SABR

Jim Rice

This article was written by Alexander Edelman.

James Edward Rice was born on Sunday, March 8, 1953, in Anderson, South Carolina, to Roger and Julia Rice. Residents of the town say that even as a lanky teenager, "Ed", as he was known to his friends, showed promise. He led his 1969 American Legion team to the State Finals. However, it was still a time of segregation in the south, and Rice, despite his promise, had to attend Westside High School--as opposed to the all-white T.L Hanna High. Sometime before Rice's senior year, when integration was mandated, Anderson's district board drew lines to decide who would attend what school. The resulting line was drawn so that the Rice household was included in the Hanna district. His engaging personality and gentle charm won over most of Hanna, and helped ease the racial tension that accompanied integration.

Rice's childhood hero was Westside alumnus and American Football League star George Webster, and Rice played football and basketball as well as baseball. In his senior year, Rice starred on Hanna's football team as an all-state kick returner, defensive back and wide receiver, and played in the North Carolina- South Carolina Shrine Bowl, leading South Carolina to victory. Baseball was by far his best sport, however, and when he was 18, the Boston Red Sox took him in the first round of the 1971 amateur entry draft (15th overall). [1]

After being drafted by the Red Sox, Jim played 60 games in 1971 for Single-A Williamsport in the New York-Penn League at the tender age of 18. He hit .256 with five home runs. In 1972 he was sent to Winter Haven in the Florida State League, where he continued to improve his skills, garnering 17 homers in 130 games. In 1973, the Red Sox promoted him to Bristol in the Double-A Eastern League, where he quickly flourished, winning the league batting title with a .317 batting average. He hit 27 homers and drove in 93 runs. Later that year, he joined the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for the playoffs, and helped lead them to a Junior World Series championship over the American Association Tulsa team; in just 10 playoff games, he hit .378 with four homers. The next year, 1974, Rice played with the PawSox for almost the whole year, where he won the International League's Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year, and MVP (.337, 25 HR, 93 RBI). [2]

The highly-prized prospect joined the parent Red Sox team for 24 games late in 1974, debuting on August 19. He hit his first major league homer on October 1, off Cleveland's Steve Kline. Rice batted .269 in 67 at-bats.

It took Rice a while to get settled in with the 1975 team. While fellow rookie Fred Lynn secured the center field job, the comebacking Tony Conigliaro was the opening day designated hitter, a role earmarked for Rice. Tony's season fizzled quickly, and Rice had the job to himself within a few weeks. By July, he took over left field and held it the rest of the season. Jim hit .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs, and ended up second to Lynn for the Rookie of the Year award. The two rookies Rice and Lynn were dubbed the "Gold Dust Twins" and formed what may have been the most productive rookie tandem of all time.

Hank Aaron was most impressed with the potential of the young slugger, and even speculated that Rice would go on to break his home run record [3]. But Rice's season came to a premature end on September 21, in a 6-5 win over Detroit, when Tigers pitcher Vern Ruhle broke his left hand with a pitch, sidelining him for the rest of the season, and forcing him to miss the World Series. To this day, many agree that with the offensive presence of their star left fielder, the Red Sox might well have won the grueling, seven-game World Series.

Recovering from his injury, Rice regressed a bit in 1976, hitting .282 with 25 home runs. In 1977, he became a full-fledged star, leading the league in total bases (382), home runs (39) and slugging percentage (.593). On August 13, 1978, he became the first Red Sox player since Ted Williams in 1939-40 to total 20 homers, 20 doubles, and 10 triples in consecutive seasons. On August 29, in an 8-7 loss to Oakland, he had his first three-homer game (his second--and last-- three-homer game would come exactly six years later on August 19, 1973). [4]

Jim Rice played his entire professional career with the Red Sox, but none of his seasons equaled the magic of 1978. He started the season off on the right foot hitting a game winning single in the 10th inning of the April 14 home opener [5], and continued his torrid pace into October, when the Red Sox tragically lost to the New York Yankees in a devastating one-game playoff. It was a shame, that one of the finest seasons in Red Sox history was overshadowed by the feeble swing of a weedy infielder. Rice's accomplishments were rewarded, though. He was voted the MVP award he so richly deserved, leading the majors in slugging percentage (.600), games (163), at-bats (677), hits (213), total bases (406), triples (15), home runs (46, the most for a Red Sox player since Jimmy Foxx hit 50 in 1938) [6], and RBIs (139). He was the first American Leaguer to accumulate 400 total bases in a season since Joe DiMaggio in 1937.

