As much of a sports fan as I'm not, I still get a good feeling from Jim Rice getting into Cooperstown. Part of it is the apparent sadism of the nomination limit. If you don't get in after fifteen votes, you're screwed. This was Rice's fifteenth nomination, and I'm glad he doesn't have to write personal "you suck" notes to all the voters.
He also deserves credit for winning over a tough crowd. Boston in the late seventies was basically Aggrieved White Person Central after the busing riots. This was a city that didn't want to hear it from black people, and the sports--intentionally or not--reflected this. Rice was an indispensible part of the Red Sox, though, and I think is an important figure in that regard.
There's also his lack of polish, something that may have kept him back. Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy says:
Explaining his cold war with writers yesterday, he said, "Maybe they thought I was arrogant, and that wasn't true at all. My thing was I was very protective of the players that I played with. I got in a lot of trouble by not giving the writers what they wanted - and that was a story for them to probably talk about another player."
No. It's fair to say that Rice was shy and uncomfortable talking about himself. He never made excuses. He arrived with the city of Boston in a particularly inflammatory racial climate, which must have been difficult for a 21-year-old man from South Carolina. But to say he got in trouble by not talking dirt about his teammates is simply false. Rice was churlish more often than not. Not just with writers. Sometimes with his adoring public.
True to some extent, but not a disquakifier by any sane measure. Players and managers who are "a workhorse not a showhorse" or "let their bat do the talking" are always lionized at some point. This wasn't standoffish macho posturing on his part. Rice was a professional who didn't have handlers for his public appearances. These days that's at least as much of a surprise as the lack of juicing.