Former Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice checked out one of his old bats at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Friday.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - His wife of 37 years, Corine, said that Jim Rice, whom she dated throughout high school in Anderson, S.C., knew he would one day be a major league player. What he didn't know was that he would one day be walking through the Baseball Hall of Fame, being shown the very wall where his plaque will sit after his induction in July.
"There are a lot of guys who played the game. I remember the 60 or so kids I started with in the minors and they never made it to the big leagues. So I'm way ahead of the game. I got to play in the major leagues for 15 years," Rice said.
Wearing a striped green Tommy Bahama shirt, Rice strolled through the museum and received a personal tour from Erik Strohl, the senior director of exhibitions and collections. Rice was taken aback by the history of the game and was especially intrigued by the evolution of bats and gloves. He got to hold a bat used by Babe Ruth and the one Ted Williams used to hit No. 521. At one point Rice grasped Ruth's bat and Strohl said, "Careful Jim, that bat already has a crack in it," referring to the time when Rice broke a bat on a checked swing.
Rice came across the memorabilia he had donated to the museum, including the only glove he ever used as a major league player.
"Fifteen years, same glove," said Rice as he slipped the glove on his hand. ""Eddie Yost patched it up for me once, but I never used another glove in a game."
He went through old photos of his playing career. He was fascinated by the archives section.
He even stopped to say hello to a group of school children who were getting a tour of the Hall of Fame. Introduced to a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, one young put her hands on her face in disbelief.
"I got to shake his hand," said one little girl.
"I got to touch him!" said another.
Rice was later asked about steroid use and whether Cooperstown should admit players who have tested positive. Rice deferred that decision to the sports writers who vote, but it was obvious that having played clean was a source of pride to him. It may also be one of the reasons it took Rice until his final year of eligibility to get the required votes.
"We didn't have video, and weights, and steroids. We had to learn things by talking the game, talking to the older coaches like [Johnny] Pesky and [Tommy] Harper and Eddie Yost, who knew the game inside out and could pick up things and they'd pass them along. That's how we learned things back then. That's how we got better," he said.
He also pointed to the plaques of Hall of Famers and said, "These guys here didn't need it [steroids]. Why do you need it? So you can hit a ball 15 rows up instead of 10? A guy like Jose Canseco. What's he 6-5, 6-6, what's he need steroids for?"
He called today's players, accustomed to luxury travel, superb training programs and facilities, spoiled. He also said today's players are not fundamentally sound. He cited Tampa Bay and Minnesota as two franchises who "actually who go out and practice fundamentals." He said of his own Red Sox, "'We are one of the worst teams executing and moving runners along."
Asked whether he'd written his speech for the induction, Rice said, "not yet. I just want to make sure I credit the people who helped me. People like Yaz, Eddie Yost, Johnny Pesky. I have to make sure I give them the credit."
Did he learn anything from his long wait?
"Good things come to those who wait," he said.