One of the most enjoyable aspects about all of the highlights and anecdotes and salutes to ol' No. 14 in the days leading up to his Hall of Fame induction was hearing how much it meant to him to receive baseball's highest honor. Especially when he was the one telling us.
(Hearing the great Ned Martin calling Rice's home runs with an "Oh, mercy!" or "That one is long gone, baby," on all of the old highlight reels was also a treat. The outstanding NESN special about Rice's life and career is worth checking out for that alone.)
Rice, of course, was notoriously stoic during his playing days, and if you happened to approach him carrying a pen and a notepad, there was a chance you were going to have to take a side trip to the ER to have both items surgically removed from your nostril. It's hardly a scoop to say he knew how to growl at reporters as effectively as knew how to crush 89 mile-per-hour fastballs.
While he mellowed to some degree after his retirement -- even ending up with a media gig, something that would have seemed unfathomable during his playing days -- he remained publicly unmoved each year as the Hall of Fame votes deemed him unworthy of inclusion. There were no Bert Blyleven-style outbursts from Rice, just cliches that never came close to revealing his true disappointment. He was too proud to reveal as much.
It was only after Rice did get his due this January during his last year on the ballot that he let us know how much it meant to him to join his elite peers and other icons of the game in Cooperstown. There were tears during interviews and anecdotes he'd never shared before. Upon hearing the news he'd been inducted, he called his wife of 37 years, Corine, and told her, "We made it." He began showing a softer side some weren't sure existed.
With his election came a different kind of a pride altogether, a warmer, more personable kind. And in a sense, it confirmed the impression of him I had following his career as an awestruck Little Leaguer.
To fans of my generation, Rice wasn't stoic, but heroic. Whether he was carrying an injured teammate off the field, rescuing a young boy who had been hit by a line drive in the stands, or walloping home runs high and far over the net, Rice seemed larger than life. Sure, he could look intimidating -- Rice and Don Baylor were the physical giants in the '70s; nowadays, teams have trainers that are bigger -- but you couldn't help but notice that he always seemed to be enjoying a good laugh on his baseball card.
It was on one of those baseball cards of mine that Rice meticulously wrote his signature before one of the first Sox games I attended, early in the 1979 season. He could not have been friendlier as he chatted up my group of friends, all of whom we're probably thinking the same thing I was: "Jim Rice is talking to us . . . that's Jim Rice . . . and he's talking to us." I suppose as he retreated to clubhouse he probably scattered a pack of reporters, but to a pack of 10-year-olds, he couldn't have been friendlier.
I still have that baseball card somewhere. It's laminated and has two autographs on it now -- the second was added when I practiced my cursive by copying his signature. It's worthless in the world of eBay, I guess. But sentimentally, the price is astronomical.
Yes, it was cool to see Jim Rice get this moment. But that was nothing compared to seeing how much he enjoyed it.
Turns out the stoic old slugger can be sentimental, too.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.