Peers proud of Rice for Hall call
Winfield, Fisk recall outfielder's dominance at golf outing
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When the first 14 years passed and the man who wore No. 14 for the Red Sox for his entire career didn't gain entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Jim Rice's contemporaries were perplexed.
For the greats who played with and against the feared slugger, things felt far more right on Saturday morning, when they participated in a Hall of Fame golf tournament that included Rice.
Best memories of Jim Rice? Frank Robinson was bemused at the line of questioning.
"I don't have any good memories of Jim; I played against him -- he killed us," said Robinson, who was the manager of the Cleveland Indians during Rice's first three seasons (1975-77). "When the game was on the line, he stepped to the front."
Dave Winfield was a right-handed hitter who gave opposing pitchers the same type of fear as Rice. Winfield gained entry on his first crack at Hall of Fame eligibility in 2001. True, Winfield had far more longevity, which enabled him to reach plateaus (3,110 hits, 465 homers) that Rice didn't. But Winfield always felt Rice was worthy of Cooperstown's hallowed halls, and now he welcomes him in.
"Now that it's over, no one remembers 15 years or whether the writers liked him -- I'm glad he's in," said Winfield.
Perhaps lost in the shuffle in some of Rice's less-than-spectacular -- by Hall of Fame standards -- career totals (2,452 hits, 382 homers) was the way he dominated opposing pitchers during his prime years of 1975-86.
Carlton Fisk had rare perspective. He teamed with Rice when the outfielder was at his best, including his American League Most Valuable Player Award season of 1978. And then, after moving to the Chicago White Sox in 1981, Fisk had to squat behind the plate and instruct his pitchers on how to best get Rice out.
In Fisk's first game as a member of the White Sox, he silenced the Fenway faithful with a game-winning homer that sailed above Rice and over the Green Monster. A day later, however, with Fisk behind the plate, Rice unloaded for a grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to beat the White Sox.
"I wonder why it took so long for Jimmy to get in the Hall of Fame," Fisk said. "His game hasn't changed much in the last 15 years. When he played, he and Reggie Jackson were the two most feared power hitters in the game."
Ozzie Smith, a National Leaguer his entire career, is glad that he had to face Rice only in All-Star Games.
"Having to wait 14 years is taxing," said Smith. "The bottom line is he made it. He's very deserving, and it's great to have him here."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.