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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Verdict is in: Rice still a tough out

No soup for you, Jim Rice.

For the 12th consecutive winter, the Baseball Writers' Association of America has turned thumbs-down on the candidacy of the former Red Sox slugger. Of those on the ballot, Rice received more votes than any player who didn't make it, but his 64.8 percent tally was significantly short of the 75 percent needed for a ticket to Cooperstown.

Here in Boston, we really thought this was the year for Jim Ed. He was coming off his strongest showing (60 percent last year), and there were no slam-dunk new candidates on the ballot. The Red Sox carpet-bombed voters with pro-Rice e-mails, and the residual stench from the steroid scandal figured to boost Rice's image. We know he was clean when he was hitting cleanup.

And yet Rice failed to make the jump to 75 percent. Next year he'll have no chance because Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Harold Baines, and Mark McGwire (now there's a controversy in the making) will appear on the ballot for the first time.

Is Rice coming up short because of his terrible relationship with baseball writers during the time he played? Is this petty payback for years of churlishness? Would Rice be in the Hall of Fame if he'd been as media-friendly as, say, Kevin Millar?

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, a baseball writer since 1972, does not vote for Rice. Asked if Rice's nasty relationship with the writers had anything to do with his vote, Madden said, ''Not with me. I voted for Eddie Murray, and nobody was more rude to me than him. I would hate to think that's the reason people don't vote for Jim Rice."

Back in Rice's home state of South Carolina, reporter Bob Gillespie of The State, said, ''Most people here say, 'He didn't get along with writers, so people are taking it out on him.' "

For the record (we're all about disclosure here at the 17 percent Globe), I voted for Rice. Again. But certainly the possibility exists that Rice's attitude is hurting him at the ballot box. Murray and Steve Carlton, legendary for their disdain of the media, both made it on the first round, but they were slam-dunks. Rice, on the other hand, falls significantly shy of being a no-brainer.

Listen to Madden:

''I've been on the bubble with him. In the final analysis, the lifetime home runs [382, significantly shy of Murray's 504] aren't there. He's a borderline candidate. There's no denying he was dangerous and feared. When you add it up, he was a middle-of-the-lineup slugger who didn't have 400 home runs. That haunts him more than anything. He needed a couple of more years. We're talking Hall of Fame here. I mean, Andre Dawson finished behind him and he hit 56 more home runs."

More important than assigning motives to those who don't vote for Rice, we need to assess his future chances. Rice gets to stay on the ballot only three more years before he is turned over to the new Veterans Committee, which has yet to agree on a new candidate.

The good news for Rice is that he'll be on relatively weak ballots in 2008 and 2009, the final two years of his eligibility. In 2008, the best new names will be Shawon Dunston, David Justice, Tim Raines, and Mike Morgan. Rice is going to look pretty good next to those guys. In 2009, the strongest new candidates will be Rickey Henderson (unless Rickey returns to the majors yet again), Mark Grace, Matt Williams, and Dean Palmer. Rickey's a lock, but Jim Ed crushes the rest.

Rice was the American League's dominant hitter from 1975-86. He's the only player in big league history with three straight seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. Among 18 players who've been on the ballot with 350 homers and an average of .290, all are in the Hall except for Rice and Dick Allen. Rice is one of 10 players with at least 382 homers and an average of .298: The other nine -- Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams -- all are in the Hall of Fame. The Red Sox publicity department would do well to take a year off with the electorate, then come back with those numbers in 2008.

Remain calm, Nation. It's not over yet for the popular NESN analyst. I say he makes it in 2008. Ditto for Rich Gossage. Nice symmetry there, seeing Rice and Gossage, two of the giants of 1978, strolling side-by-side through the gates of Cooperstown.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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