Jim Rice: Hall of Famer or not?
THE CASE FOR RICERice made eight All-Star teams with the Boston Red Sox, and finished among the top five in American League MVP voting six times; the same number of top-5 finishes as Joe DiMaggio, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray. From 1975 through 1986, Rice led the American League in 12 categories, including home runs, RBIs, runs, hits, total bases and slugging percentage. He was arguably the most dominant offensive player in the game during his peak years, and a guy who hit for average as well as power. While Rice's 382 homers and 1,451 career RBIs don't seem particularly special in hindsight, his totals look better when you consider that he amassed them in the pre-steroid era.
THE CASE AGAINST RICESeveral years ago, Bill James ranked Rice as the 27th best left fielder in history -- two spots behind Roy White -- and called him "probably the most overrated player of the last thirty years.'' Rice never won a Gold Glove, stole 58 bases (in 92 attempts) in his career, and ranks sixth on the all-time grounded-into-double-plays list. His home-road splits also provide fodder for his critics: Rice posted a career .920 on-base slugging percentage at Fenway Park, and a much more pedestrian .789 on the road. While his peak was impressive, he fell of a cliff statistically at age 34 and was out of the game by 36. Some baseball observers believe that former Boston outfielder Dwight Evans has a stronger Hall of Fame case than Rice does. Evans topped out with 10.4 percent of the vote and dropped off the ballot after three years.
THE VERDICTI spoke to several colleagues whose opinions I respect greatly before sending in my ballot this year, and no candidate produced more anguish than Rice across the board. Personally speaking, I passed on Rice in his first eight or nine appearances on the ballot before finally embracing the "most feared hitter of his generation'' argument and giving him my support several years ago. I understand why the statistical community is so anti-Rice. I realize that he's a fringe candidate. But I still think his offensive accomplishments during his 12-year peak make him Cooperstown-worthy. So I swallowed hard and checked "yes'' beside Rice's name in his 15th and final appearance on the ballot, and I think he'll squeak into Cooperstown when the results come out Monday. What do you guys think? Let the debate begin.
In That's Debatable!, we give you the topic, and then we'll have one of our writers stop by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jerry Crasnick (1:00 PM)
Hey folks, For the next hour or so, it's all Jim Ed Rice, all the time. Let's get started.
What made Rice a viable HOFer in his 15th year on his ballot on not every prior year of eligibility? Hasn't more evidence that he's overrated come to light in recent years?
Jerry Crasnick (1:02 PM)
Nick, That's one of the odd phenomena in Hall voting -- how some players tend to generate more support from one year to the next long after they've retired. Rice received 29.8 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, and here he is on the cusp of Cooperstown. If anybody out there has a good explanation for that, feel free to pass it along.
So now we're inducting guys for what opposing players "remember about them." The "most feared" argument is dumb. Maybe to get Blyleven in we should start pointing anti-stat writers to what opposing hitters thought about his curveball. I bet his curveball was the "most feared."
Jerry Crasnick (1:04 PM)
Derek, No, I don't think that's the case. I recently talked to guys like Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan for a story, and I asked them about that "most feared" moniker. What it boils down to is, Rice was extremely productive over that 12 year span. It wasn't about how menacing he looked in the batter's box. He had 3,670 total bases from 1975 through 1986 -- more than Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, George Brett or anybody else in the game. Doesn't that count for something?
Bill (Boston, MA)
I know espn guys like Rob Neyer and Keith Law love to use the new way of thinking when it comes to Rice, but to me, I think they take it too far. It's clear that they don't care for Rice very much by the way they continually bash him. Sure being "feared" isn't a sabermetric stat, but I think they have to look past all the WORP, VORP and other stats and look at the man, his impact on his generation of players, and the legend he created for himself in his 15 years of playing. Rice to me is a Hall of Famer, induction or not. If he is elected, I will be there to cheer his induction.
Jerry Crasnick (1:07 PM)
Bill, I think the writers owe a debt of gratitude to Rob, Keith and the stat guys for changing the way we look at Hall of Fame voting. I know that I embraced Bert Blyeleven's candidacy and voted for Tim Raines this year in large part because of the compelling arguments that the stat guys made in their behalf. But when peoeple start telling me that Roy White or Brian Downing were as good as Rice, I just can't buy it. There's a flesh and blood element to voting too, and I don't think some statistical experts will ever accept that.
