Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein attended Rice’s press conference. It was a thrill for him, given what he revealed afterward.
“He was my favorite player growing up,” Epstein said. “I was at the game when the kid got smoked by the line drive by the first base dugout. We were in the grandstand. No one knew what to do. Out popped Rice. He climbed through the stands. He got him” – Epstein flexed his arms as if cradling a child – “and brought him down to the doctor. For a young kid, that made a real impression.
I’m really happy I got to know him when I started working for the organization. I started pulling for him even more to be able to experience this day. Good for him. He was always the first guy I would check in the box score.”
Epstein has known Rice since he became the Sox general manager, but he’s never told Rice that he was his guy as a kid.
“We don’t talk about stuff like that,” he said. “It’s always nice when the players you rooted for turn out to be good people as well. He certainly deserves it. He’s never one to draw attention to himself or hold himself out there for acclaim. To be rewarded like this, it means even more, I think, because he’s not a self-promoter.”
It’s a little funny that Epstein, a proponent of the Sabrmetric approach that, in part, helped devalue Rice as a Hall of Fame candidate, loved Rice more than any other Red Sox player. Epstein, unlike some of his Sabr counterparts, fully believed Rice deserved a spot in Cooperstown.
“He was a slugger,” Epstein said. “He had incredible power. He was one of the most feared guys throughout his whole career. His whole career was a prime. He didn’t hang around long after his skills started to decline. His whole career was prime performance. He was a slugger. He wasn’t a guy who drew a lot of walks, but he did some serious damage. The stuff he did early in his career was incredible.”