Years ago, an article in Inside Sports described Jim Rice's deadly swing as "short, compact, POW!" In his last year of eligibility, Rice finally was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving 412 votes (76.4% of the ballots cast), narrowly surpassing the minimum requirement of 75% (405 votes).
In an era before steroids inflated muscles to cartoonish-sizes and owners shrank ball park dimensions because "chicks dig the long ball," Rice blasted 382 home runs, amassed 1451 RBI and batted .298 in a 16 year career spent entirely with the Boston Red Sox. Rice won the 1978 AL MVP after posting these tremendous numbers: first in slugging percentage (.600), first in home runs (46), first in RBI (139), first in hits (213), first in total bases (406), first in triples (15), first in extra base hits (86), second in runs (121), third in batting average (.315).
Rice finished in the top five in AL MVP voting during five other seasons (1975, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1986), made the All-Star team eight times and among knowledgeable observers was considered to be the AL's most feared slugger for more than a decade, leading the AL in home runs, RBI and hits from 1975-86. Rice led the AL in home runs three times (1977-78, 1983) and ranked in the top ten in that category seven times in an eight year run between 1976 and 1983. Rice had at least 39 home runs in four different seasons. That may seem like a pedestrian total in light of the numbers posted in the "Steroids Era" but no other slugger of Rice's era accomplished that feat; Mike Schmidt had three seasons with at least 39 home runs, as did Reggie Jackson.
Rice also led the AL in RBI twice (1978, 1983) and ranked in the top ten in that department nine times between 1975 and 1986; during those same years, Rice ranked in the top ten in batting average six times, including a career-high .325 in 1979. Rice led the AL in total bases four times (1977-79, 1983) and ranked in the top ten nine times.
Rice only received 29.8% of the votes in 1995, his first year of HoF eligibility, but his candidacy steadily gained ground. He was not the most popular player among sportswriters and it is shamefully and painfully obvious that many voters held that against him. Fortunately, they either moderated their views, felt that Rice had done enough "penance" for his perceived "crimes" or else were replaced by younger, less biased people. Just like he did during his career, Rice spoke the truth after being informed that he made the HoF cut: "I don't think I was difficult to deal with for writers. I think the writers were difficult to me. I wasn't going to badmouth my teammates. When you start talking about my teammates or what goes on outside baseball, I couldn't do that. I don't know why it took me so long. I don't even want to think about it. I'm just happy I'm in and that's what I'm going to cherish...I guess everything was just timing, because my numbers have not changed over the last 14 years."
Rice is joined in this year's HoF class by first ballot inductee Rickey Henderson and Veterans Committee selection Joe Gordon, who will receive the honor posthumously.