Buster Olney (RI)
Jerry, can you speak a little more about Dewey Evans, and why he did not get a little more respect in the HOF voting?
Jerry Crasnick (1:10 PM)
Buster, (I assume this is just a handle, because the real Buster lives in New York). I think Evans suffered from being overshadowed by Yaz, Rice and Fred Lynn and others in Boston. He had a couple of bad beanings early in his career, and he really didn't flourish as a hitter until Walt Hriniak turned him around at age 29. And for what it's worth, Evans hit .300 only once -- at age 35. I wish he had stayed on the ballot longer so we could continue to assess him, but I don't think he was quite a Hall of Famer.
The problem with Rice is that he only excelled at the power numbers (HR and RBI) with a lousy OBP. We wouldn't be having this discussion if voters bothered to look past the count stats each year. Also, you note the park effects, but don't weigh them nearly enough. Are you planning on doing the same for Larry Walker and Todd Helton? BTW, lots of "feared" hitters aren't hall worthy. Milton bradley is freaking terrifying; that guy might come after you with a knife, but that doesn't make him a HOFer.
Jerry Crasnick (1:12 PM)
Matt, I'll ignore the Milton Bradley comment. As for the home-road splits, it's definitely something you have to consider with Rice. But I have a hard time punishing a guy because of where he played. And while Rice's splits were pronounced, some of the Coors Field splits are ridiculous. I actually think Larry Walker has a pretty good case. My big problem with Walker is that he played 140 games four times in 17 seasons. Rice easily trumps him in terms of durability.
It's as simple as this. This is an IQ test and if you actually think Jim Rice should be in, you fail. "The most feared" argument is the dumbest thing I've ever heard, given that it makes no sense and is obviously just a BS way of trying to prove something without any actual facts. It's pretty hilarious if you think about it.
Jerry Crasnick (1:13 PM)
Taylor, Congratulations: Our first "If you vote for Jim Rice, you're an idiot" posting. I was wondering when one of these would pop up.
Jerry, do you think its possible that the "statistical community" might need to try watching games instead of crunching numbers. Rice was one of the top 5 players of his generation, and that's what should matter, not whether his numbers stand up next to Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, et al. I think all players should be judged on the era that they played because the game has always been changing. Most of these statistic guys are younger and it seems are voting on players they barely saw - seems to be a flaw in the system. Put Rice in... and thats from a lifelong Yankee fan.
Jerry Crasnick (1:16 PM)
Ron, That's the reason for the schism between the statistical community and mainstream writers who vote: I think it's important to talk to teammates and opponents of Hall candidates and factor in what I see with my own eyes and feel in my gut. The stat guys don't. Case in point: I voted for Tony Perez because I spent five years as a beat writer in Cincinnati and constantly heard Bench, Rose, Morgan and all the Big Red Machine guys rave about Perez and how important he was to those teams. Statistically, Perez might have fallen a little short. But for me, there was more to the discussion than that.
Taylor, St. Joseph, MO
Personally, I'd vote for Henderson (no brainer), Dawson, Blyleven, and Raines. Trammel is a toughy for me. I remember him getting on base a lot in teh 80s. Can you do me a favor Jerry? Please explain how your buddy Pedro Gomez could vote for Jay Bell. Is that a typo? I can't believe Mark Grace didn't get a single vote, but Jay Bell?
Jerry Crasnick (1:18 PM)
Taylor, I can't answer for Pedro Gomez's vote. But on the subject of Mark Grace, I actually considered voting for him because I'm afraid he might fall off the ballot so quickly. That happened with Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons, Lou Whitaker and others, and I hate it when that happens.
Jeff (Louisville, KY)
How do you stand on Dale Murphy, who might have been the most feared NL hitter behind Mike Schmidt?
Jerry Crasnick (1:20 PM)
Jeff, Dale Murphy is similar to Rice in some ways as a candidate. But I can't get over that .265 batting average and .469 career slugging percentage. For what it's worth, Murphy might have been the classiest individual I've seen in 20-plus years covering the game. There's nothing I'd like more than to vote for him.
