Monday, January 12, 2009
Congrats, Jim. It was about time, huh?
Jim Rice finally has a space in Cooperstown. Rice was undeservedly in that group of borderline players for years; the good-but-not-great players (Andre Dawson ect...). Based on the criteria voters have used for years when deciding who gets in, it's ridiculous that it took until the 15th and final time for him to get in with 76.4 percent.
You could say Rice was the anti-Cal Ripken. Ripken was known for his ability to crank out 20 home run, 80 RBI seasons (with a great glove at short). Rice, on the other hand, had about a 10-year span where he was the most productive hitter in the AL. He didn't have the endurance Ripken had but, man, were those seasons great.
In order to really understand how dominant Rice really was you need to examine how much better he was than the rest of the AL during his run of dominance from 1977-79 and again from 1982-86. This was back when hitting over 30 home runs meant something and over a .900 OPS was rare.
Let's take a look at his run in the late '70s.
-In 1977 Rice hit .320 with 39 homers and 114 RBI. He could have won MVP that year had Rod Carew not hit an astounding .388 with 239 hits but it was a travesty he finished fourth in the vote. Ahead of him were the Orioles' Ken Singleton and a guy from Kansas City named Al Cowhens, niether of whom had a higher average, home run total, RBI or OPS than Rice. Another case of robbery in Rice's career.
The league average was .266 and Boston was the only team over 200 home runs.
-In 1978 Rice had one of the premiere seasons in Red Sox history. He was on par with some of the years Ted Williams put up, Yaz's 1967 Triple Crown season and Pedro's transcendent 1999. He hit .315 with 46 HR and 139 RBI while totaling 406 total bases, a feat not matched until Larry Walker had 409 in 1997. From that point on having 400+ total bases was not as big of an accomplishment. Sammy Sosa (425) had the seventh-best total in history in 2001 and there have been five other instances in which it happened, included Todd Helton twice.
I won't get started on why there was the sudden surge from 1997-2001 because it's been discussed over and over but the fact remains it was a special number until the late '90s.
Rice won the MVP while the league average dropped to .261 and the highest AL home run total was 173. Another indicator how great Rice was that year was he topped Rod Guidry 252-191 in the balloting. Why is this significant you ask? Because Guidry had a season that Pedro or Sandy Koufax would be proud to put on their resume. Wouldn't a 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 248 strikeout season create a close vote most seasons? Not in 1978, Jim Rice's most prolific season.
-Expecting a drop-off in 1979? Nope. Rice finished fifth in the MVP with a .325, 39 HR, 130 RBI. Either he, George Brett or Fred Lynn should have been MVP that year and it doesn't make much sense that Don Baylor won it or that Ken Singleton was again ahead of Rice at second.
The league average bumped up to .270 but still no teams over the 200 home run mark. Rice's stats, along with the aforementioned players, were a lot better than the rest of the league.
Anyway, Rice was eight points from a batting title, six away from the home run lead and nine RBI from the top spot in RBI. My point here is he was a top-three player in the AL for the third successive year. There were names like Bobby Bonds, Don Baylor, Lynn and others popping up but Rice was the most dominant over that period.
After injuries limited him to 24 HR and 86 RBI in 1980 and the strike held him to 17 HR and 62 and RBI in 1981, Rice was once again a top player between 1982 and 1986. He averaged .302, 28 home runs and 112 RBI in that period. No player averaged more RBI. Not Dale Murphy, who averaged averaged 105, Eddie Murray (averaged 108 but had an injury-plagued 1986 that brought his stats down), George Brett (who had more than 112 RBI only once in his career or any other of the best players of the 1980s.
Rice, simply put, was unrivaled from a production standpoint from 1977 to 1986. Three home run titles, a pair of RBI championships and four 200-hit seasons say it all. I'm glad voters finally recognized just how good he was and how good he could have been had his eyes not gone on him after his last MVP-type year in 1986.