Former Red Sox LF Jim Rice came up short yesterday in his bid for election to the Baseball Hall Of Fame, and the Providence Journal’s Bill Reynolds repeats the common refrain that the player’s attitude had more than a little to do with it.
Virtually every sports writer who covered the Sox had endless stories of Rice being difficult, moody. The impassive mask he put on his face had become part of Boston lore, someone who had turned unapproachable into an art form. He once threw a Washington Post sports writer into a trash can for something that had been written.
I was thinking of this yesterday when I heard the news that, once again, Rice was not elected to the Hall of Fame, falling short by just 53 votes. Thinking that he now might pay a heavy price for all the years he was so difficult to deal with, all the years he seemed like some enduring mystery.
It shouldn’t be that way, of course.
But it’s the way of the world. You reap what you sow, right? And you wonder if Rice had been a little more willing to play the media game, things would have turned out differently in yesterday’s vote.
Then again, it never was Rice’s style. From the time he first came to Boston, it was if he had erected a moat between his feelings and the outside world. But why was it there? And what’s the price he paid for it?
There are several theories.
One is that Rice grew up in the segregated south, and always has carried those scars with him. Another is that he never forgot that Fred Lynn got most of the attention when they both came up together in 1975, two great young players thrown into the glare of a pennant race. They were linked that summer, but
Lynn was everything Rice wasn’t. He was graceful in the field, smooth, articulate, the college kid from Southern Cal. He also was white.
Then Rice got hurt, missed the World Series, and Lynn went on to be the league’s MVP.
“I was hurt by all the attention he got at the time,” Rice said of Lynn a decade later. “Anyone who looked at all the stats had to think I deserved the MVP as much as he did.”
The issue of race surfaced again in 1978, when Rice was the MVP of the American League while teammate Carlton Fisk was named the team’s MVP by the Boston media. Rice blasted the media, the implication being that it had been a racist decision, that once again Rice had been cheated out of something he felt he deserved.
These are just theories, yet there’s little question Rice always carried these slights with him, learned early to be wary of the media, a part of being a professional athlete he wasn’t good at, didn’t like.
While not denying that Rice had a testy relationship with the local press, I’d submit that Reynolds could’ve written this same article at any point over the last decade., There’s little acknowledgement that Rice’s HOF candidacy is also somewhat dependent on who else is on the ballot. And with that in mind, when the deserving Rice is elected in 2007 or 2008, it will have less to do with anyone feeling warmly towards him personally and more to do with his being the most obvious choice (having been the subject of further articles about being kept out of the Hall).