“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1974-1989
#5   JIM RICE

James Edward Rice was born on Sunday, March 8, 1953, in Anderson, South Carolina, to Roger and Julia Rice. Residents of the town say that even as a lanky teenager, "Ed", as he was known to his friends, showed promise. He led his 1969 American Legion team to the State Finals. However, it was still a time of segregation in the south, and Rice, despite his promise, had to attend Westside High School--as opposed to the all-white T.L Hanna High. Rice's childhood hero was Westside alumnus and American Football League star George Webster, and Rice played football and basketball as well as baseball. In his senior year, Rice starred on Hanna's football team as an all-state kick returner, defensive back and wide receiver, and played in the North Carolina- South Carolina Shrine Bowl, leading South Carolina to victory. Baseball was by far his best sport, however, and when he was 18, the Boston Red Sox took him in the first round of the 1971 amateur entry draft (15th overall).

After being drafted by the Red Sox, Jim played 60 games in 1971 for Single-A Williamsport in the New York-Penn League at the tender age of 18. He hit .256 with five home runs. In 1972 he was sent to Winter Haven in the Florida State League, where he continued to improve his skills, garnering 17 homers in 130 games. In 1973, the Red Sox promoted him to Bristol in the Double-A Eastern League, where he quickly flourished, winning the league batting title with a .317 batting average. He hit 27 homers and drove in 93 runs. Later that year, he joined the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for the playoffs, and helped lead them to a Junior World Series championship over the American Association Tulsa team; in just 10 playoff games, he hit .378 with four homers. The next year, 1974, Rice played with the PawSox for almost the whole year, where he won the International League's Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year, and MVP (.337, 25 HR, 93 RBI). [2]

The highly-prized prospect joined the parent Red Sox team for 24 games late in 1974, debuting on August 19. He hit his first major league homer on October 1, off Cleveland's Steve Kline. Rice batted .269 in 67 at-bats.
It took Rice a while to get settled in with the 1975 team. While fellow rookie Fred Lynn secured the center field job, the comebacking Tony Conigliaro was the opening day designated hitter, a role earmarked for Rice. Tony's season fizzled quickly, and Rice had the job to himself within a few weeks. By July, he took over left field and held it the rest of the season. Jim hit .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs, and ended up second to Lynn for the Rookie of the Year award. The two rookies Rice and Lynn were dubbed the "Gold Dust Twins" and formed what may have been the most productive rookie tandem of all time.  But Rice's season came to a premature end on September 21, in a 6-5 win over Detroit, when Tigers pitcher Vern Ruhle broke his left hand with a pitch, sidelining him for the rest of the season, and forcing him to miss the World Series. To this day, many agree that with the offensive presence of their star left fielder, the Red Sox might well have won the grueling, seven-game World Series.

Recovering from his injury, Rice regressed a bit in 1976, hitting .282 with 25 home runs. In 1977, he became a full-fledged star, leading the league in total bases (382), home runs (39) and slugging percentage (.593). On August 13, 1978, he became the first Red Sox player since Ted Williams in 1939-40 to total 20 homers, 20 doubles, and 10 triples in consecutive seasons. On August 29, in an 8-7 loss to Oakland, he had his first three-homer game (his second--and last-- three-homer game would come exactly six years later on August 19, 1973).

Jim Rice played his entire professional career with the Red Sox, but none of his seasons equaled the magic of 1978. He started the season off on the right foot hitting a game winning single in the 10th inning of the April 14 home opener, and continued his torrid pace into October, when the Red Sox tragically lost to the New York Yankees in a devastating one-game playoff. It was a shame, that one of the finest seasons in Red Sox history was overshadowed by the feeble swing of a weedy infielder. Rice's accomplishments were rewarded, though. He was voted the MVP award he so richly deserved, leading the majors in slugging percentage (.600), games (163), at-bats (677), hits (213), total bases (406), triples (15), home runs (46, the most for a Red Sox player since Jimmy Foxx hit 50 in 1938), and RBIs (139). He was the first American Leaguer to accumulate 400 total bases in a season since Joe DiMaggio in 1937.  In 1979, Rice had another big year, becoming the first player to have 35 homers (he had 39) and 200 hits (he had 201) for three consecutive seasons. Fans elected him, along with teammates Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn, to start the All-Star Game. It was an all-Red Sox outfield. Rice in particular was recognized as perhaps the best hitter in the game.

