Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hall of Fame Day: Looking Back at the Careers of Rickey and Rice

Later on this afternoon, the Hall of Fame will induct Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice (and Veteran's Committee pick Joe Gordon) into its hallowed walls.

Rickey, of course, was elected in on his first attempt. His election actually generated some consternation around the internet when he wasn't a unanimous selection (or, in fact, even that close - he was named on 94.8% of the ballots). Rice, on the other hand, was elected in on his 15th and final year on the ballot, and barely squeaked in with a 76.4% of the vote. In contrast to Rickey, the controversy around Rice was that he was even elected at all. The so-called "old guard" is convinced that his power, average, and RBIs make him more than Hall-worthy, while the more stats-heavy "new generation" see glaring weaknesses in his candidacy.

The arguments are all moot now, as both Rickey and Rice will soon have their plaques unveiled. Back in December, when the Hall of Fame voting was still in doubt, I did a Through the Years piece on both Rickey and Rice. It seems like today is a perfect day, then, to revisit those.

In Through the Years: Rickey Henderson, we see that it didn't take Rickey very long to prove just how great he was. What I found most interesting about him, though (besides all the interesting stuff that we already know about Rickey), was how every improvement in his game, from more stolen bases to his increase in power, was due to a conscious effort on his part. I think that's pretty spectacular.

With Through the Years: Jim Rice, I thought it was worth trying to see if there was any evidence from his playing days that Rice was indeed the "most feared hitter of his time." I did find an example or two that some people may have thought that, but it was hardly overwhelming (and, in fact, it seems that Reggie Jackson was the one more likely to have been given that title, if at all). There's no doubt, though, that, when Rice was at his best (like in his MVP season of 1978), he was really, really good. We can continue the discussion of whether it was enough to deserve enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, but, with his induction today, it doesn't much matter anymore.

(For those of you who don't know what a Through the Years piece is - and how can I blame you since I've done a terrible job of continuing the series? - it's a look back at a player's career through the eyes of the annual preview magazines that come out at the start of every season. I think it's both fun and informative to see how great players were viewed as they were working their way towards stardom. I really need to get back to doing these - I do find them pretty fascinating.)

Oh, and as an added Hall of Fame bonus - and since I'm already linking to "classic" content - here's one more: a look back at a poll from 1992, where Sporting News writers were asked what they thought the Hall of Fame chances were of contemporary players. Rickey and Rice (and a whole lot more) are included on the list. It's a pretty interesting read: Past Future Hall of Famers. Enjoy.

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