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

The day Jim Rice made my Hall of Fame

It was the incident that should have defined Jim Rice’s career. On Aug. 7, 1982, a 4-year-old boy from New Hampshire named Jonathan Keane was seriously injured when he was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Dave Stapleton. The boy’s skull was fractured, and he was bleeding heavily.

Everyone at Fenway Park paused — except Jim Rice. Rice jumped into the stands, took the boy in his arms and carried him to the clubhouse, where he was examined by the team doctor, Arthur Pappas, before being transported to Children’s Hospital.

Rice played the rest of the game with a blood-stained uniform, according to Boston Globe reporter Dan Shaughnessy’s account of the incident. “If it was your kid, what would you do?” he quoted Rice as saying afterwards. “The baby was crying and there was a lot of blood. I think he was more in shock than anything.”

The following day, the great Peter Gammons wrote in the Globe: “If only every cynic in America could have 1) observed Jim Rice’s reaction to crisis and 2) seen how concerned players from both teams were.”

Rice’s selection to the Hall of Fame was long overdue, though I understand his was a marginal case. He had a great career that didn’t last quite long enough to make his induction an easy call.

But I was a big Rice fan for many years, and that day in Fenway was a major reason why. For a long time we had an illustration of Rice by noted sports artist Dave Olsen in our living room (Dave and I worked together at the Daily Times Chronicle in Woburn during the 1980s). Incongruously enough, Dave chose to portray Rice patrolling left field rather than terrorizing a pitcher.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find anything on the Jonathan Keane incident this morning. But the Boston Herald’s Web site includes a photo of Rice holding young Jonathan to accompany a Steve Buckley column. It was one of those random things, I guess, as neither the Herald nor the Globe makes any other mention of it.

But given that I didn’t know the boy’s name or what year the incident occurred, the Herald photo, by Ted Gartland, was enough to get me searching. Those old Globe stores are not on the open Web, but I found a wonderful follow-up by Jeff Goldberg of the Hartford Courant published 15 years later. By then, Keane was a healthy 19-year-old. Goldberg wrote:

Tom Keane [Jonathan’s father] said it could have been much worse, and that Rice’s quick thinking may have saved his son’s life.

“Time is very much a factor once you have that kind of a head injury and the subsequent swelling of the brain,” Pappas said. “That’s why it’s so important to get him to care so it can be dealt with. [Rice] certainly helped him very considerably.”

Today, Rice is the Red Sox’s hitting instructor. He was happy to learn that Keane is doing well, and is attending college not far from Rice’s home state, South Carolina. “It’s a good feeling,” Rice said. “At least he knows that we have southern hospitality.”

Congratulations to Jim Rice, a great player and a class act.

Photo (cc) by Paul Keleher and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Pink Granite

    Hi Dan -I really like Jim Rice but I didn’t know this story.Thanks for this post and the links. ;o)- Lee

  2. Bill H.

    Dan, I completely agree. I think that much of the criticism of Rice when he played centered around his poor relationship with the media, and he no doubt earned that criticism. But I believe that he was just a very private guy who was uncomfortable under the magnifying glass of the Boston sports scene. Anyway, he could certainly hit, he fielded his position well, and he respected the game. I’m happy for him and his family.

  3. mike_b1

    You really trust The CHB’s account of anything?Wow … just, wow.

  4. O-FISH-L

    Congratulations to Jim Ed Rice for the prestigious, exclusive honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. Surely, sometime soon, Rice will join another once prestigious, once exclusive club, those former Red Sox now in the Hall of Fame whose numbers are retired in Fenway’s right field. Unfortunately, that honor was greatly cheapened last year with the addition of non HOF’er Johnny Pesky.With each new Hall of Famer added to the wall of retired numbers, Pesky’s #6 sticks out like a sore thumb. Perhaps the state Department of Education can use it on the MCAS in the section of questions asking “Which one doesn’t belong?”

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I remember the incident well. Shaughnessy got it right. Hope you trust me!

  6. Rob

    This goes to show you the media’s negative portrayal of an athlete does not ipso facto mean the person is mean-spirited, doesn’t like the fans, etc etc.

  7. Gladys Kravitz

    Dan I was a college freshman living about a mile away from Fenway at the time. Thanks for this wonderful reminder of Rice and those times (back in the day.)

  8. Dunwich

    Instead of writing about cynics maybe if Gammons and his fellow MLB writers had looked into pervasive PED use among the 90’s collection of sluggers, Jim Rice’s career wouldn’t have looked passe to contemporary voters. The nature of any exclusive club is to exclude. Rice deserves to be in, but his wait was’t the snub of the century as some would have us believe.

  9. mike_b1

    Rice was a byproduct of his home field. His non-Fenway stats were pedestrian. All this “most feared” hitter subjectivity is so much hoo-yah. Like anyone wanted to see Reggie Jackson at the plate. Boston has every right to want to see its best OF not named Yastrzemski from the 1970s and 80s in the Hall — and he should be — but that player’s name is Dwight Evans. No doubt Dewey is sitting at home somewhere wondering why he’s not feeling the love.

  10. cpong

    In 1998 I spoke to Jim Rice about the day he went into the stands. This is what a leader does.BTW, Jim Rice said to me ” You know, I stay in contact with that kid and he is doing fine, can you believe he is around 20 years old” Need I say anything more about JIm Ricewhat a guy, what a ball player

  11. O'Reilly

    Boston sports fans… they’re at your feet or at your throat.

  12. The Arranger

    I’ve never had any interaction with Jim Rice, and I have no idea whether he’s a reincarnated Genghis Khan or a Francis of Assisi. But to point to one incident and make some judgment about his overall character is just plain silly. By the way, I’ve always wondered whether that incident had any impact on Stapleton’s hitting ability. He was a super line drive hitter in his first couple of years and then just steadily unraveled. Averages by year: .321, .285,. .264, .247, .231, .227, .128.Bob in Peabody

  13. Ani

    I was actually wondering what Stapleton’s reaction was — interesting what you say, Bob in Peabody. And I agree that we have a tendency to want to see people as demons or heroes.

  14. mike_b1

    I love stats.It’s highly unlikely that the incident had any impact on Stapleton’s career. Basebally players, with a few exceptions, peak in their age 27 season. He made the majors late — age 26, right at his peak. He never walked much, which is a sign of poor plate control. That first season, when he hit .321, he has a batting average on balls put into play of .331. It was .280 the next year, then fell off the charts. The league-wide average tends to be closer to .300. Bottom line: He just wasn’t a very good hitter overall.But he still should have been playing 1B in the ninth of Game 6. Damn that McNamara.

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