Why Jim Rice?

Jim Rice’s career is a standard sabermetric punching bag, and that is probably unfortunate.  I think we can all acknowledge that Rice was an excellent player, one of the best ever to play the game.  However, his status as a Hall of Famer is rather more debatable.  To help illustrate the difficulties, I want to compare Rice with his true contemporaries, that is, the other regular Red Sox outfielders from the first year of his career to the last.  See the chart below:

Yaz 3308 452 1844 285 379 462 841 129 88.7 55 206
Smith 1987 314 1092 287 366 489 855 137 63.4 4 124
Lynn 1969 306 1111 283 360 484 845 129 47.3 15 69
Rice 2089 373 1451 298 352 502 854 128 41.5 33 176
Evans 2606 385 1384 272 370 470 840 127 61.8 15 113
Greenwell 1269 130 726 303 368 463 831 120 23.5 0 45
Burks 2000 352 1206 291 363 510 874 126 47.9 6 45
Miller 1482 28 369 269 346 350 696 93 15.1 0 1
Armas 1432 251 815 252 287 453 740 103 13.7 13 54

To explain the common names,that is Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, and the immortal Rick Miller.  The problem with Rice is simple, why is he Yaz’s only companion in the Hall of Fame?  Clearly, Yastrzemski is the best player of the lot.  It is not a close case.  Miller and Armas trail behind everyone else, with Mike Greenwell not far ahead.  The rest of the list, though, looks remarkably similar.  It is tough to draw a line that includes Rice, but excludes Smith, Lynn, Evans, and Burks.  So why Jim Rice?

The closest I have to an objective answer is RBI’s. That is the only stat where he really pulls ahead of the rest of the list. He trails Evans in home runs, his OBP is dead last of the main group, his OPS trails Smith and Burks, his OPS+ trails Lynn and Smith. Yet he is the Hall of Famer.

Let me throw it to the group. Why is Jim Rice in the Hall of Fame? Which of the folks in the chart above do you think should join him?

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2 Comments on “Why Jim Rice?”

  1. verdun2 Says:

    Taking the list and comparing it to Rice, I note a couple of things that get in the way of each of the others:
    1. Smith got traded early to the Dodgers where he was never the centerpiece of the offense (the infield, particularly Garvey, Cey, and Lopes were). Burks also ended up playing at other places. Obviously I think playing his whole career in Boston helps Rice.
    2. Evans was never the centerpiece of the Red Sox lineup while Rice was.
    3. Both Rice and Lynn won an MVP, indicating a big year somewhere along the way, but Lynn’s was early, unlike Rice’s. Rice’s 78 is a heck of a year and it’s the year of one of Boston’s greatest disappointments. Losing makes greater theatre than winning and I’ve noticed that 78 seems to resonate with Red Sox fans more than 75 for some reason.
    Won’t argue against the RBIs, either.
    I’m not sure how much this is true, but Rice played the “glamour” position at Boston, left field. He was the heir to Williams and Yaz while Evans, Lynn, and Burks weren’t (Speaker had been a long way back for Lynn and Burks to be compared with). Rice wasn’t as good as Williams or Yaz, but he was close and I think that may have helped him.

  2. Jim Rice is in the Hall because his very best three or four years were better than any of the seasons put up by the other guys (other than Yaz.) I believe that if Rice is in, Evans should be in, too. But the problem with Evans is that he was a late bloomer who was noted for his defense long before his hitting caught up. Some of Burks best numbers came with the Rockies, and came at about the time the offensive explosion really got under way. Reggie Smith is underrated, but he seldom led the league in any category in any particular season. Still, he is one of the best players not in The Hall. Personally, I think Yaz is the only clear-cut HOF’er on that list. Good question for discussion, Bill

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