January 8, 2009


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LONGSHOTS: Will hall have Rice on the menu come July?
by Dave Long

I’m not usually indecisive when it comes to who gets in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Because I know the numbers better than my own phone number, I generally make judgments that aren’t likely to change unless someone makes one heck of an argument for the other side. But in the case of Red Sox slugger Jim Ed Rice, the argument is compelling enough on either side that I haven’t been able to make a firm decision for 15 years.

But with the results on his fate coming out next week in his final time on the ballot, it’s probably time I reached a conclusion. 

The “he should be in” side says he was the most feared slugger in the AL from 1975 to ’86 — which I buy. The “no” vote says he was a one-dimensional player helped by playing in Fenway and is not recalled for being a big player in the clutch. As always is the case in baseball, statistics — traditional and new wave — are used over other evaluation techniques, like what the eyes saw, common sense and impact on winning, in a way that doesn’t happen in other sports. I mean what stats do they use to determine if John Hannah is the greatest NFL offensive lineman?

So here’s what I’ve been debating through the years.

Lying With Stats: You can twist numbers to make your case for almost anyone. That’s how computer stat geek Bill James makes the case that Rice ranks below Roy White on the all-time list for left fielders. I can assure you, besides a guy trying to prove his ways of evaluation are better than yours, no one, not even the most ardent Yankees fan tripping on acid, would make the case for White on Rice as the better player if they actually saw them play. And I don’t see the yes side comparing Rice on the road vs. at Fenway. So take what each says as a piece of the process but not gospel.

Fenway Park: I love the place but the evidence is undeniable: numbers go up when you play there. Like for in 2008 when the Sox hit .292 there and .266 on the road. Of course Duke Snyder hit 311 (of 404) homers in nine years at Ebbett’s Field, which was a lefty version of Fenway, and just 88 the next seven playing in the cavernous Coliseum after the Dodgers left Brooklyn for L.A. Still, playing in Fenway helped Rice compile what are still marginal Hall numbers.

He Wasn’t As Good As Dale Murphy: I’ll buy it for Andre Dawson, even though he hit just .279, because he had 56 more homers, while being a much better base stealer, runner and fielder. But not for Murphy, who hit 16 more homers (in a launching pad) and was a better fielder but drove in 100 just five times and hit only .266.   

The Raw Numbers: With 382 homers, 1,456 RBI and a .298 average he’s in the same universe as Orlando Cepada, Ralph Kiner and Tony Perez, who are in. But Kiner was more dominant, hitting 50 in one year twice, won seven STRAIGHT home run titles and hit his 369 in just 10 years before retiring with a bad back. Perez on the other hand got his over 23 years. Then there’s jovial Albert Belle with similar  numbers in an injury-shortened 12-year career to Rice’s more than 16 — who got less than 20 votes last year thanks to his lovable personality.  

He’s In, So Rice Should Be: This one goes along the lines of your mother saying to you, “If everyone jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?” So I don’t vote on others’ mistakes. So even if the very good but not great Perez, Don Sutton and Robin Yount are in, I don’t use that as a rationale. But then again, Kirby Puckett, a good fielding, middle-order hitter playing in the homer dome with 175 fewer homers, 400 fewer RBI and just three 100-RBI seasons to Rice’s eight, is in and he’s not? Hmmm....

The Automatic Numbers: There are three — 300 wins, 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Not that they aren’t impressive feats, but I’m not much of an automatic numbers guy. First because there’s no automatic number for runs scored or RBI, which are the two most offensive statistics, even if they are partly a function of who you play with (like wins aren’t?). Second because they can be more a product of longevity than of overall greatness — like with Sutton or Yount (who played in just three All-Star games) or the laudably versatile Craig Biggio. He’ll get elected no questions asked despite hitting “just” .281 lifetime thanks to his 3,060 hits. And then there’s Wade Boggs, who breezed in with 3,010, while Rice struggles, even though at no time when they played together did ANYONE I know consider Boggs more valuable in Boston than Rice. 

Who’d They Play With: This does help builds stats. Like playing with Boggs as he got on base an average of 311 times his first seven years in Boston when Rice hit behind him most of the time. But Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Billy Williams and Perez and others had it pretty good too and I didn’t hear folks talking about that much when they went in. 

Dominance vs. Longevity: Sandy Koufax got in with just 165 wins. In case you’re interested that’s 197th on the all-time list and two behind local legend Mike Flanagan. He breezed in because — easily the best pitcher I’ve seen — he was so much better than everyone from 1962 to 1966 that when his career was cut short by arthritis – it was a no-brainer. It’ll be the same for Pedro when his time comes despite being 86th on the list as we speak.

The Summary: It’s close, especially since I believe in the fear factor that can’t be quantified. But Rice was an OK good fielder at best, a base-clogger, and was dogged with complaints from the Nation for not hitting in the clutch. Harmon Killebrew overcame his one-dimensional game to get in by being dominant all through the ’60s and into the early ’70s. His eight 40-plus home run seasons, nine 100-RBI seasons and 573 homers made him the most feared slugger all that time as others came and went. Rice only hit 40 once and over 30 three other times as Dwight Evans with 385 and hated Yankee Graig Nettles with 390 hit more homers.

My Answer: To me the Hall is about either 15 years of building and maintaining sustained greatness or total dominance above others at your peak, rather than accumulated numbers over time, which only tell part of the story. That’s why Koufax and Pedro get my vote despite comparatively paltry career numbers and Jim Ed’s close-but-no-cigar numbers don’t.

Of course, if history is a guide, that could change a couple of times between now and next Tuesday.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.

1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead

12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
7/12/2007 Masse still a honeymooner in local baseball culture
7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat