Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame. The final jewel in the crown for so many. The elusive dream for so many more. And what separates those with Hall of Fame plaques from those left standing outside? A very good question. First things first, you have to be on the list of those eligible for induction, which quickly eliminates Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson…and me. After that, the criteria gets a little fuzzy.
There are a few milestones that seem to be automatic tickets in: 400 homeruns, 3,000 hits, a long career with a lifetime batting average over .300, multiple Gold Gloves or MVP awards being among them. But with no hard and fast rules, who decides on the “fringe” players? The Baseball Writers Association of America. So…the same guys and gals that cover baseball teams for their newspapers and magazines can ultimately impact whether or not a player is inducted in the Hall of Fame. Interesting.
The Oliver Stone in me doesn’t like the sounds of this. Does the player who grants all the interviews and answers all the media’s questions with a shit-eating grin on his face stand a better chance to get into the Hall than the guy who tells reporters to go piss up a rope after a tough loss? Possibly. Some of the stories I’ve read over the years indicate sports writers have long memories and lots of axes to grind.
Case in point: Jim “Ed” Rice. Sixteen seasons, all with the same team. For 12 of those years, Rice’s numbers were those of a dominating, Hall of Fame slugger. In an era of steroid-free athletes and unjuiced baseballs. Now as a post-game analyst, the big man leaves a lot to be desired. Often my desire while watching him leans towards an instrument sharp enough to open a vein. But on the field? He could play.
Take a look at Rice’s numbers compared to a few players already in the Hall;
Jim Rice: 2,452 hits, 382HR, .298 avg, .502 slg, 8 100+ RBI years, 7 25+ HR years
Billy Williams: 2,711 hits, 426HR, .290 avg, .492 slg, 3 100+ RBI years, 9 25+ HR years
Goose Goslin: 2,735 hits, 248HR, .316 avg, .500 slg, 11 100+ RBI years, 1 25+ HR years
Orlando Cepeda: 2,351 hits, 379HR, .297 avg, .499 slg, 5 100+ RBI years, 8 25+ HR years
I admit I am not a baseball historian. There are a lot more statistics to look at, as well as the ever-present “intangibles”. But looking purely at the numbers, Rice is a Hall of Famer. What if he had hung around the league for a few more years? The longevity question would go away and if he made it 4 years, he probably would have had his 3,000 hits and his 400 homeruns. But would that have made him a better player? I say no.
To me, 16 years with the same club is better than 19 or 20 years of bouncing around as a journeyman DH. And consider his 16 years were in Boston during the seventies and eighties. Not the easiest place to play for an African-American, and I’ll just leave it at that. So let’s have our own vote, Red Sox Nation. Should Rice be in Cooperstown or are the baseball writers correct in leaving him out?