On January 12, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its latest group of inductees. It is the 15th and final chance for Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who came up 16 votes short in 2008. No player has ever come so close without eventually getting in.
Rice hit .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 runs batted in during his career. In Rice’s 16th and final season, injuries took their toll, and he played in a mere 56 games, hitting just three homers. Now, Rice works with me as a studio analyst on NESN’s Red Sox coverage. We spoke about the upcoming Hall announcement, his career, and today’s players.
TC: You haven’t lobbied for this. A lot of other people have lobbied for you. Why not get out there and campaign for your spot in the Hall?
Rice: From a player’s standpoint, I’d feel like I was begging more than anything else if I did that. I feel like my numbers were as good as [those of] a lot of the guys in the Hall of Fame — the numbers that I put up, the years that I played, being a threat for all of those years. If you’re going by what other players accomplished during their time as far as being in the Hall of Fame, then I should be there, too. So I don’t feel like I have to campaign.
TC: It seems like you were part of a group of hitters in the 1980s that had its numbers overshadowed by the huge power numbers of the ’90s. In the wake of the steroid bombshells of the last few years, it looks like writers are revisiting those numbers of power hitters from the ’80s.
Rice: I think you go back and look at all the players I played against in that era and you’d find that those players were probably much better than the players are today. We didn’t have the video equipment or the weight-training equipment they have now. Some guys had to go home and get jobs in the off-season. I think now guys are being programmed. We had to learn a lot of things by talking to other players, by coming into the clubhouse and learn about the guys we were going to face. You go in the clubhouse now and it’s entirely different. We went in there for one thing: to win, to kick butt, to do whatever you had to do to be successful.
TC: And you did it clean.
Rice: Yes. I think if I had to do it all over again, I probably would’ve tried to work that much harder. Spend more time in the batting cages, more time on my fielding. I thought I was a pretty good hitter, a pretty good fielder, but so many things you go back and look at and think you could’ve improved on. But I played the game one way. Hard.
TC: You did, and you paid the price. You had a lot of injuries piling up by the end of your career.
Rice: I had a lot going on physically. Everyone says, “You played 16 years.” No, I played 15
years. If I would’ve played 16 years I would’ve gotten to 400 home runs, but I played 15 years. I never considered myself a home-run hitter, I considered myself a team guy. I did whatever they wanted me to do. I was more of a guy that would try to get someone in from first base, just hit it in the gap instead of going for the home run. If someone would’ve told me, “Look, 400 home runs will get you into the Hall of Fame,” I probably would’ve tried to hit more homers.
TC: Does that upset you at all? That two more years with nine homers a year could make the difference in your Hall of Fame credentials?
Rice: [laughs] I guess some people think so. To me, it’s more about who you are and what kind of leader you were. I learned how to be a leader from [Carl Yastrzemski], who probably took it from Ted Williams. So it boiled down from there.
TC: Anyone you see on today’s Red Sox, in today’s game of baseball, carrying that tradition on?
Rice: Not right now. You’re talking about Williams playing his whole career with the Red Sox, Yaz playing his whole career with the Red Sox, Rice playing his whole career with the Sox. You’re not going to see that too often.
TC: I know you don’t like to hear this, but now you’re a member of the media.
Rice: [laughs] I don’t think so. I’m an analyst. I do not walk around with a pad and a pen saying I work for the Globe or for NESN.
TC: You let me do that.
Rice: Yes! You can handle that, TC, not me.
TC: We had Fred Lynn on the show a couple of years ago, and he said the Jim Rice we’re seeing on TV now is the Jim Rice he and his teammates got to see in the clubhouse. It took a little time after playing for you to let that personality come out.
Rice: Yes, but I was concerned about Jim Rice the baseball player then. I never considered myself a sports figure. I was never the kind of guy to stick his chest out and say I played for the Red Sox and I did this and I did that. I was more into playing the game, going home and doing what I had to do. I was never a smoker or a drinker. I was a baseball player.
TC: Is it going to be a sleepless night for you on the 11th?
Rice: I don’t think so. It’s in the writers’ hands now. They know who they’re going to vote for. Whatever happens, happens. If I’m in, someone’s going to call me. They’re probably going to call me either way, right? If I’m not in, the next thing’s the veterans’ committee [to be voted into the Hall].
TC: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Rice: I’m with you, TC. I’m with you.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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