In 1979, Rice had another big year, becoming the first player to have 35 homers (he had 39) and 200 hits (he had 201) for three consecutive seasons. Fans elected him, along with teammates Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn, to start the All-Star Game [7]. It was an all-Red Sox outfield. Rice in particular was recognized as perhaps the best hitter in the game.

Rice had another hand injury in 1980, and suffered subpar seasons in 1981 and 1982 at least partially as a result. Nevertheless, in 1982, Rice had a day that is long remembered in Boston. He had a difficult relationship with the press, who presented him as a surly, unfriendly player. Jonathan Keane was a four-year old boy from Greenland, N.H., in 1982 and he would probably disagree with this assessment. On August 7, Jonathan was attending one of his first Fenway games, sitting along the first base line in the field boxes, and watched as his favorite player, Red Sox infielder Dave Stapleton, stepped into the batter's box against Richard Dotson of the Chicago White Sox. [8]

Stapleton fouled a pitch sharply to the right, and the hard-hit ball cracked Jonathan in the head, cutting open his left temple and fracturing his skull. In a 1997 article, Arthur Pappas, a Red Sox team doctor for over 15 years, claimed he had never seen so much blood at Fenway. Rick Miller, who was near the on-deck circle, cried for Red Sox trainer Charlie Moss, but instead, Jim Rice, who didn't see anyone moving, instinctively leaped into the stands and picked up the unconscious toddler. Cradling Jonathan, Rice ran into the clubhouse, where he brought him to Arthur Pappas in the trainer's room. [9]

In a 1997 article describing the incident, Pappas was quoted as saying ``Time is very much a factor once you have that kind of a head injury and the subsequent swelling of the brain. That's why it's so important to get him to care so it can be dealt with. [Rice] certainly helped him very considerably.'' The supposedly unfriendly outfielder did something that many other Hall of Famers surely have not. He saved a young boy's life.


Jonathan Keane returned for Opening Day in 1983 to throw the ceremonial first pitch, and Rice's game returned as well, as he went on to lead the league in RBIs (126) and home runs (39). He also won the Silver Slugger award and played spectacularly in his best year since 1979. And though the year of 1983 was not Rice's best, it provides more weight in the argument of whether Jim Rice should be a Hall Of Famer. SABR member Paul White of Shawnee, Kansas, one of Rice's most vocal supporters for election to the Hall of Fame, wrote in a 2001 article that there were a few reasons offered by sportswriters for Rice not to be admitted to the Hall. Chief among them is that Rice was one-dimensional. [10] In his article, White quotes Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, explaining why he did not vote for Rice in 2000. Stark's main argument was that Rice was one-dimensional, citing Rice's lack of Gold Gloves [11]. To counter Stark's claim, White offered the published opinion of Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons, who wrote in his book Beyond the Sixth Game: "...[in 1983, Rice] probably should have won a Gold Glove for fielding excellence. Dwight Evans, who had the worst defensive year of his career, won one instead, proving clearly the value of a reputation." [12]

Rice had typically fine years in 1984 (28 HR, 122 RBIs, .280) and 1985 (27, 103, .291), garnering All-Star honors each year. In 1986, the Red Sox returned to the post-season, and Rice was their primary weapon in the middle of the lineup. He hit .324, with 20 home runs and 110 RBIs, his last big season.

After missing the post-season in 1975, Rice was healthy this time. He hit just .161 with two home runs in the Red Sox playoff victory over the Angels, but one of the homers was a key three-run wallop in Game Seven in the League Championship Series. He hit .333 in the World Series loss to the Mets, in what was to be his only Fall Classic.

