By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions


Jim Rice is passed over for the Hall of Fame again. Goose Gossage, who did make it, says:

Just from what I know and facing these guys, I think Jim Rice does belong in the Hall of Fame and I’ve said that all along. No hitter scared me, but Jim Rice came the closest. What a tremendous hitter he was. He made that whole Boston lineup a better lineup.

No kidding. I understand that Rice is a marginal candidate. But he had a fine career, and in the late 1970s he was the most devastating hitter in baseball.

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  1. mike_b1

    In the late 70s, George Foster was the most devastating hitter in baseball. Then he signed with a team whose park hurt him even more than Fenway helped Rice.

  2. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Guess we’re gonna need a definition of “late 70s” that leaves off Foster’s less-than-devastating 1979.What’s the next SABER-miracle, Park-Adjusted World Champions?

  3. Anonymous

    A great player is not just a great hitter. Rice was a mediocre fielder at best, who benefited from playing the easiest outfield position in major league baseball. That is, when he wasn’t a DH. And he had no particular running skills. One of the many negative effects of Saber madness is that some people focus almost exclusively on statistics, and that benefits hitters disproportionately.

  4. mike_b1

    amused but uninformed: Please do your homework.1977-79:Rice (in the 2d best hitting park in baseball) 1940 AB, 124 HR, 168 BB, HR% 1:15.7, .320 BA, .379 OBP, .597 SLGFoster (in the 4th most difficult hitting park in baseball) 1659 AB, 122 HR, HR% 1:13.6, 190 BB, .301 BA, .378 OBP, .582 SLG.It took Foster two less at bats per homer – which translates to one more homer roughly every three games. That’s striking. Fenway inflated Rice’s batting average by 43 points (that’s fact: home .320, road: .277).Even with an injury-marred 1979, Foster was the better hitter.

  5. Anonymous

    I agree that Jim Rice was a fearsome hitter, much in the mold of Richie/Dick Allen. He hit the ball about as hard as anyone ever, and had some monster years. Dave Parker makes an interesting comparison, although Parker’s failure to make the Hall can be laid squarely on his substance abuse issues.I think there were more years than not during his career when he wasn’t even the most valuable Red Sox outfielder. Lynn was better during most of the late 1970s, then Dwight Evans, with his much more well rounded game, came on in the early 1980s.Rice’s career as an effective player was prematurely shortened by vision problems, I believe. He and Evans wound up with very similar career totals.Bill James did an exercise that showed that steady but unspectacular Yankee OF Roy White was about as effective offensively as Rice during one of Rice’s biggest years when park advantage, walks, and Rice’s propensity for grounding into double plays were all taken into consideration.There are plenty of worse players in the HOF, so Rice’s inclusion can be justified. But I’m not outraged over his omission.Bob in Peabody

  6. mike_b1

    anon 7:38: From the dawn of baseball, attempts at accurately assessing fielding have been made. Remember “errors” and “fielding percentage?” The metrics are getting better (i.e., more descriptive and reliable), but no one feels we are there yet. But I would argue that sabermetricians have been working equally hard on discerning just distinguishes good and poor fielding. Indeed, if you go back to Bill James’ s very first newsletter (1977), he made the argument that the concept of “errors” made baseball was the only sport where players were judged on what someone thinks “should have happened.” I would agree that the mainstream sportswriter meatheads have all but ignored this. And it’s killing them: Niche pubs are taking off and the mainstream pubs are getting crushed.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: I don’t have the data in front of me, but it seems to me that Rice emerged as a major GIDP threat only late in his career, when he slowed down and became more of a one-dimensional player.He really wasn’t that bad a left-fielder, either. He was OK — and, unlike Manny, he never spaced out from time to time.I absolutely agree with you that his vision was a problem. It always seemed weird that he wore glasses off the field, but wouldn’t wear either glasses or contacts when playing.

  8. mike_b1

    Rice’s GIDP totals spiked in 1982 (29, followed by 31, 36, 35, 19, 22) after a previous high of 21 and a mean of 16 prior to 1982. Wade Boggs’ rookie year? 1982. There’s your culprit. (That, plus he didn’t walk much.)In an SI article years ago, Rice said contacts hurt his eyes, and he didn’t like the way glasses looked. So he opted for aesthetics over results.

  9. Anonymous

    Rice wasn’t a bad left fielder, but he wasn’t good either. He did have a strong arm. Once the old wall with its varied materials was replaced in the 1970s with a more uniform structure, left field in Fenway became the easiest position in baseball to play: just stand in front of the wall and come in on everything.I don’t know if this is hurting his chances with voters, but was there ever a Red Sox star who seemed more vulnerable to a specific pitch? You just knew that if someone got two strikes on Rice he was going to curve him down and away, and Rice was almost sure to bite, with either a strikeout or ground out (often a double play) ensuing. It is actually a marvel that Rice was able to be so effective for so long with this glaring weakness.In Bill James’ New Historical Abstract, James rates Rice the 27th greatest left fielder of all time, behind several non-Hall of Famers, including Tim Raines, Minnie Minoso, Frank Howard, Albert Belle, Sherry Magee, Jimmy Sheckard, Roy White and George Burns. He also rates him above two Hall of Fame left fielders, Joe Kelley and Heinie Manush.James writes Rice is “probably the most overrated player of the last thirty years.”Bob in Peabody

  10. amusedbutinformedobserver

    Gee, I looked at the stats and saw Rice with a higher batting average, more homers and more RBI than Foster in the late 70s. Park bias is as meaningless a statistic as has ever been created because the games are played in the real world and the Standings of the Clubs never have and never will adjust for ballparks.There is no way to reduce fielding to a statistic, no matter who tries or what schemes they try.

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