Monday, January 07, 2008

Is It Finally Jim Ed's Time?

Tomorrow afternoon, the baseball writers will announce their choices (if any) for the 2008 class for the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are a few worthy candidates on this year's ballot, and one I really hope finally gets the call is one James Edward Rice.

With all the hubbub going on about "The Steroids Era" and The Mitchell Report, this should work into Jim Rice's favor this season. He was simply one of the best hitters of his era, and a bit underappreciated. His vote totals have gone up in recent years (even if they did recede slightly last year), as many writers have taken a second look at his accomplishments.

You know the numbers. He hit 20 or more home runs every season from 1975-1986 (except for the strike year of 1981), won the MVP in 1978 with 46 HRs (and that was the last season any player had 400 or more total bases), hit 39 homers on two other occasions (when hitting as many as 40 meant so much more), and drove in over 100 runs eight times. So his resume is indeed impressive.

But he never did reach 400 home runs. He looked to be a sure bet to do so, but at the age of 34, his numbers began tailing off in 1987, and when he retired in 1989, he wound up with a total of 382. I've also heard arguments that his defense wasn't very good and that works against him. He was actually a better outfielder than he was given credit for (and played the Green Monster at Fenway very well). And besides, when did defense come into the Hall of Fame picture? Very few players have entered the Hall based on their defense. (Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson being notable exceptions. Reggie Jackson was an awful outfielder, and that sure didn't keep him out.) His frosty relationship with the press over the years didn't help his cause when he first became eligible for the Hall. But now many writers are voting who didn't have a relationship with him.

With Mark McGwire seemingly on the outside looking in for what could be a VERY long time, sluggers like Rice and Andre Dawson are getting renewed attention. And that's a good thing. This year there is only one strong new player debuting on the ballot, and that is Tim Raines. He's a solid candidate, but certainly not a leadpipe synch like Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken was last year. But unfortunately for Rice, he is running out of time, as he only has next year left for his 15-year eligibility on the writers' ballots. Then he has to wait and then move over to the Veterans Committee's voters. And who knows how long that could take.

So here's hoping that tomorrow is finally Jim Rice's time to head for Cooperstown. If I were casting a ballot, I would vote for the following players: Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Rich Gossage and Lee Smith. (Jack Morris and Andre Dawson are borderline, but I don't know if I'd put them down.)

But I'm certainly pulling for Jim Rice tomorrow. Let's hope it's finally his time that he gets the call to Cooperstown.

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