Jim Rice's Election to Hall of Fame Could Open More Doors in Cooperstown
Rice's candidacy has been debated ad nauseam the last few years, with rigid statistical analysts citing his mediocre on-base percentage and poor numbers away from Fenway Park as cause to keep him out and equally rigid supporters, most of them writers who covered Rice when he played, lauding his presence in the batter's box and status as the "most feared" hitter in the American League for much of his career.
Regardless of where you come down in the Rice debate (Personally, I would not have cast a vote in his favor), it's impossible not to feel good for him. Getting as close as he did on the previous 14 elections, and then being forced to wait another year had to be tougher in many respects than falling off the ballot right away.
Now, wherever he goes and whenever he's introduced, the adjectives 'Hall of Fame outfielder' will always precede his name. "I don't think it matters what ballot I was on as long as I got in," Rice told the Associated Press. "That was the key thing right there."
Rice might not be a Hall of Famer to some, but there is no question that his career is worthy of awe. In an era where steroids and even legal over-the-counter supplements and intense workout regimens were not a part of the culture of baseball, Jim Ed was one of the top power hitters around. He clubbed 40 home runs in a season only once, but hit 39 three times, and finished his career just 18 shy of the 400 plateau.
His AL MVP campaign in 1978 is the stuff of legend. Rice hit .315, with 46 home runs and 139 RBI. He led the junior circuit in OPS, slugged an even .600 and totaled a whopping 86 extra-base hits.
ESPN's Rob Neyer -- one of Rice's most vocal detractors over the years -- makes the case that his induction will have little impact the quality of player in the Hall of Fame going forward because, in short, voters don't usually lower the bar for election even when they make a mistake.
It's hard to argue with Rob. Slippery slope arguments are often unsound, and he knows more than almost anyone about the patterns of the Hall voters. I do find it hard to believe, though, that Rice's induction will not, at bare minimum, give some of his contemporaries a sizable boost in coming elections.
With over 60 percent of the vote, Andre Dawson's election is a fait accompli anyway, but even if you're one of the voters who didn't support Rice this year, how can you not put an X next to Dawson's name in 2010? Matt Snyder laid out a compelling case this morning that Dawson was every bit Rice's equal. I'll go one step further: He was a superior all-around player.
Tim Raines' case is certainly stronger today than it was yesterday, with a vocal minority of analysts believing Raines' case dwarfs Rice's.
There might even be more widespread support for someone like Dale Murphy. He's gained very little traction in 10 years on the ballot, with his support gradually sliding backward. But now? Murphy has two MVP Awards to Rice's one, and while he wasn't quite the offensive force that Rice was, his defensive prowess easily closes the gap between the two players.
Rice's election should be celebrated, first and foremost. He deserves his day in the sun, and then some.
But he should also serve as a beacon of hope for Hall candidates nearing the end of the line as well as players who are simply worthy of a second look.