|Henderson and Rice to be introduced today|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on July 26, 2009
Rickey Henderson, elected on the first ballot, and Jim Rice, elected on the fifteenth and last ballot, will be introduced into the Hall Of Fame this afternoon. A good time to link to a few articles on the web about those two players.
When it comes to envisioning the perfect leadoff hitter, though, there is no need for speculation or debate. Simply picture Rickey Henderson, in his prime, shirt unbuttoned (an Oakland A's jersey, of course). But how do you recall him best? Is it of him scrunched way, way down in the batter's box, with a strike zone that was famously referred to by the late, great Jim Murray as being "smaller than Hitler's heart"? If so, you'll remember the man who ranks second all-time with 2,190 walks, the man who amassed 3,055 hits and a .401 on-base percentage or launched a record 81 leadoff home runs.
Or do you picture him on the basepaths, one arm resting on his knee, the other hanging loose, fingers dancing back and forth in anticipation while he stretched his lead to dangerous and exciting lengths? This is the Henderson who would obliterate every stolen base record that ever mattered, and invent a few that didn't. The one who swiped 130 bases in a season and 1,406 in his career. The one who scored a major-league record 2,295 runs.
Baseball Analyst Patrick Sullivan reminds everyone that in his opinion, Dwight Evans was better than Jim Rice. He also gives an explanation why Rice made it to the Hall while Evans dropped of the ballot quickly:
So why the perception gap? I have a few theories. For one, Rice had his best seasons early in his career and leveled off some thereafter while Evans started relatively slowly and became a superstar during the middle part of his career. It seems that each had their reputations solidified during their early years - Rice as the superstar and Evans as the good defender with an OK bat.
Also, Rice's best seasons, particularly 1977 and 1978, came for some very good Boston Red Sox teams while Evans did his best work for more mediocre editions of the Carmine Hose in the early 80's. Further, Rice excelled in the back-of-the-trading-card AVG/HR/RBI numbers whereas Evans stood out because he walked a lot, mixed in some pop and played great defense. Evans's statistical edges come in categories less valued by the mainstream. Take all of this together and the inexplicable, that fans and media alike recall Rice's work more favorably than Dewey's, becomes a little easier to account for.
Fan opinion is one thing. Fans are busy. Fans have jobs. Fans do not devote their professional lives to the coverage of baseball. But the media owes the game and the integrity of the Hall of Fame more - not the least of which is a good faith attempt at understanding the sport. Wouldn't it be more useful for you to know, say, that Evans twice led the American League in OPS while Rice did just once (something I had no idea of before researching for this piece) than to listen to story after story about how "Rice was the most feared hitter in the league for a decade?"
Dwight Evans was a better player than Jim Rice and yet the Baseball Writers' Association of America would have you believe that they were not even in the same galaxy as players, with the conventional wisdom being that Rice was better. Well you can take the more "feared" guy. I'll take the more durable player who was the superior offensive force, defender and baserunner.
Kirk Minihane of WEEI has a long mailbag on Rice & Evans:
You wrote about Evans having bad luck and it's true. Imagine if he were playing today? He'd be $100 million dollar player, easy.
A: Great point. Look at it like this: If J.D. Drew could get that contract at age 30 what would Evans get? Here's what each did in their age 30 seasons.
Drew: 20 homers, 100 RBI. .393 OBP, .891 OPS
Evans: 32 homers, 98 RBI, .402 OBP (led league), and .936 OPS
Throw in the huge edge in defense (Evans won a Gold Glove that year) and no durability questions and you've got a six-year, $90-million dollar deal. He would be exactly what Theo is looking for, good power, high-OBP, zero problems in the clubhouse. In fact, I guarantee you that Theo Epstein believes that Dwight Evans was a better player than Rice. I know Bill James does.
And now to end with a light note, Jim Rice will have his number retired by the Red Sox:
"As a fan of the game and a steward of this great franchise, it is an honor to be a part of the Red Sox during this special moment in the team's history," said Red Sox principal owner John Henry. "On behalf of our partners and the entire organization, we want to congratulate Jim Rice on his upcoming induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and finally taking his rightful place among the greatest players in the game. The retirement of his number will be a fitting way to honor one of the most dominant hitters to ever wear a Red Sox uniform."
Rice's number will be the seventh to be retired by the franchise, joining Bobby Doerr (No. 1), Joe Cronin (4), Johnny Pesky (6), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9) and Carlton Fisk (27). Jackie Robinson's No. 42 has been retired by every team in the majors.
"It will be a thrill to welcome Jim Rice back to Fenway after his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. "As one of only four Hall of Famers to spend his entire career with this organization, Jim will be joining an elite group of players whose contributions to Red Sox history are etched in the memories of generations of fans. And we are very fortunate that he continues to be a part of Red Sox games by bringing his more than three decades of baseball experience to the NESN broadcasting team."