I was happy to see Jim Rice finally get his overdue election to the Hall of Fame. As a Red Sox fan, I had mixed feeling about him during his career and the early years after his retirement. He was a mediocre fielder -- though he did have a strong, accurate arm -- and didn't have an especially long career. But from 1975-86, Rice led the American League in every conceivable offensive category. He was the most feared right-handed hitter in the league. Until his body began to break down, he rarely left the lineup. Don Zimmer said he was afraid to take him out because teams pitched the entire Boston lineup differently when Rice wasn't in it.
The main reasons for not electing Rice before now were his poor fielding and the fact he made a lot of outs. I think his aloof and sometimes hostile relationship with the media hurt him, too. I heard a national writer say on the radio today that Rice was very slow. Please. Rice was fast enough to hit 15 triples in consecutive seasons. He was a good baserunner and an above average runner in his prime, before injuries took a toll. You don't hit 79 career triples if you're very slow. There are only four active big-leaguers with more than 79 triples.
In the end, I think the fact that Rice played before steroids got him over the hump. He might have been a churl at times, but he was pure. He was a physical freak in his day, without artificial help. It's scary to think what he might have been like if he had used steroids. Anyway, I have to think some of the voters who wouldn't elect Mark McGwire gave a vote to Rice instead. The notion of a "good guy" has been modified in the post-steroid era. Rice became a much better guy in retrospect because he was clean. If that's what it took to get him in, so be it. And it's not just drugs. The pitchers were better in Rice's day, and there were bigger ballparks. Manny Ramirez is seen as a lock Hall of Famer. He's a good comparison, a feared righty hitter who was flawed as an all-around player. I'll bet if Ramirez and Rice switched eras, their numbers would look a lot different -- and Rice would be the drop-dead Hall of Fame guy instead.
Rice only got 76.3 percent of the vote, so there are still people who think he doesn't belong. What do you think? Did he deserve it or not?