Sunday, July 26, 2009

James Edward Rice

Shipping up to Cooperstown

"Big Jim", "Jim Ed", "Jimmy"..... it doesn't matter how you to refer to Jim Rice....


Anyone that knew me growing up, knows I've personally been waiting for this day for 20 years. To a young Red Sox fan growing up in the 70's and 80's, Jim Rice was THE MAN !!! My room was plastered with posters, magazine covers and pictures of my childhood idol. I even kept a scrapbook and scored many of the games while watching them on TV. And I often "fought" with my sister who was a Fred Lynn fan. Jim Rice is probably the main reason why I am the die-hard fan that I am today.

Jim could do it all as a player and to me he could do no wrong....

He hit for power..... 382 career home runs ..... No, not the most ever but from 1975-85 he hit 330 dingers - the most in the American League for that time period. You do the math if Jim could have played 20 or more healthy seasons - that's a lot of taters !!! I remember hearing a report early in Jim's career in which Hank Aaron - THE home run king - said that if anyone could break his record, Jim Rice could. And Jim's career 162-game avg for RBI is 113.... Hammering Hank's ???? 113.... hmmmmm
He hit for average..... .298 career batting average ..... Not the best average ever but he hit over .300 7 times and had more than 200 hits 4 times. But Jim played when he was hurt (much like ManRam - NOT !!) which most likely affected his overall batting average. His career 162-game average for hits is 190 (Pete Rose's is 194) - imagine 20 or more healthy seasons...
He could run the bases..... Although built like a fullback (I'm SURE he was bigger than the 6'2" and 205 ponds he was listed at), he ran like a halfback... Grossly over-looked is the fact that early in Jim's career, he was a "triple machine" hitting 15 3-baggers 2 years in a row. It seemed like he was always hitting triples or home runs... the major components for reaching 406 total bases in 1978 - his MVP year. He even nabbed 10 bags 1 year.
He could play the outfield..... Also over-looked is that Jim Rice was no slouch defensively and worked harder on his fielding than he did on his batting. His career fielding percentage is .980.... not that far off from the left fielder he replaced....Yaz's percentage is .982 as a left fielder.... and better than Teddy Ballgame (.974) whom Yaz replaced.... continuing the history of Hall of Fame Red Sox left fielders that played their entire careers donning a Red Sox uniform.

Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in baseball for over a decade. Whereas many players like Big Papi have "shifts" deployed against them - infielders shifting to the right side of the infield, the "Rice shift" as demonstrated by the Royals was to play with 4 outfielders - like a softball team. I remember Jim even being INTENTIONALLY walked with the bases loaded !!! The reason???? It was much better to give up only 1 run instead of 4 !!!! Plus, I will never forget watching a game in which Jim Rice broke his bat on a check swing !!!! And Jim Ed did all this WITHOUT the use of performance enhancing substances !!!!

I've "met" Jim Rice a few times in my life - of course he would never remember that !!! But my biggest Jim Rice thrill is a day I will never forget... it was mid-summer in 1978 - I was 12. The local golf course had a celebrity golf "tournament". There were stars from all sports there... Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Bobby Orr, Dwight Stones (Olympic High Jumper)... even "Killer" Kowalski WWWF superstar) etc etc etc... and of course Jim Rice !!!!
Amidst hall of famers from all of the sporting worlds I had no choice but to walk the golf course following Jim Rice !!! I was in heaven walking 18 holes with my idol. I got to see the personal side of this larger than life icon of mine. I also learned that all the reports that Jim Rice wasn't friendly were 100% FALSE !!!! He just didn't like reporters !!! Actually he didn't like reporters asking him to talk about his teammates - an "everyone has his own voice" mentality - and that was grossly misinterpreted by the press (as is everything in life).
Anyway, after walking most of the course in awe and literally speechless (I was a shy kid), I was running out of time to actually say something to Jim. I finally "ballsed up" and meekly asked if he thought he would hit 40 home runs that season (40 being somewhat of a benchmark in the non-steroid era) as he had hit 39 the year before. His answer confirmed as to why this man was my idol and was the perfect response to a chubby 12-yr old kid with visions of grandeur. To sum his response Jim told me (and everyone else within earshot), "Personal numbers don't mean anything if the team doesn't win. If I hit 40 home runs but the Sox lose, then it doesn't matter." WOW, talk about selfless !!! ... and a great attitude to teach kids.

I could go on forever. I may not be Jim Rice's biggest fan but other than his family I bet I am.
On the day of Jim Rice's induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I'm as proud as a new daddy for my childhood idol.... someone that came second only to my own dad. I lament that I can't be there to see it in person... but I'll be setting the DVR and watching it on the big screen.
Way to go Jim Ed... it was a long time coming but well worth the wait.... I KNEW this day would come !!
And I knew this Tuesday would come too as the Red Sox finally retire #14 and display it where it belongs.... in right field with #1 (Bobby Doerr), #4 (Joe Cronin), #6 (Johnny Pesky), #8 (Yaz), #9 (Teddy Ballgame), #27 (Pudge) and #42 (Jackie Robinson). I give the Red Sox a lot of credit as they obviously have been waiting for this day to come for 20 years so that they could retire #14... no need to wonder why NO ONE has worn Jim's #14 since his retirement in 1989....

Nuf Ced


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