Years of waiting finally paid off for former Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice; on Monday, in his 15th and final year of eligibility, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with 76.4 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Rice, a 16-year veteran who retired after the 1989 season, follows in the footsteps of two other Hall of Fame outfielders who spent their entire careers in Boston: Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Rice fell 16 votes shy of election in 2008 but earned seven more than the minimum this year and will join first-ballot inductee Rickey Henderson and Veterans Committee inductee Joe Gordon this summer for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Had he failed again to reach the minimum 75 percent for eligibility, his only chance for induction after this would have been through the Veterans Committee, which has proven to be a challenge for other former players not elected by the writers to find themselves added to the Hall.
Proponents had lobbied for Rice based on the fact that, between 1975 and 1986, Rice was one of the most feared hitters in the American League as he averaged .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI each season. 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.
Drafted and signed by Boston in 1971, he earned Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year, and MVP honors as a member of the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox in 1974. The following season, Rice broke into the majors and, along with fellow rookie sensation and “Gold Dust Twin” Fred Lynn, helped Boston return the World Series for the first time in eight years (unfortunately, a wrist injury due to an errant pitch in September forced Rice to miss the remainder of the season as well as the 1975 Fall Classic between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds). Eleven years later, appearing for the only time in the playoffs, Rice hit a 3-run home run in the seventh game of the ALCS to help Boston win the AL pennant, then batted .333 and scored the lone run in a 1-0 Game 1 victory for Boston against New York in the World Series. He was also an eight-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger award winner in 1983 and 1984.