Brian - Laveen, AZ (by way of Worcester, MA)
Ok, so I grew up in Boston, and watched Rice for 10 years...now, his numbers are ok...but Hall of Fame? Fred McGriff has better numbers and he is not getting in any time soon...so, I may be the only native New Englander saying this, but no...
Jerry Crasnick (1:22 PM)
Brian, I think Rice and McGriff are polar opposites in the eyes of the voters. Rice was a dominant player who had too short a peak. McGriff was very good year in and year out, yet overshadowed at his own position by guys like Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire et al. I see the Crime Dog as sort of "Eddie Murray Lite." He deserves consideration, but he's not quite there.
Jerry- does that mean you think Mark Grace is a hall of famer? Or that you would vote for someone who isnt a hall of famer to make sure they dont fall off the ballot too quickly?
Jerry Crasnick (1:24 PM)
Al, Point No. 2. I don't think Grace is a Hall of Famer. But I'd like to see him pull more than 5 percent so that he can stay on the ballot. Grace will never get in. But I wonder about a guy like Ted Simmons, who was one of the best-hitting catchers in history and never got a sniff. I wish I had a chance to vote on his candidacy now.
I decided to consult baseball-reference.com about this "most feared" stuff. Do you know how many times Rice led his own team in OPS+? Twice. He was routinely bested early in his career by Fred Lynn and later in his career by Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans. Moreover, wouldn't the voters in 1995 have a better memory of how "feared" he was than the voters in 2009?
Jerry Crasnick (1:27 PM)
Dan, I wrote a story on Jim Rice right around Christmas, and I'm not even sure what "most feared" means. Heck, third basemen probably fear Gary Sheffield more than anybody else, because they know they have a chance to be maimed if he rips one down the line. It's just a catch-all phrase that everyone has picked up on and beaten into the ground. Thankfully, this is Rice's final time on the ballot, and we won't have to read the "most feared" term a whole lot longer.
Do you feel that voters just don't account for all the intangibles in these players? It seems like that is a key factor in a lot of the possible inductees (Rice, Dawson, Morris, etc.). Does time hurt or help the cause for players with these intangibles?
Jerry Crasnick (1:30 PM)
Ronald, Like it or not, I think there's something to intangibles. That's one reason why writers who covered Andre Dawson in the NL tend to give him more support than AL writers who never watched him play. I remember interviewing Dawson in the clubhouse one season, and how he walked out of the trainer's room with two huge ice bags on his knees at 3:30 in the afternoon. The guy was a walking disaster, but he still made it into the lineup every day. That was one reason why his teammates revered him so. Sorry, but when I vote (and I vote for Dawson), that's something I take into account.
Tim (New York, NY)
Jerry, I would make the opposite argument to Ron's comment above. The "stats guys" watch a lot more baseball than any fans or sportswriters (at least the ones who don't write 100% about baseball). I think the good that guys like Rich Lederer have done for Bert Blyleven's case far outweighs the damage they've done to Jim Rice's reputation. There's a chance a worthy candidate like Tim Raines could fall off the ballot because a bunch of AL sportswriters remember him for cocaine and some part-time play for the Yankees teams in the late 90s, not as the NL's version of Rickey in the 1980s.
Jerry Crasnick (1:33 PM)
Tim, As I said, I credit the stat guys for educating us all on things that matter. They swayed me toward Blyleven and prompted me to vote for Tim Raines. But the condescension level on some of the statistically-based Web sites is off the charts. I can deal with somebody telling me my decision is wrong. But so much of the discussion is about calling people "idiots" and "morons." Its really juvenile.
Jerry - if the Sox won in 1986, do you think that would have had any bearing on his candidacy?
Jerry Crasnick (1:33 PM)
Todd, No, I don't think that has much bearing -- although Rice's postseason numbers aren't very stellar.
Quentin (Potomac, Maryland)
Lowering standards only lead to Lower Standards! Jim Rice HOF worthy, get real! How is Rice any more worthy than the following player that will not get in unless they have a ticket: Jason Giambi, Jim Edmonds, Albert (his mamma called him Joey) Belle, or Joe Carter> Rice had 5 fantastic years 77-79, 83, and 1986. Five years of outstanding play is less than a third of his career.......I hope he does not get in because he is not worthy of enshrinement.
