Jim Rice? Really? - Macleans.ca

Jim Rice? Really?


I was kind of hoping against hope that Jim Rice wouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame. But he has, along with Rickey Henderson. Henderson is a totally deserving Hall of Famer who rightly got in on the first ballot (don’t you always wonder who those people are who don’t vote for a player of that stature on the first ballot?).

Bill James’ revised version of his Historical Baseball Abstract has a good detailed explanation of why Rice was not only the most overrated player of his time, but a lesser player than his less-famous contemporary, Yankees left fielder Roy White. Now, Jim Rice was a very good player, but that’s true of almost every Hall of Famer. But he was one of those players who seemed to sum up all the ways in which a player could be less good than his flashy statistics. He didn’t walk much, he grounded into tons of double plays, and his stats were heavily inflated by being a right-handed hitter in Fenway Park back when Fenway was the best hitters’ park in the American league. Rice had three really great years, 1977 to 1979 (he deserved his MVP award in 1978), and a fine comeback season in 1986 when the Red Sox won the pennant. But in many other years, he was merely a good player, and other years, he wasn’t even good. In 1984, for example, his triple crown stats were decent — .280, 28 homers, 122 RBIs — but his on-base percentage was terrible (.323) and when you factor in that, the Fenway inflation, and the fact that his high RBI count came mostly from having Wade Boggs getting on base all the time in front of him, he really wasn’t a very good player at all that year. And he had quite a few years like that in what should have been his prime. His only good stat in many of those years was his RBI count, but as Branch Rickey wrote:

As a statistic, RBIs were not only misleading but dishonest. They depended on managerial control, a hitter’s position in the batting order, park dimensions and the success of his teammates in getting on base ahead of him. That left two measurable factors—on base average and power—by which to gauge the over-all offensive worth of an individual.

I’d feel less annoyed about this if it weren’t for the HOF’s neglect of Rice’s fellow left fielder Tim Raines, who never even comes close to getting in. Of course I say that partly as an Expos fan, but mostly because Raines’s career was so much better than Rice’s. Raines was not only somewhere near the best player in the National League from 1983 through 1987, but even after that, when he lost some of his speed and therefore some points off his batting average, his high on-base percentages and baserunning skills made him a very valuable player even in an off year. But he doesn’t have huge RBI counts, and HOF voters are still hypnotized by the magic powers of RBI.

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Jim Rice? Really?

  1. As an Expos fan I’m baffled by how Andre Dawson is seen as being near-HOF worthy and Tim Raines is not.

  2. I agree about Jim Rice. And also about Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.

  3. Ditto, ditto, ditto.

  4. You’d better be heavily disguised the next time you go to Baahston.

    Rice played in a big market and put up great numbers. If you are going to finely parse those numbers then you also have to parse the numbers of all the lefty power hitters blessed with Yankee Stadium.
    Rice’s rep was established during the few glory years in tandem with Fred Lynn. His problem withe HOF was that he wasn’t very user-friendly with the press.

    Tim Raines was a major talent but his drug problems are a real obstacle with HOF voters.

    Andre Dawson was a great player for many years in a small obscure market. By the time he got to a major market his impact was limited by wonky knees from years of playing in the Big O. And his quiet, withdrawn personality makes it easy for the HOF voters to pass him by.

    Damn politics. It’s everywhere.

    • “Rice played in a big market and put up great numbers. ”

      So did Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans, and neither of those guys are Hall of Famers. If you consider both sides of the ball, Rice is the weakest of the three and he’s the only one in the HoF.

      • Dwight Evans was one of my favourite players. Intimidating defense and clutch – but streaky – hitter.

        Freddy sort of disappeared after he left Fenway.

        Obviously there’s a lot of mixed feelings about Rice. It took him to his last year of eligibility to finally make it.


        I liked Rice … mostly because no one else seemed to.

        But the real question, I think , is why is Jack Morris still on the outside ?

        • One thing I give Rice a ton of credit for is surviving (and thriving) on the 70’s and 80’s Red Sox – a team very well known for it’s whites-only country club atmosphere (e.g. the Tommy Harper dismissal). So, IMO, he deserves bonus points for that.

          That being said, strictly for on-the-field performance I’d rather have Lynn or Dewey. Rice put up good averages and had very good power, but he also hardly walked and was an absolute ground-out machine.

        • Jack Morris’ career stats are a little too similar to Jamie Moyer’s to merit induction, IMO.

          • Stats matter but they are not everything.

  5. Another Bill James observation is that Tim Raines suffers from comparison to Rickey: Rock was, he said a few years back, the second-best leadoff man of all time, but he played in the same era as the best.

  6. LOL Fred Lynn better then Jim Rice?…..Seriously, where are you growing the stuff that you're smoking because I want to raid the plantation…..

  7. I wouldn't say Fred Lynn is better than Rice, but on the other hand Rice isn't all that much better than Lynn. Rice's career averages were .298/.352/.502/.854 whereas Lynn's were .283/.360/.484/.844. RIce maintains an edge but only a slight one. And though Rice was the more renowned slugger his AB/HR rate was 21.5 to Lynn's 22.6, rather small margin for the "most feared slugger of his time". And speaking of that "most feared" tag, while that is mostly reputation, and frankly it could very well be true that pitchers quaked in their cleats at the thought of facing RIce, Rice actually does rather poorly in one stat should be a clear indicator of how much he was feared. Rice was only intentionally walked 77 times in his career. So was Lynn. The all-time leader is Barry Bonds with well over 600. So much for fear.