Jim Rice's old teammates Bob Stanley and Bruce Hurst are cited in an MLB.com article advocating Rice's candidacy for the Hall of Fame. They quote Hurst as saying:
He was a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter. Of his contemporaries who are in the Hall of Fame, he was as dominant as any of them. Dave Winfield was consistent and steady, but he didn't dominate like Jimmy. Kirby Puckett and George Brett were great players, but were they that much greater, if at all, than Jimmy? If so, I'd like to hear evidence.
He didn't hit the magical numbers, or those plateaus (500 homers, 3,000 hits etc.), but he was a Hall of Famer in my mind.
Jimmy's biggest curse was that after he had such monster years, people felt like he should maintain it. If he had, he would have been Ruthian. It was impossible to maintain what he did for some of those years, the 400 total bases, the RBIs, the triples. He was still a great hitter after that. And you have to think that the guys who were pitching to him would rather take their chances with somebody else. He got criticized for striking out, but he was trying to expand the zone. He knew it was his responsibility to drive in runs.
He never missed a game and never dodged a pitcher. He made every bus trip in Spring Training, he was in the lineup every day. I didn't appreciate it until I went to other teams and I saw stars on other teams not as committed to playing every day. I really, really respect that. A lot of guys, they won't face certain guys. Jimmy never ever had that fear.
With my own two eyes, I saw him check his swing, and he was so strong, the head of the bat just snapped. It just didn't make sense. It was like, 'What exactly did we just see?' It was incredible.
The most amazing asset he had was his wrist strength and hand speed. I would question whether he had peers in those areas. I don't think anyone had wrists as strong as Jimmy's. He could get fooled and, just by the strength of his wrist, hit a home run.
There's a whole lot of hokum in there, the type of tripe that was used by the spirit of Veterans' Committees past to get a good number of unworthy candidates into the Hall in the first place. I'm not saying Rice is unworthy but I'm not willing to put him in on a couple of old buddies' say-so. Aside from never missing the team bus at spring training, what makes Rice a Hall-of-Fame caliber player?
Let's compare him to the three other HoFers who played in the same era. I have a list of the players mentioned above and Rice with their Win Share totals, their adjusted OPS, and their Bill James Hall of Fame criteria:
Rice can be compared to the others in some categories and actually scores ahead of them in some single-season-related criteria (blank ink and gray ink). However, each of these three can be very easily shown to be superior to Rice in some way or another.
Brett scores the best of all four in the career-related criteria (Win Shares, HoF Standard and Monitor), but he also sustained the highest level of excellence over his career with the highest Win Shares per 162 games and the greatest number of adjusted OPS's at 120% or of the league average or higher. Brett is ranked second all-time among third baseman in The Historical Abstract, and is clearly the best player here.
Puckett is similar to Rice in having a short career. However, he sustained a higher level of excellence (WS/162g) over his career. Puckett is ranked eighth among all center fielders by James.
Winfield may the most similar to Rice in many ways. They were both corner outfielders, and their average years are comparable (WS/season, WS/162g, career Adj OPS, and % Adj OPS > 120). However, Winfield had the longest career on the list and to sustain that level of success for an additional 6 seasons is what got Winfield the career numbers (Win Shares and number fo similar players in the Hall) that merited enshrinement. He ranks 13th among all right fielders for James.
Rice was basically washed up at 33. He had only one truly great season, 1978 (as defined by James as having 30 or more Win Shares). He was a poor fielder in a not very important defensive position. A quarter of his games (540 out of 2089) were as a DH. The other three players played more demanding positions, especially Brett and Puckett. He was a poor baserunner and he grounded into an incredible number of double plays (over 30 in three seasons and 315 for his career). James lists him 27th all-time among left fielders. And his career was not long enough to get him to those magical plateaus that call for their bearers' Hall inclusion.
I don't mean to badmouth Rice. Would I put him in the Hall? Given the established standards, I'm not sure. He would definitely be better than a good number of Hall-of-Famers, but I certainly am not clamoring for him to get a plaque.
I actually feel that his Red Sox teammate Dwight Evans is at least as deserving though you never hear his name mentioned (347 Win Shares, 21.57 WS/162g, 127 adjusted OPS and all over 20 seasons of fine defense).
Do I think Rice will get in? Eventually, probably as a Veterans' Committee choice.
I leave the last comment to Bill James who says this about Rice in The New Historical Abstract:
Probably the most overrated player of the last 30 years...
Jim Rice was one of the best left fielders I ever had there [but] the fans never liked Jim Rice. No one could like Jim Rice. Jim Rice had one of the biggest egos I've ever seen. He treated people so abruptly, just had no need for anybody, gave no time back to the fans, just was not a nice person.-Bill Lee in Fenway