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ON BASEBALL

Boggs is on deck for Hall

Barring an epidemic of hanging chads, Wade Boggs will become the 17th Red Sox player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame when results of the voting are announced this afternoon. That's not counting the 13 players, from Jack Chesbro (1 game) to Luis Aparicio (367), who made at least a cameo appearance in a Boston uniform.

With Dennis Eckersley voted in last year, Boggs will make it two years in a row for a member of the Olde Towne Team to gain enshrinement in Cooperstown by vote of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Unlike the Eck, whose plaque has him modeling an Oakland A's cap, Boggs's likeness is expected to wear a "B" into immortality despite the unpleasantness associated with his departure from Boston a dozen years ago, before he saddled up and won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996. The Hall, not the player, decides the choice of hat wear.

Barring a sudden epiphany by voters after a decade of indifference, Jim Rice is likely to be rebuffed for the 11th consecutive year in balloting, and the clock is ticking. Candidates remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years, and then their fate shifts to a restructured Veterans Committee, which two years ago, in its first vote, found no one worthy of enshrinement.

Today's Hall announcement will compete with reports that Randy Johnson is finally being fitted for pinstripes, as commissioner Bud Selig signed off yesterday on the latest example of runaway Bronx profligacy.

Meanwhile, Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green apparently will wind up after all in Arizona, which last month, according to one industry source, was prepared to take Cliff Floyd as part of a three-way deal with the Sox and Mets in which Manny Ramirez would have wound up in Flushing. The Sox would have come out from under Ramirez's contract while signing free agent outfielder J.D. Drew, who instead wound up with the Dodgers. Instead of Floyd, the D-Backs will get Green, which could mean a likely change of address for former Sox infielder Shea Hillenbrand.

Things have been quiet the last few days on Yawkey Way, with general manager Theo Epstein actually rumored to have taken a couple of days off. He was back at work yesterday, with some unfinished business before the Sox open spring training next month. The Blue Jays, who need a righthanded-hitting first baseman and DH, talked to the Sox about Kevin Millar, but the sides didn't match up, and one FOK (Friend of Kevin's) insists the Sox will move Doug Mientkiewicz, in the interest of clubhouse karma. More than a few folks would prefer Mientkiewicz's glove, and take their chances with the karma thing. Hillenbrand, not Millar, may be the one Toronto-bound, while the Sox may wait to see where free agent Carlos Delgado lands before resolving their first base situation.

A report surfaced over the weekend that the Rockies are one of the National League teams interested in Byung Hyun Kim, but B.K. is not quite on the to-go menu just yet. The Sox have talked to several clubs about their fallen Korean star, but no one has come forth with an offer they deem acceptable.

So Boggs will be headline material in Boston, and deservedly so. His Hall credentials are certainly worthy of first-ballot validation: five-time batting champion, 15 seasons hitting .300 or better, including 10 in a row; an AL-record seven seasons of 200 or more hits; seven straight 100-run seasons; 12-time All-Star; two-time Gold Glover; top 10 in MVP voting four times, his highest finish fourth in 1985.

Rice, meanwhile, is expected to fall short of the 75 percent required for election. The voting patterns have been odd in his case: From 1995, his first year of eligibility, when he appeared on just 137 ballots (29.8 percent), Rice's support built steadily, except for a weird drop from 203 to 146 votes in 1999. In 2000, he finished third, behind Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez, and the following year, 2001, when he finished fourth, he had 298 votes, or 59.7 percent of the electorate (writers are allowed to vote for as many as 10 candidates).

But his support has eroded since then, and though he rallied a bit in the voting last year, when he finished fifth with 276 votes, Rice's support remains relatively soft.

It can be of little comfort to the slugger-turned-broadcaster that only two players (reliever Bruce Sutter and second baseman Ryne Sandberg) have received a greater percentage of votes and not gained entry.

Sutter, who perfected the split-fingered fastball, and Sandberg, the stylish Cubs second baseman, both finished ahead of Rice in the voting last season and could break through this year, along with a couple of closers, Goose Gossage and Lee Smith, and two top pitchers of the '80s and early '90s, curveballing Bert Blyleven and Black Jack Morris, the Curt Schilling of his day.

But they, like Rice, are braced for disappointment. Rice played from 1974-89; in the decades in which he performed, he was fifth in home runs, fourth in RBIs (behind Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, and Reggie Jackson), seventh in total bases, tied for seventh in slugging percentage, tied for 17th in batting average. The greatest knock on Rice, other than those who deem congeniality a criterion for Hall worthiness, is that his career went into rapid decline after a decade of superiority.

You might be interested in knowing, however, that when you take these primary numbers -- batting average (.298), RBIs (1,451), total bases (4,129), home runs (382), on-base average (.352), and slugging percentage (.502) -- and run them through Lee Simms's sabermetric encyclopedia, only 10 players have numbers equal or superior to Rice in all six. Their names: Williams, Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, Foxx, Aaron, Ott, Mays, Mantle, and Barry Bonds. All but Bonds, who is still playing, are in the Hall.

This is not to say that Rice belongs in their stratosphere; he doesn't. But he sure doesn't have to apologize for wanting to live in their neighborhood.

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