Is 2008 the year for Jim Rice?

Dan Shaughnessy predicts that the New Year will be kind to former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice.

Rich Gossage and Rice should top this year's ballot, gathering the necessary 75 percent of the vote. There would be nice symmetry in the sight of this duo walking through the gates of the Hall together. Rice and Gossage were two of the central figures of the 1978 pennant race and it would be appropriate to see them enshrined on the 30th anniversary of the great race.

Adding to the 1978 Boston-New York theme, the late Larry Whiteside, pioneer of African-American baseball writers and a man who wrote thousands of words about Rice and Gossage, will be awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award posthumously when the hardball world gathers in Cooperstown, N.Y., next summer.

Not everyone agrees with me on Rice's chances. It's a risky prediction, given that Rice as recently as 1999 received only 29.4 percent of the vote and actually went backward last year.

But Rice has three things going for him: 1) His vote total has been north of 60 percent in recent years and Sox historian Dick Bresciani has boosted Rice's candidacy with a convincing public relations campaign; 2) The more we talk about steroids, the better Rice's numbers look; 3) There are no new candidates to overwhelm the voters.

Does Jim Ed deserve it?

He was a dominant power hitter before steroids polluted the game and skewed the numbers. Rice hit 46 homers in a season back when it meant something - before 50 became the province of guys like Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez. People who played and watched major league baseball from 1975-86 know that Rice was the most feared hitter of his day. Managers thought about intentionally walking him when he came to the plate with the bases loaded. He played hard and he played hurt. His managers loved him. Opponents feared him.

On the flip side, Rice is a power hitter who failed to reach 400 homers and broke down physically while in his mid-30s. Defense was not part of his game and his postseason numbers are weak. It's not fair to claim he's been kept out of the Hall because he was uncooperative (downright rude, usually) with the media. Eddie Murray was far more difficult with the press and he cruised into Cooperstown, as did silent Steve Carlton.

Rice has been forced to wait because he is a marginal candidate - which is no disgrace when we're talking about the Hall of Fame. A lot of great players don't get a sniff of the Hall. Take a look at the careers of Andre Dawson (438 homers), Harold Baines, and Dale Murphy. None of them has gotten as close as Rice.

N4N thinks Rice should be in the Hall, mainly because he was one of the dominant players of his era. And who knows how the 1975 World Series might have turned out had Rice not been injured and out of the lineup at the time.

Earlier this year, in April, the ProJo's typically on-the-mark Joe McDonald wrote what I consider an unusually harsh story about an appearance by Rice at the Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln. Topped by the headline "Rice bites the hand that fed him at welcoming," the story -- which included the sportwriter's scolding about Rice's "inappropriate comments" -- fed into the former outfielder's playing-days' reputation as a surly guy.

I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure, but it seems that Rice, like a lot of ballplayers, is not the most articulate guy in the world, and that more than anything, he was trying to encourage young ballplayers to work hard and dedicate themselves to their careers.

Here's how some of it came out:

There are a lot of people in baseball who share [Ben] Mondor's belief that Rice's accomplishments on the field deserve a plaque in Cooperstown. Rice, on the other hand, didn't help his cause yesterday during the annual PawSox Welcome Home Luncheon at Kirkbrae Country Club.

The event honoring Rice was going along smoothly until he imploded, basically telling the sellout crowd of more than 400, including the PawSox' players, that greed and cheating (not steroids) are good for furthering your baseball career.

During a Q & A session with former teammate and Red Sox broadcaster Bob Montgomery, Rice told some impressive stories about his career, including his time in Pawtucket. He had the crowd riveted with his tales, and Montgomery was quick to point out some extraordinary statistics, including when Rice played in all 163 games for the Red Sox during the 1978 season. The last one was the infamous tie-breaker game against the Yankees when Bucky Dent hit his deciding home run.

Toward the end of the 25-minute sitdown with Montgomery, Rice made more than a few inappropriate comments in a strange Jekyll and Hyde episode.

Montgomery asked Rice what his brightest moment was as a major-leaguer, and he answered by telling the audience it was helping the Red Sox reach the World Series in 1975 as a rookie. He was then asked if he had any advice for the PawSox' players, and he went on a six-minute rant, with a swagger that suddenly emerged.

"You have to trust yourself, he said. "You've got to work twice as hard, and to me, if I was one of the players right now, I would be a selfish player.

He began to explain that today's players take spring training for granted because of all the amenities and state-of-the-art equipment. Rice said he saw some things during this year's spring training that he didn't like. He said if he was playing today he wouldn't be sitting in his room watching television; he would be at the ballpark taking batting practice.

"This is my 36th year of marriage to the same woman," he said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would have been divorced 10 years or 20 years ago because I would have been at the ballpark. There is so much money now to be made in the game of baseball, and you have this ability to play the game, why not take advantage of it? It's out there. Go get it. They're not going to give it to you; you've got to earn it.

Jim Rice deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I've seen him around Yawkey Way before Sox games, and he seems like a gentle and soft-spoken guy. Let's hope that he makes the Hall in 2008.

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