s hurt most by the fact that he just didn’t do it long enough. He was dominating for only four or five seasons.
Technically, Monday’s tally doesn’t mean the end of Rice’s chances. He’ll be on the ballot for another 14 years. Some voters, who curiously withhold approval on the first ballot (like a retired player gets any better next year?) may vote for him next year. But Rice’s first-year bid was not even in the ballpark. No candidate makes up that kind of ground.
In July, Rice claimed he didn’t even know that he’d be on the ballot this year. “I have no control over it, so I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I would care if I started looking at some of the statistics that some of the guys who are in there have, but I don’t have a book and I’m not going to look at it … To me, you go by statistics, what a guy meant to the ball club. Before my time, a guy left Ted Williams off the MVP ballot. It all depends on who’s voting. I think you should go on his ability and what he meant to the ball club.
“I have no idea what they are looking for. A lot of guys didn’t even see me play. It’s like with an All-Star Game, or if you’re going to trade for a guy. The guys you talk to are the players. Players can tell you who can play and who can’t play and who can play with pain.”
Players don’t vote. Baseball writers vote. And the writers have made it clear that they believe Jim Ed simply isn’t a Hall of Famer. Not even close.