In the Christmas spirit, let's start a fight! Today we get into one of the most polarizing debates in Hall of Fame history: the case of Jim Rice.
"Q: Jim Rice comes to bat with the bases empty. What does he do?
A: He grounds into a double play." - The Good Doctor, Inside Sports
2089 G, 2452 H, .298 AVG, 382 HR, 1451 RBI
I'll be honest here; I'm completely agnostic about the induction or non-induction of Jim Rice into the Hall of Fame. I do not believe that the Hall would be sullied by his gaining acceptance, nor do I believe it would be an injustice to exclude him. But Rice's case is one of a fantastically talented athlete and a great left fielder, who was also curiously flawed at the plate and one of the least liked players in baseball history. There are arguments to be made on both sides, but one in particular could be extremely convincing.
No one can deny the greatness of Rice. He, Fred Lynn, and Dwight Evans formed perhaps baseball's best outfield from 1975-1980. Opposing pitchers feared him more than just about any other left fielder in his day. While Rice was hardly as skilled as his predecessor, Carl Yastrzemski, at playing the Green Monster, he fielded adequately enough.
Rice broke in with the Red Sox towards the end of 1974, and made an immediate impact the next season, leading the Red Sox to the World Series along with fellow rookie (and Rookie of the Year and MVP) Fred Lynn. He went on a three year tear from 1977-79, hitting 124 home runs and compiling a batting average of .320. He continued for another seven seasons as one of the premier power hitters in the league, while never hitting below .284.
The career numbers are extremely impressive. Eight All-Star games, six finishes in the top 5 of the AL MVP voting (including his 1978 MVP award), three AL home run titles, two RBI crowns, and he was consistently among the top 10 in batting average. His 382 career home runs would place him sixth among the 13 Hall of Fame left fielders, and the .502 slugging percentage he accumulated puts him eighth, neither one of those shabby numbers.
Now, there's also a case against him that's equally as impressive. His career hit total is not too impressive among the Hall members, only better than three, including Willie Stargell, who was far better of a power hitter. He had a pretty poor batting eye (just 670 walks, well below most Hall members), and his 1423 strikeouts were almost off-the-charts awful except when compared to Stargell. Consequently, his contributions on the basepaths beyond home runs was somewhat diminished. And then there's the double plays. 315 for his career, sixth most all time, and he led the league four consecutive years.
The curious argument that could convince on the fence voters would be his comparison to one of his contemporaries, Tony Perez. The logic goes, if Perez is in, then Rice should be in. This is a fair argument, as most of their day would testify that Rice was the superior player. I would agree, and would argue (much as it would pain diehard Reds fans) that Perez was one of the least deserving Hall selections over the past 25 years. While I'm not fond of comparing players across positions, nor do I believe that the method of using an undeserving induction to justify another one, but let's take a look at the comparison between the two:
With the exception of Perez's "superior" walk rate, there's not much reason to say that Rice is less deserving than Perez. But, again, two wrongs don't make a right, so while that would persuade others, I would decide to pass on accepting it. My vote would be against Rice.