Bothered by an injured elbow, Rice fell off in 1987 (13, 62, .277), and he had to have off-season knee surgery. These injuries and eyesight problems plagued Rice for the next two seasons, and hastened the rather sudden end to his career after the 1989 season.

Rice spent all 16 years of his big league career with the Boston Red Sox, playing his final game on August 3, 1989. He returned serve the organization when he was appointed hitting coach in 1995, and young hitters, from Nomar Garciaparra, to Trot Nixon, to Mo Vaughn, benefited from his tutelage. Rice continued as Red Sox hitting coach until 2000.

A controversy rages about whether Rice's statistics merit Hall of Fame recognition, but arguments about Cooperstown aside, Rice's achievements have been acknowledged since his retirement from baseball. On November 1, 1995, he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in its inaugural class. His plaque can be viewed in the Red Sox Hall of Fame at Fenway Park. The Red Sox also display a row of silver bats, replicas of all the Silver Slugger awards ever won by Red Sox players. Two of those belong to Jim Rice. In 1999, Sports Illustrated saw fit to rate him as South Carolina's ninth best athlete of the 20th century. On February 18, 2001, Rice was inducted into the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame [13]. Rice stayed as hitting coach until 2000, and helped hitters improve their stances and numbers. Jim Rice is one of Anderson, South Carolina's all-time greatest athletes, and a community center there is named in his honor, the Jim Ed Rice Center. It seems that Rice can STILL hit the ball. In the 1999 All-Star game Celebrity Hitting Challenge at Fenway Park, Rice, an eight-time All-Star himself, thrilled the crowd by hitting balls both off and over the Green Monster.

Rice and his wife Corine reside in Andover, Mass., where they raised their children (Carissa, 22 and Chancey, 25) and have lived since 1975. Rice would prefer to be in a warmer climate, being from South Carolina, but his family enjoys New England. [14]

Ironically, Rice has joined the ranks of the Boston sports media, and now counts some of those he used to war with among his colleagues and is able to show his more gregarious, friendly side as a baseball analyst for the New England Sports Network.


Note

A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.


Notes

[1] Baseball-Reference.com (http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/riceji01.shtml )

[2] Baseball-Library.com (http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/R/Rice_Jim.stm)

[3] Jeff Goldberg, "The Day Rice Made Contact: One Of His Memorable Moves Was To Aid An Injured Young Fan, The Hartford Courant, August 7, 1997.

[4] " Baseball-Library.com (http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/chronology/1977AUGUST.stm...)

[5] Ibid. (Baseball Chronology, 1978) (http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/chronology/1978APRIL.stm#...)

[6] Red Sox Media Guide, 2003

[7] Ibid. Yaz was injured, however, and unable to make a start in the outfield; he was moved to first base instead, replacing also-injured Rod Carew. Yaz was replaced in the outfield by Don Baylor.

[8] Goldberg, Jeff, "The Day Rice Made Contact: One Of His Memorable Moves Was To Aid An Injured Young Fan", Hartford Courant, August 7, 1997. (http://home.att.net/~yflanagan/baseball/ricehero.html)

[9] Ibid.

[10] White, Paul, "My 2002 Hall of Fame Ballot: Slot #4, Jim Rice", posted on Baseballlibrary.com on December 11, 2001.

[11] White quotes Stark as saying, "He was a one-dimensional player whose career thundered to a halt just as he was on the verge of cementing his sure place in the Hall (only 31 homers, 162 RBI after age 34). And you essentially have to vote on him as a hitter only, because he DH-ed extensively. He gave you no speed, no Gold Gloves, no off-field 'character-and-integrity' points." This is from Stark's (reposted) November 19, 2003 ESPN.com article "Stark: My Hall of Fame Ballot."

[12] Gammons, Peter, Beyond the Sixth Game. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985

[13] Livingstone, Seth, "2001: A Year Like No Other", USA Today, December 26, 2001.

[14] Neff, Andrew, "Rice Enjoys TV Analyst Stint", Bangor Dailey News; April 1, 2005.

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