Two articles on AC called for the induction of Jim Rice into the Hall of Fame. Lindell wrote an article last June, where he said, “The fact that Jim Rice is not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty, one that needs to be corrected in the future.” More recently, Seaver Spahn penned an article on January 26th 2007 where he asked, “Why the Hell is Jim Rice not in” the Hall of Fame?
Perhaps I can help explain why Jim Rice does not belong in Cooperstown.
Hall of Fame voting is a subjective process. There are no firm guidelines as to what makes a player a Hall of Famer. One has to be retired at least five years and one must have played at least 10 years in the Majors but after that, there are no rules. It’s up to the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to determine who gets chosen. And so far, they have not chosen Jim Rice.
There are numerous ways to look at a player and determine if he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. And all of these ways leave Jim Rice out.
First, let’s look at the players that the writers (as opposed to the Veterans Committee) have elected to see how Jim Rice stacks up. Jim Rice was a left fielder for the majority of his career. The BBWAA has chosen nine players who were left fielders to the Hall of Fame. In alphabetical order, they are: Lou Brock, Ralph Kiner, Joe Medwick, Stan Musial, Al Simmons, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. How does Jim Rice compare to these nine players?
In this group, Jim Rice is below average.
If Jim Rice was in the Hall of Fame, among left fielders, he would have the seventh-best batting average, the eight-best hit total, the sixth-most home runs, the seventh-best RBI total, the fifth-highest average, the ninth-best on-base percentage and the seventh-highest slugging percentage. Since this would be a group of 10 players, Jim Rice would be in the bottom of the group in these seven important categories.
There’s not one thing Jim Rice did in his career which would place him in the top half of left fielders in the Hall of Fame.
One might argue that it’s not fair to Jim Rice to include him in a group with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, two of the greatest players to ever perform in the Majors. However, that is canceled out by the inclusion of Lou Brock, who is in the Hall simply for his 3,000 hits and his one-time stolen bases record of 938 thefts and Ralph Kiner, who got in despite playing just 10 years in the Majors, thanks to leading the National League in home runs seven consecutive seasons.
Did Jim Rice have any achievements beyond the stats mentioned above that would help his Hall of Fame case?
In 1978, Jim Rice won the Most Valuable Player Award after becoming the first player in over 30 years to accumulate over 400 total bases in a season. Jim Rice led the American League with a .600 slugging percentage and a .970 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage added together).
But Jim Rice, as he had throughout his career, enjoyed a tremendous boost from playing his home games in Fenway Park. Here are the home/road splits for Jim Rice in 1978:
Home – 335 AB 69 R 121 H 28 HR 75 RBI .361 BA .416 OBP .690 SLG 1.106 OPS
Away – 342 AB 52 R 92 H 18 HR 64 RBI .269 BA .325 OBP .512 SLG .837 OPS
What if there was a way to adjust Jim Rice’s totals based on his ballpark and the run-scoring environment of his era? This way we could have a better comparison for Jim Rice versus the other Hall of Fame left fielders.
Baseball-reference.com has done this. They have calculated a statistic called OPS+, which is “Essentially OPS normalized to the league. Think of it as a rate above the league average expressed as a percentage.”
In 1978, Jim Rice led the American League with a 158 OPS+. Here are the top 10 seasons of OPS+ for Jim Rice:
158, 154, 148, 141, 137, 131, 128, 123, 123, 121.
That’s very impressive. In Jim Rice’s 10th-best season, he was still 21% better than a league-average player. How does that compare to our group of Hall of Fame left fielders?
146, 128, 124, 123, 119, 115, 114, 112, 111, 109
184, 184, 173, 156, 146, 140, 132, 121, 117, 116
180, 156, 151, 142, 140, 132, 131, 128, 123, 119
200, 183, 182, 180, 176, 175, 172, 169, 167, 166
176, 176, 171, 159, 149, 145, 142, 136, 130, 129
187, 187, 168, 164, 164, 163, 158, 147, 144, 139
170, 157, 147, 147, 139, 136, 130, 130, 127, 122
235, 233, 217, 215, 205, 201, 192, 189, 189, 178
195, 178, 171, 156, 148, 141, 139, 137, 126, 124
Eight of the nine Hall of Fame left fielders had better seasons than the one posted by Jim Rice in his big 1978 season. Even if we take out Stan Musial and Ted Williams, the other six players posted 18 seasons better than Jim Rice and his 1978 campaign.
Jim Rice simply did not enjoy the peak that other Hall of Fame left fielders produced. And this is true if you look at Jim Rice and his best one, three, five or 10 seasons.
Both Lindell and Seaver Spahn mentioned that Jim Rice was one of the most feared sluggers of his day. Surely, this makes the Hall of Fame case for Jim Rice.
The problem is: what makes a “feared slugger”? Is this something we can measure, or is this just something that people can say post-hoc, with no chance of being proven wrong?
Between 1975 and 1986, Jim Rice was in the top 10 in the AL in slugging eight times out of 12 seasons, including two first-place and three second-place finishes. Again, very impressive.
But does that put Jim Rice above George Brett, who had seven top 10 finishes, including three first-place finishes? Fred Lynn led the league in slugging twice in that time frame. Don Mattingly had a first-place finish, two seconds and a seventh. Reggie Jackson, despite not being his prime seasons, had six top 10 seasons, including a first, second and third.
In the National League, Mike Schmidt had 11 top-10 finishes, including four first-place finishes, two seconds and two thirds. Dave Parker had seven top-10 finishes, including two first-place showings and a second. George Foster had six top-10 finishes, including a first, second and three third-place showings. Dale Murphy had two first-place finishes.
So, even cherry-picking the best seasons in the career of Jim Rice, we still find him just among the best in the game, not clearly the best. There are some Hall of Famers in this group, like Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Reggie Jackson. And there are just as many non-Hall performers, like Foster, Lynn, Mattingly, Murphy and Parker.
Jim Rice is closer to the non Hall of Fame members on this list in overall career marks than he is to Brett, Jackson and Schmidt. Both Jackson and Schmidt topped 500 career home runs, while Jim Rice had less than 400. And George Brett had 3,154 hits while being a Gold Glove at third base, a much tougher defensive position.
Jim Rice was one of the best players in the game from 1975-79. But he did not remain an elite player for a long enough time to reach the milestones that normally merit induction into the Hall of Fame. Also, the peak that Jim Rice enjoyed was not as impressive as other left fielders already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. And finally, Jim Rice was a one-dimensional slugger who enjoyed an extreme home field advantage. Fenway Park turned Jim Rice into a lifetime .546 slugger. In neutral road parks, Jim Rice posted just a .459 slugging mark. And that’s not good enough for the Hall of Fame.