On Tuesday afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers of America Association (BBWAA) vote for the newest members to baseball’s shrine of immortals. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., both first-time candidates, are expected to receive better than the necessary 75 percent of the vote and there are legimate reasons for another first-timer, Mark McGwire, to earn enshrinement, depending on how the voters perceive whether allegations of illicit drug use are enough to keep him out of the hall, at least initially.
Another candidate, who will be making his 13th appearance on the ballot, is Jim Rice, who last year earned nearly 65 percent of the vote and has picked up steam in recent years, in large part thanks to campaigning by the Red Sox organization as well as the undeniable fact that, between 1975 and 1986, he was the most feared hitter in baseball. In that stretch, he averaged .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI each season, responsible enough for him to earn eight All-Star nods. He also finished in the top five of the MVP vote six times during that stretch, winning his only award in 1978 when he stroked 46 home runs, led the league with 139 RBI, and batted .315, just twenty points behind league-leader Rod Carew. He also collected an amazing 406 total bases that season, the first to have 400 or more total bases in a single season since Hank Aaron in 1959 and a feat that’s been matched since only six times. Among his other distinctions during that stretch was winning the home run title three times (1977, 1978, and 1983) and having the highest RBI total twice (1978 and 1983).
Perhaps what has held him back for so many years is the fact that Rice is just shy of some of the “magic numbers” needed for automatic consideration; he finished 18 home runs shy of the 400 mark and two points shy of a .300 batting average, and he was just a few dominant seasons short of reaching 3,000 hits. As dominant as he was for those twelve seasons, injuries slowed him down over his final three seasons from 1987 through 1989, in which hit just 58 home runs and averaged just .263.
However, talk with anyone who played for Boston in that stretch, or speak to any pitcher who had to face Rice at his best, and the response is consistent: he was a force at the plate and a leader in the clubhouse. Though election this year will probably not happen due to a strong class of first-timers, chances are very good that his plaque will be hanging in the same hall along with other Red Sox greats like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk. Soon after, it would not be surprising to see his old number 14 hanging on the right field façade, which has not been worn since by another Red Sox player.