Jim Rice was my favorite player growing up. He was a complete player excelling at the plate and lacking nothing in the field. He brushed off an autograph request from me while I was standing next to my oldest son, Brandon, who was about 8 or 9 at the time. I was mad and did not want to hear anything about him for many years, but time has passed and I realized he never lost a wink of sleep over it and it was time for me to grow up and forgive him.
by David Dorsey
Catching up with …
Jim Rice, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, said he didn’t consider himself a great player. He considered himself a lucky one.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re from South Carolina or anyplace,” Rice said. “To get to the major leagues, you’ve got to be lucky. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Rice, 63 and a native of Anderson, South Carolina, grew up playing baseball, basketball and football, for which he turned down a scholarship offer as a wide receiver to the University of Nebraska.
Instead, Rice took his powerful 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to the Boston Red Sox, who chose him 15th overall in the first round of the 1971 draft.
“I think my big break was I played in Triple-A, and I won the triple crown,” Rice said of 1974, when he hit .337 with 25 homers and 93 RBI in 117 games for Triple-A Pawtucket. He earned a promotion to the big leagues for the final 24 games. “So they couldn’t send me back down. That was my big break.”
Rice now spends six weeks a year in Fort Myers as a guest hitting instructor for the Red Sox. He will enter his 14th season as studio host for New England Sports Network broadcasts of Red Sox games. He spends his offseasons doting on his five grandchildren, ages 5-13.
But Rice appeared to have created his own luck. He played in the majors for 16 seasons and finished with career numbers of a .298 batting average, 2,452 hits, 382 home runs and 1,451 RBI. He made eight All-Star teams, and he finished in the top five for Most Valuable Player Award voting six times.
In 1978, Rice won the American League MVP award with a season for the ages: .315 batting average, 15 triples, 46 homers and 139 RBI.
Rice, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 in his 15th and final year of eligibility, downplayed all of that.
“You’ve got to be lucky,” Rice insisted. “You’ve got to be lucky.
“Take a look at Dustin Pedroia. And the Red Sox sign a guy who’s a second baseman, Mookie Betts. Well, he had never played outfield. He goes out and plays all three outfield positions. He gets 174 hits and does what he did last year. So you’ve got to get lucky.”
Rice said even Hall of Fame players have to be in the right place at the right time and have circumstances fall their way.
“Yaz was ahead of me,” Rice said. “But Yaz didn’t want to play left field anymore. They were going to have to trade me or get rid of me. I was just fortunate enough that Yaz didn’t want to play left field. I had a chance to play.
“Look at Cal Ripken. He was playing shortstop. He moves to third. He plays every day. You’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to be lucky once you get in the door.”
On his 15-year wait to get into the Hall of Fame, Rice said he never worried about whether or not he would get in.
“I don’t think anybody played the game and said, ‘I’m going to play the game to get into the Hall of Fame,’” Rice said. “I think all the guys who are in the Hall of Fame wanted to play the game the best they could, and whatever happens, happens.”
Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven had to wait 14 years to get inducted.
“If the players were voting on it, he would have been in sooner,” Rice said of Blyleven, a Fort Myers resident. “The players knew how tough you were. But the writers didn’t know.
“Anyone who knows the history or played against Bert, he’s up there. When he was on the mound, you knew it was a battle. He would never give in. He’d never given in. Of all the pitchers I faced, Bert had the best curveball I’ve ever seen. He could throw it.”