Jim Rice 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 1, 2017


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Jim Rice was my brother’s favorite player when we were growing up in Massachusetts. He was a consistent superstar, regularly leading the league in homers while among the league leaders in batting.

He had an unbelievable peak that made him consistently in the MVP conversation, even in years when the Red Sox were not pennant contenders. He fell just short of the magical 400 home run plateau, finishing with 382. His numbers dipped badly in 1987, 1988 and 1989 where he was frustratingly a shell of his former self.

But by all the metrics used during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, he was considered to be an elite player.

Advanced metrics were not so kind to him. The emphasis on RBI as an individual statistic has dropped dramatically, seeing that it relies on other players rather than the hitter’s ability. The value of getting on base has skyrocketed, seeing that the act of not making an out is what is coveted by today’s player.

Rice’s walk totals were never high. His goal was to get it in play and drive home the runs. 4 times in his career, he saw his OPS in the .900’s, mainly peaked with his high slugging percentage.

But in the 1980’s when he was still considered to be an MVP candidate, he also led the league in groundball double plays. Dan Shaughnessy, always a diplomatic writer, once suggested he should change his license plate to 6-4-3.

He produced numbers that the people of his era wanted but they were analyzed by a different criteria when he was on the Hall of Fame ballot. Initially his lack of passing the major milestone of 3000 hits or 400 home runs delayed his election.

Then the advanced metrics worked against him. It took Jim Rice 15 ballots before finally in 2009, he got in on his last chance. He and Rickey Henderson were elected.

I understand the arguments against Jim Rice. And yet I jumped up in the air as if he hit a towering home run when I saw he got elected. He was one of MY guys and he was my brother’s favorite player as I said. Emotionally, I was super happy that he got in. The Sabermetric crowd will have to deal with it. (They got a victory with Jack Morris falling short.)

If three flukes did not happen in Rice’s career, he would have been in on the first ballot with the exact same stats in all but one season of his career.

Well, truthfully, if his entire career was EXACTLY the same save for one thing, he would have been elected along side Mike Schmidt in 1989. If the Red Sox got the final out in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer.

An act that had NOTHING to do with his abilities would have sped up the Cooperstown process for the favorite son of Anderson, South Carolina. Red Sox win the title, boom. Rice in no questions asked.

If Bucky Dent had popped up or Lou Piniella did not field the ball properly in the sun during the 1978 AL East playoff and the Red Sox won, chances are Rice is in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

If Jim Rice did not break his hand in the final weeks of the 1975 season, chances are he is in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

But certainly if the final out was made in 1986.

Why?

Because the narrative of Jim Rice’s greatness would have outweighed any statistical argument. Was he as great a hitter as Ted Williams? No. Did he put up the stats of Carl Yastrzemski? No.

But did they WIN the World Series with Rice? Yes they did. Rice killed the dragon that no other Red Sox star could slay when they won the World Series in 1986.

The line of Hall of Fame Red Sox left fielders from 1939 to 1989 would have been complete with Rice writing the last great chapter.

That would have been his legacy. Cooperstown would have been his 15 years before any discussion of OPS and WAR (was it VORP then?) even came up.

Ray Knight pops up to Spike Owen and Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame in 1995. The fragility of reality can seem random or at least unlikely.

I am glad Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame, statistics be damned. If you don’t like it, then move onto the next plaque. He is my guy. He is my brother’s guy as well.

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