Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson Join Baseball Hall of Fame


Jul 26, 2009

Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson Join Baseball Hall of Fame COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — On Aug. 19, 1974, Jim Rice made his major league debut, serving as the designated hitter for the Red Sox. Although he went 0-for-2 in the game, he recorded his first RBI, driving in fellow future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, the player for whom Rice would eventually take over in left field.

After nearly 35 years and 1,450 more RBI — along with 2,452 hits and 382 home runs — Rice received a baseball player's highest honor on Sunday.

In a field in this bucolic town in front of a crowd of about 21,000 and 50 other Hall of Famers, Rice, Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon became the newest members of baseball's Hall of Fame.

Rice was elected in January, his 15th and final year on the writers' ballot. Henderson was elected in his first time on the ballot and Gordon was elected by the Veterans Committee in December.

Rice, who retired after the 1989 season, hit .298 with a .352 on-base percentage and .502 slugging percentage in his 16-year career. An eight-time All-Star, he was named American League MVP in 1978, hitting .315 with 46 home runs, 139 RBIs, a .370 OBP, a .600 slugging percentage and 406 total bases, the first time an AL batter had topped the 400-base mark since Joe DiMaggio in 1937. He finished in the top five in MVP balloting in five additional seasons, including his rookie year of 1975, when he finished third in the MVP and second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Boston teammate Fred Lynn.

The Red Sox were represented at the ceremony by owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino. Also in attendance were former players Dwight Evans, Bob Montgomery and Yastrzemski, who received the loudest ovation from the heavily partisan Sox crowd when the Hall of Famers were introduced at the start of the ceremony. Yaz last attended a Cooperstown induction when Carlton Fisk entered the Hall in 2000.

Rice is the 48th Hall of Famer who spent his entire career with one team, joining Yaz and Ted Williams who patrolled Fenway Park's left field before him, representing more than 50 years of baseball excellence.

Evans, who played in Boston with Rice for 16 seasons, had a unique view of that Red Sox left-field transition.

"It was kind of neat really, to think from Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice," he said. "The sad part about the whole thing was when Jim Rice took over for Yaz, he wasn't received very well in the outfield. But people didn't realize how good he was out in left field until someone else came out and played left field … and then they realized how good he was. Jimmy had a great arm, and Jimmy played hard. Ted Williams wasn't a great outfielder, but Ted Williams was the greatest hitter that ever played. I'm not putting Ted down. I'm just saying Yaz had that gift of defensive ability that was tremendous. So I think Jimmy was unfairly judged.

"So, [he was] very underrated [defensively] as far as I'm concerned. When someone else went out there, [the fans] saw how good Jimmy was."

Evans also attended the induction ceremonies when former teammates Fisk and Tony Perez entered the Hall.

"It means a lot," Evans said. "I wouldn't [otherwise] make the effort to get here — this is a tough place to get to — but wouldn't miss it. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of what he's accomplished. I saw him come up and I saw him go. I saw the 16 years with Jimmy. I don't think there's anybody else who could say that. So I'm proud to be a part of this and to watch him get inducted today."

At the start of his induction speech, Sox fans in the crowd began a chant of "Let's go, Red Sox," which Rice acknowledged, laughing and saying, "I only got a couple of minutes, guys." He had promised to keep his speech between five and eight minutes but it took him almost 11 to deliver it.

In his speech, Rice described himself as a husband, a son, a father, an uncle and a friend who doesn't call often enough. He then acknowledged his baseball career, saying, "Finally, and I do mean finally, I am Jim Rice, a baseball Hall of Famer."

RELATED LINK: Complete Transcript of Rice's Speech

"My family's thrilled," said his son, Chauncy Rice. "We're just happy that this day finally came and that we're all here to enjoy it. And just to be a family and see this happen is amazing. He's happy. You see some of his longtime friends, guys that he's played with, guys that he's admired. So for him to be here and have all his friends and the Boston faithful here with him, it means a lot to him. I know the only [people] that he wished to be here were his parents. He wished they were here to see his accomplishments and be with him today, but they're here watching us in spirit. It's just been a great day for my family and my father."

Rice thanked several former managers and coaches including Don Zimmer, Sam Mele and Johnny Pesky.

And it didn't faze Rice that it took until his 15th and final try to get the call — during his favorite TV show, The Young and the Restless — from Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson informing him of his election to the shrine.

"It doesn't matter that I got it this year as opposed to my first eligible year," he said. "What matters is I got it."

Henderson's career spanned 25 seasons and nine teams. Debuting as a 20-year-old with the A's in 1979, he retired as a 44-year-old with the Dodgers in 2003 as arguably the best leadoff hitter in history. He holds the record for leadoff home runs (81) and is the all-time stolen bases leader with 1,406. He posted a career batting average of .279 with 297 home runs, 1,115 RBIs and 2,190 walks. In 60 postseason games, he hit .284 with five home runs, 20 RBIs and 33 stolen bases.

His career as colorful as it was impressive, his induction speech was highly anticipated for his many "Rickey-isms." While he did not disappoint, he refrained from referring to himself by name or in the third person.

Instead, Henderson told heartwarming stories of the Oakland-area youth baseball coach, a father figure in the neighborhood, who bribed Henderson with glazed doughnuts and hot chocolate to get him to play. He talked about his high school counselor, Mrs. Wilkerson, who offered to pay him 25 cents for every hit, run scored and stolen base Henderson recorded if he would just play baseball. 

Henderson, who never lacked for self-confidence during his playing career, baited the crowd at the end of his speech with a reference to Muhammed Ali's declaration, "I am the greatest." Those expecting Henderson to make a similar statement on his own career were caught off guard.

"At this moment," Henderson said in concluding his speech, "I am very, very humble."

Nick Peters, who covered the San Francisco Giants for 47 seasons, received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and Tony Kubek, the former All-Star shortstop for the Yankees and broadcast analyst with the Blue Jays and Yankees, received the Ford C. Frick Award.

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