Rice had another hand injury in 1980, and suffered subpar seasons in 1981 and 1982 at least partially as a result. Nevertheless, in 1982, Rice had a day that is long remembered in Boston. He had a difficult relationship with the press, who presented him as a surly, unfriendly player. Jonathan Keane was a four-year old boy from Greenland, N.H., in 1982 and he would probably disagree with this assessment. On August 7, Jonathan was attending one of his first Fenway games, sitting along the first base line in the field boxes, and watched as his favorite player, Red Sox infielder Dave Stapleton, stepped into the batter's box against Richard Dotson of the Chicago White Sox. Stapleton fouled a pitch sharply to the right, and the hard-hit ball cracked Jonathan in the head, cutting open his left temple and fracturing his skull. In a 1997 article, Arthur Pappas, a Red Sox team doctor for over 15 years, claimed he had never seen so much blood at Fenway. Rick Miller, who was near the on-deck circle, cried for Red Sox trainer Charlie Moss, but instead, Jim Rice, who didn't see anyone moving, instinctively leaped into the stands and picked up the unconscious toddler. Cradling Jonathan, Rice ran into the clubhouse, where he brought him to Arthur Pappas in the trainer's room. In a 1997 article describing the incident, Pappas was quoted as saying ``Time is very much a factor once you have that kind of a head injury and the subsequent swelling of the brain. That's why it's so important to get him to care so it can be dealt with. [Rice] certainly helped him very considerably.'' The supposedly unfriendly outfielder did something that many other Hall of Famers surely have not. He saved a young boy's life.

Jonathan Keane returned for Opening Day in 1983 to throw the ceremonial first pitch, and Rice's game returned as well, as he went on to lead the league in RBIs (126) and home runs (39). He also won the Silver Slugger award and played spectacularly in his best year since 1979. Rice had typically fine years in 1984 (28 HR, 122 RBIs, .280) and 1985 (27, 103, .291), garnering All-Star honors each year. In 1986, the Red Sox returned to the post-season, and Rice was their primary weapon in the middle of the lineup. He hit .324, with 20 home runs and 110 RBIs, his last big season.

After missing the post-season in 1975, Rice was healthy this time. He hit just .161 with two home runs in the Red Sox playoff victory over the Angels, but one of the homers was a key three-run wallop in Game Seven in the League Championship Series. He hit .333 in the World Series loss to the Mets, in what was to be his only Fall Classic.  Bothered by an injured elbow, Rice fell off in 1987 (13, 62, .277), and he had to have off-season knee surgery. These injuries and eyesight problems plagued Rice for the next two seasons, and hastened the rather sudden end to his career after the 1989 season. Rice spent all 16 years of his big league career with the Boston Red Sox, playing his final game on August 3, 1989. He returned serve the organization when he was appointed hitting coach in 1995, and young hitters, from Nomar Garciaparra, to Trot Nixon, to Mo Vaughn, benefited from his tutelage. Rice continued as Red Sox hitting coach until 2000, and remains an instructional batting coach (2001–present) with the Red Sox organization. While the Red Sox hitting coach, the team led the league in hitting in 1997 and players won two batting titles. Rice was the hitting coach for the American League in the 1997 and 1999 Major League Baseball All-Star Games, both under the same manager, ironically the New York Yankees' Joe Torre. Since 2003, he's also been employed as a commentator for the New England Sports Network (NESN), where he contributes to the Red Sox pre-game and post-game shows.

Rice's achievements have been acknowledged since his retirement from baseball. On November 1, 1995, he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in its inaugural class. The Red Sox also display a row of silver bats, replicas of all the Silver Slugger awards ever won by Red Sox players. Two of those belong to Jim Rice. In 1999, Sports Illustrated saw fit to rate him as South Carolina's ninth best athlete of the 20th century. On February 18, 2001, Rice was inducted into the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame. On November 29, 2008, the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) announced that Rice would be the recipient of the Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball.  While Rice was generally regarded as one of the better hitters of his era based upon the statistics traditionally used by the BBWAA to evaluate players' Hall of Fame qualifications, he was not elected until his 15th and final year of eligibility, netting 76.4% of the votes, in 2009. Over the years he was on the BBWAA ballot, he received 3,974 total votes, the most ever collected by any player that was voted on for baseball's highest honor. In 2006 and 2007, he received over 63% of votes cast. Rice just missed being elected in 2008 when the count found him on 72.2% of the ballots, only 2.8% short of the required 75%. Rice became the third enshrinee to get into the shrine on his last chance on the ballot, and the first since Ralph Kiner.