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Rice Won’t Lobby For Spot In Hall
BOSTON — All Jim Rice needed was 18 more home runs to reach 400 — a milestone that, to many, would have made him a surefire inductee into the baseball Hall of Fame.
Or, he could have smiled a little more.
Rice, the often surly Red Sox slugger, feared by opposing pitchers and unfriendly to the reporters who vote for the sport’s highest honor, has fallen short of Hall induction for 13 years.
Now, with the rampant use of steroids unveiled as one source of the game’s home run inflation, Hall voters have a chance to re-examine Rice’s numbers in the context of his era and give him what could be his last, best chance at induction.
“I think if you’re the dominant player of your time, you should be in the Hall of Fame,” said former Red Sox teammate Rick Miller. “And he was.”
A year after Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted on their first try, the 2008 ballot had no surefire inductee. Rice and reliever Rich Gossage were the top returning vote-getters with 64.8 percent and 64.6 percent last year, respectively; 75 percent is needed for induction.
Rickey Henderson becomes eligible next year — an obvious first-ballot inductee who could take votes away from candidates lingering from previous years. So this could be Rice’s best chance before he’s bounced from the ballot and thrown to the whims of the veterans committee.
“It seems like there’s been a groundswell of support for him, from what I’ve been reading. Hopefully there’s something to that and he gets in,” said former teammate and current Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy. “I’ve been hoping all along, because in my mind he always has been a Hall of Fame player.”
Rice was dominant from 1975, when he was the runner-up to teammate Fred Lynn in the AL rookie of the year voting, until 1986, when he led the league in 12 offensive categories, including runs, homers, RBIs and slugging percentage. But his numbers fell precipitously after that, and his inability to stretch his career hurt him when his lifetime numbers were compared with those who played during the recent statistical explosion.
Only 25 players hit more homers in baseball’s first century or so; in the 18 years since Rice retired, he has been knocked out of the top 50. He was 36th on the career RBI list; now he’s 54th. He was 48th on the career slugging percentage rankings when he retired; now he’s 87th.
“Things are not like they used to be; the players are not the same,” Rice said. “You have to put guys in different categories and ask, ‘What were those guys considered during their time?’”
Rice spoke by telephone from his home in South Carolina this week, after the 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America sent in their Hall of Fame ballots but before Tuesday’s announcement of the results.
Rice has not campaigned for inclusion, he said, nor was he particularly anxious.
“Hillary (Clinton) and everyone’s doing a lot of campaigning. Why should be out there campaigning?” Rice said.
“I never thought I’d play one day in the big leagues, I wound up playing 15 years. That was something I was gifted with.
“I could have been more selfish, but when I played it was a team thing.”