Jerry Crasnick (1:36 PM)
Quentin, I think we're mixing apples and oranges with Rice and some of the guys you mention here (although the Joe Carter comparison isn't too far out of whack). But I go back to all those MVP votes and All-Star appearances. Feel free to say that MVP votes don't matter. But six career top 5 finishes -- as many as Joe DiMaggio? That tells me that Rice was regarded as a dominant player, at least for a while.
The juvenile thing cuts both ways. How many times have old-school writers called stat guys nerds who live in their mothers' basements just because the stat guys want to look at actual evidence and data?
Jerry Crasnick (1:37 PM)
Mike (Presque Isle, ME)
Do you think that the anti-Rice crowd is judging his numbers against the offensive explosion numbers that happened after he retired? Jim Rice played in an era where nobody hit 50 home runs in a season. You have to judge Rice by the time in which he played.
Jerry Crasnick (1:38 PM)
Mike, That's true, but Rice really did have a precipitous dropoff. He was pretty much toast at age 33. I don't know if it was his eyesight or (as some surmise) a lack of attention to conditioning. If Rice had maintained his peak performance for another 3 or 4 years, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now.
Let's be fair Jerry. For every nerd calling someone an idiot and a moron, there's an idiot calling that guy a nerd who lives in his mother's basement (and doesn't actually WATCH baseball). Condescension is not only on one side of the argument.
Jerry Crasnick (1:40 PM)
Chris, Just to put this one to bed, I've never once referred to a statistical analyst as a nerd who lives in his mother's basement. And I've been called a moron on somebody's blog quite frequently.
Jerry, you didn't acknowledge the OPS+ part in Dan's question. Rice only led HIS OWN TEAM in OPS+ twice! And he certainly didn't add value to that defensively. He didn't even dominate his own team, never mind baseball. Does that sound like a HOFer to you?
Jerry Crasnick (1:42 PM)
Johnny, Maybe you can answer this one for me: If you look on baseball-reference.com, Rice has a career OPS+ of 128. Rickey Henderson, who's a Hall of Fame lock, has a career OPS+ of 127. What am I supposed to make of that?
Rob (Stratford, CT)
Jerry, if Jim Rice not winning the world series in 1986 doesn't mean anything to him getting elected than why did Kirby Puckett get in to the Hall of Fame and not Don Mattingly? They basically had the same exact stats over there careers
Jerry Crasnick (1:45 PM)
Rob, I don't think writers penalize Jim Rice for failing to carry Boston to a World Series title in 1986. At the same time, Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris drew an awful lot of support from their postseason heroics, and I'm sure it's going to help John Smoltz's cause when he goes on the ballot. So it definitely comes into play.
Bill W (Brooklyn)
What you call "flesh and blood" sounds like rationalization to me, or spin, to use the political term. Your own eyes and gut are subjective instruments that (as with all of us) misrepresent mundane things on a daily basis. To evaluate a ballplayer's career over 15-20 years, facts should take precedence, and the facts come down on the side of Rice being very good and not great.
Jerry Crasnick (1:46 PM)
Bill, No, it comes down to actually watching the games. I respect Bill James enormously, but I can't buy the argument that Roy White was a better player than Jim Rice. If you took 100 unbiased observers and had them watch both Rice and White's careers from the first at-bat to the last, can you honestly tell me that more than 50 percent would say that White was a better player?
Saying Rice only lead his own team in OPS is ludicris since he played with 2 first ballot HOFs. Its like saying Gehrig only lead his team in HRs twice. Right?
Jerry Crasnick (1:49 PM)
Tom, Yeah, I'm sure that Lynn, Yaz and Evans had something to do with the stat. Before I forget, there's one other number that I think is interesting in regards to Rice: As I mentioned in my lead-in, Rice ranks sixth on the all-time GIDP list. The five guys ahead of him: Cal Ripken, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray. I know that Rice had a lot fewer ABS than those players. But grounding into double plays doesn't automatically qualify a guy as a stiff.
John (Thunder bay , Canada)
To what degree do you think playing the majority of his career in Boston has helped Rice's candidacy, and playing in Montreal has hurt raines and Dawson's candidacy?
