March 8 – Happy Birthday Jim Rice

Jim Rice had a public personna that was hard to like but Red Sox fans loved his game. If he had played his first full season in Boston during any year other than 1975, his 22 home runs, 102 RBIs, and .309 batting average would have easily won him the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Instead, he was not even considered the best rookie on the Red Sox. That honor went to his fellow “Gold Dust Twin,” Freddy Lynn who also captured that season’s AL MVP Award (Rice finished third in the MVP voting.) During the seven seasons the two would play together as teammates, Rice clearly emerged as the better ballplayer but his strained relationship with the Beantown sports media helped to make Lynn the more popular of the two in Red Sox nation.

Rice won three AL home run titles, led the league twice in RBIs and captured his own MVP Award in 1978. What he couldn’t do was help Boston win a World Series. He missed his first chance in 1975 when he broke his hand during a late-reguar-season game. We all know what happened against the Mets in ’86 and then Oakland knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in the ALDS two seasons later. Those were Boston’s only three postseason appearances during Rice’s sixteen years with the team.

The knocks against Rice were his poor defensive skills and the fact that he did not like to walk. Still, he was one of the best hitters in baseball during the 16 seasons he played as a Red Sox. His 2,452 career hits and 389 home runs put him in third place in each category on the all-time franchise lists.He also finished with a .298 lifetime batting average. If it weren’t for a series of hand injuries early in his career, his offensive numbers would have been even more impressive.

For years, sports writers refused to put Rice in Cooperstown. Finally, in 2009 he got the necessary votes and was enshrined in the Hall. During all the years that had passed since I first began watching play for Boston, I never remember seeing this guy smile but that streak ended on the day he was deservedly enshrined in the Hall. Jim Rice was a great Red Sox.

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