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Dan Shaughnessy

Rice is on deck to get his due - Hall induction

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 11, 2008
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Last call at the Hall for Jim Rice.

The former Red Sox slugger has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for 14 years and each time he's come up short of the required 75 percent of the vote.

Now in his 15th and final year of eligibility, Rice wins. Guaranteed. Just like I said last year (whoops) when he finished 16 votes shy, getting 72.2 percent of the electorate.

Rice has never been a certified Cooperstown lock. That's why he's fallen short. It's not because he was uncooperative with the scribes. It's because his window of greatness was a tad short, he failed to hit 400 homers, his numbers are inflated by playing half his games in Fenway, he was a corner outfielder with little speed or range, and he didn't do much in his few postseason opportunities.

But he belongs in the Hall. He could hit for average and he could hit for power and he finished in the top five in MVP voting six times. Twenty other players have gathered between 70 and 75 percent of the vote and every one of them ultimately made it to Cooperstown. Now it's Rice's turn. Just in time.

Rich Gossage was the only player elected by the writers last winter when Rice finished a strong, tantalizing second. In other years, Rice's vote total fell backward because of big names coming onto the ballot - names such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn (elected in 2007) or George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and Robin Yount (1999).

Not this year. The only new big name on the ballot is Rickey Henderson, who is certain to be elected (we can't wait for Rickey's speech at the induction ceremony). Voters are going to vote for Rickey, then look at the ballot and check the box next to the name of Rice. They'll see how close he was last year. They'll note that this is his last year on the ballot. They'll concede that he was the most dominant slugger of his era. And they'll remember that he was steroid-free. Rice hit 46 homers in a season when it meant something.

Writers must submit ballots before the end of this month and the results will be announced Jan. 12. Too bad about the timing. Rice is scheduled to receive the prestigious Emil Fuchs Award at the annual Boston Baseball Writers bash, which will be held Jan. 8 - four days before Rice gets the call from Cooperstown. It would be nice if Rice knew the results when he's honored in Boston, but no one ever knows the Hall voting until the day the players get the call.

Obviously, the Red Sox would love to see Rice make it next summer. Club historian Dick Bresciani has again bombarded voters with a five-page manifesto entitled, "Making a case for Jim Rice." By the time I was done reading it, I was amazed that Willie Mays and Babe Ruth somehow sneaked into the Hall ahead of Jim Ed, but then I remembered that they finished their careers before Rice started. Seriously, though, Bresciani reminds us that when Rice retired in 1989, he was one of only 13 players with eight or more seasons of 20 homers and 100 RBIs. The others were Ruth, Foxx, Gehrig, Aaron, Mays, DiMaggio, Killebrew, Musial, Ott, Schmidt, (Ted) Williams, and Banks.

On the other hand, we have members of Bill James Youth who've never been out of the house who believe Rice has no business being in the Hall. ESPN.com's Rob Neyer ran the numbers and came up with Rice as the equal of Ken Singleton (James himself established that Rice was not as good as Roy White). Neyer states that Rice was not a dominant power hitter and disputes the idea that Jim Ed was the most feared hitter of his day.

Guess you had to be there. Or maybe talk to some of the players and managers who were there. Rice was dominant. Rice was feared.

Last year Neyer wrote, "With Rice clearly lacking objective Hall of Fame credentials, they [Boston baseball writers] are forced to fall back on the ill-founded, untestable notion that he was the 'most feared' hitter for more than a year or two. What I don't understand is why so many voters in so many other cities believe it."

That's rich. For decades, baseball scribes have been blasted for ignoring the numbers and hating on Rice because he did not give interviews. Now we're in the bag for Jim Ed even though his stats are unworthy? Because he was a great guy, I guess.

So, which is it?

Any way you look at it, the Rice discussion makes for a fascinating argument. Which is what we love most about the Hall of Fame.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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