Jerry Crasnick (1:50 PM)
John, I do think that Raines and Dawson suffer from having played in Montreal -- in more ways than one. All those years playing on the cement outfield at Olympic Stadium took a huge toll on Dawson's knees.
Henderson had defensive value, Rice didn't.
Jerry Crasnick (1:52 PM)
Steve, Yes, and Henderson is also the career leader in stolen bases and runs scored. I'm in no way comparing them. I'm just saying that I was surprised to find their career OPS+ was almost identical.
Pat (Belfast, PA)
Again I ask, what does watching the games tell you that some sort of statistical analysis will not tell you? How much further a guy hit a home run? Where the single landed? How much closer it the hit was to being an out? I really can't understand why it's so much more important.
Jerry Crasnick (1:56 PM)
Pat, I can't quantify it. But I think Bobby Abreu is an instructive case. His numbers are off the charts, but people who watch him see a style that suggests a lack of passion, and he's viewed as sort of a complementary player. Or what about Ozzie Smith? Do you really think it's possible to assess his candidacy based strictly on the numbers? Or Kirby Puckett, and the leadership he provided and the sense of joy that he brought to the park? If we're not going to be allowed to factor that in, as voters, let's just feed the numbers into a computer and do it that way. Is that what everybody wants?
In 1700 fewer plate appearances than Jim Rice, I hit 52 more home runs, had only 47 fewer RBI, won 2 MVPs and had four top five finishes. I presume you'll be a leading advocate for my Hall of Fame candidacy?
Jerry Crasnick (1:59 PM)
Juan, I'm not a "leading advocate" for Rice's candidacy -- I really agonize over voting for him each year. As for your Hall of Fame case, I think your accomplishments have to be judged within the context of the time you played. And I don't think you stand out quite the way Rice did, given the steroid-induced inflation of the 1990s.
Mike (Philadelphia, PA)
Jerry, what about the "WOW" factor. When I was a kid, I was happy to pull a Jim Rice card from a pack of baseball cards. I was happy tp get an Andre Dawson. Those guys were at the top of their leagues for a long time. To me, they should be in the Hall of Fame, because it is for hte fans, and most fans think of those players as the best from that generation.
Jerry Crasnick (2:00 PM)
Mike, I'm with you -- I'm never going to apologize for being smitten by the "wow" factor. That's all part of being a fan and loving the game, isn't it?
Based on the track record of the voters in recent years, I vote for the computer!
Jerry Crasnick (2:01 PM)
Stack, It wouldn't bother me at all to see qualified statistical folks (like Bill James) have a say in the process. But that's not my call. I do think the BBWAA's record isn't as bad as some people make it out to be.
Derek (Waltham, MA.)
I grew up watching Rice so my opinion is little bias. I will say that I cant believe he made it to year 10 w/ out getting the nod!!! He was head over heels better then a lot of guys that have made the cut before him. He wasnt the nicest guy when he was playing but he was one of the BEST in a pre-steroid era which should mean a lot these days....
Jerry Crasnick (2:03 PM)
Derek, One final point: Writers get slammed all the time for making it personal, yet that didn't stand in the way of Eddie Murray's induction. And several writers in Boston who had a terrible working relationship with Rice vote for him nevertheless. That's the way it should be -- do it on the merits.
Roy White: 121 OPS+, outstanding fielder & baserunner, played in avg park, also played in late 60s, which depressed his offensive totals Jim Rice: 128 OPS+, average fielder & baserunner, played in DH era, extreme home/road splits (BA 43 higher at Fenway) I don't necessarily agree that Roy White was better, but I see the argument.
Jerry Crasnick (2:04 PM)
Rich, Roy White also made two All-Star teams in 15 seasons, never finished higher than 12th in the MVP ballotinig, and had a .404 career slugging percentage. I think this is one argument that plays better in hindsight (and on paper) than it does in reality.
Jerry Crasnick (2:06 PM)
Thanks for the spirited emails, guys. Trust me -- as voters, we take this seriously and we're always trying to educate ourselves. But it's not an exact science, and 500-plus people are going to have a range of opinions. I think it'll be Henderson and Rice next week, but we'll see.