Jim Rice: role model or curmudgeon?

Originally Published: August 24, 2009
By Jim Caple | Page 2

Jim Rice told Little Leaguers not to use today's players as role models: "You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod, you see Jeter … Guys that I played against and with, these guys you're talking about cannot compare. … We didn't have the baggy uniforms. We didn't have the dreadlocks. It was a clean game, and now they're setting a bad example for the young guys."

Rice elaborates in a exclusive Page 2 interview …

Nothing personal against those disgraceful, greedy, overpaid, sloppy, cheating, steroid-abusing, drug-addicted, long-haired, baggy-pants, dreadlocked, egotistical, pantywaist, loudmouth, halitosis-ridden, no-talent bush-league losers, but we were just a whole lot better in my day. And when I say better, I mean on the field and off, athletically and morally. That's not just my opinion, it's a true fact that you could verify on Wikipedia or at our team reunions.

[+] EnlargeJim Rice and Bud Selig
AP Photo/Mike GrollIs it possible Jim Rice and Bud Selig could be sharing a laugh about Robin Yount's jockstrap?

Look at Jeter. He calls himself a shortstop, but he couldn't carry Robin Yount's jockstrap. I mean that literally. Robin wore the biggest jockstrap in history -- it looked like he had an army helmet inside his pants. But it didn't slow him down a bit. He covered so much ground Bud Selig frequently went without a third baseman or a left fielder to cut down on salaries.

Not that we gave a damn about the money anyway. We would have played for free, and a lot of us did. Sure, the owners sent us paychecks, but that doesn't mean we actually cashed them. I remember when Fred Lynn and I were rookies in 1975. The first payday we got our checks and didn't know whether to deposit them in a bank or a credit union. We asked Carl Yastrzemski, and he spit in our faces and ripped up our checks into a million pieces. He made a point to do that every payday until the All-Star break. And we deserved it. Back in those days, you didn't talk to a veteran until you had at least three full seasons in or 100 career home runs, and even then the only thing you said would be "Excuse me for breathing so much oxygen yesterday." But today's generation? They come into their first spring training and will walk right up to you and ask for your wife's cell phone number. Maybe I'm a crazy old man, but I call that a lack of respect.

But people misunderstood me when I said we played a clean game. They thought I was talking about steroids. I wasn't. I meant that the game was clean because we tidied up after ourselves. For instance, we didn't spit our tobacco juice on the dugout floor -- we swallowed it. Sure, you vomited it back up the first couple dozen times, but eventually your stomach got conditioned and you could swallow three entire tins of Skoal. But today's players? Please. Look at how their batting helmets are coated in pine tar. Disgusting. We would never have tolerated that. They didn't call Brooks Robinson the Human Vacuum Cleaner just because he could field every ground ball on the East Coast; they called him that because he was a neat freak. He picked up every hot dog wrapper and beer cup that blew onto the field. The Baltimore infield was always spotless when Brooks was there. But we were all like that back then. It's why we started wearing batting gloves. It wasn't to protect our hands, it was to keep the bat clean.

That's all I meant when I said we played a clean game. But I could also have been talking about steroids, which we never used -- heck, I wouldn't even eat spinach after I saw what an unfair performance enhancer it was for Popeye. We never used them because that would have been unethical, impure and a sham. And we also never used them because we didn't need them. We were already so strong from working on the farm and in the steel mills and raising barns in the offseason that we could hit the ball 600 feet, 700 feet, a thousand feet. I hit a couple clear over the Charles River every season.

We would have hit a lot more home runs, but the pitchers were just too good. Nolan Ryan's changeup was clocked at 120 -- and that was on the slow gun. The pitchers didn't need to be babied with pitch counts, either. Back then, they pitched every other day in three-man rotations and stayed sharp by soaking their arms in buckets of horse urine between starts. I know, because Yaz made me drink some for looking at him the wrong way before a game my rookie year.

But try telling any of that to A-Rod or Manny and they won't believe you. Hell, they won't even listen. I talked to Manny one entire afternoon, but I found out later he never heard a word I said because he was listening to music on his iPod.

I don't know what it was, but knowing today's generation, it wouldn't surprise me if it was that rock 'n' roll.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

Jim Caple | email

ESPN Senior Writer
Author of "The Devil Wears Pinstripes" and winner of a Sports Emmy. Reported from 17 World Series, 9 Olympics, 6 continents.