Jim Rice

There’s much debate raging the last few years on whether or not Jim Rice is a legitimate Hall of Famer. There’s every reason for the debate to exist – Rice is not a Grade A Hall of Fame player – he’s not a Musial or Williams or Aaron. The next group, what I’ll call Grade B, consists of Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente and Mel Ott. Players who had long, stellar careers where it’s obvious they were great players. Then comes Grade C: players who had short careers with great peak performance or players who had long careers without establishing their dominance that much. They may be called the “very good” rather than great players. I have no problem with Grade C players getting plaques in Cooperstown, but I recognize that I may be in the minority. In my mind, Rice deserves his place in the Grade C group.

In his first 12 seasons, Rice received MVP votes in eight of them and was in the top five six times. He was one of the most feared, if not the most feared right-handed hitter in his league for about a decade. There was Don Baylor and Dave Winfield and to some extent Robin Yount, but Rice was very good for a long enough stretch to earn his place among the greats of that era. Yes, he benefited from playing his home games at Fenway (920 vs. 789 OPS for his home/road split), but so did most everyone who was a lifelong member of the Sox. Winfield was an exact contemporary, though he and Rice competed against each other in the same league for just eight seasons. Winfield was the superior player, but Rice was still very good.

By the way, there is a Grade D group: players who played a long time and were good for a while, or who accumulated career numbers by playing a long time, or were really very good for a few seasons and then suffered from inconsistency or injuries or some sort of controversy that led to them missing time. These guys, like Bill Mazeroski, Ted Lyons, and Kiki Cuyler, shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.

Highest Batting Average, 1970-1979 American League
1. Rod Carew … .343
2. Jim Rice … .310
3. George Brett … .310
4. Fred Lynn … .309
5. Tony Oliva … .299
6. Ken Singleton … .299
7. Ron LeFlore … .297
8. Mike Hargrove … .297
9. Cecil Cooper … .296
10. Hal McRae … .294

(Minimum 700 games played)