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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Our Long Regional Nightmare Is Over    

Bravo.



I'm not entirely sure Jim Rice got into the Hall of Fame for the right reasons. His statistical argument is weak, as he's one of those guys who looks less impressive now that we monitor walks and OBP so closely. I sure don't think he got 23 people to change their minds strictly on merit, not when old farts can use their ballots to blow off Rickey Henderson as a personal fuck-you. I can assure you that stat nerds are not happy about this, especially when adding in Bert Blyleven's continued absence.

But regardless, Jim Rice deserves to be there. I really don't care how he did it. I don't want to know how they make hot dogs. I just want to eat them. The outcome today was the right one.

I only have vague recollections of Jim Ed, three of which I can share:

1. My earliest baseball memory is the first game I ever went to, sometime in 1984 before I really cared about baseball. We sat along the first base line, and I mostly just played with my friend. But the only strong memory I have left is that when it was time to go, sometime around the 6th inning, my friend's dad said we should "wait for Jim Rice to get a hit." I couldn't tell you if he did. I think he did. But I can't say I was very concerned about it. I was pooped.

2. The next time I went to Fenway, I remembered every detail. I'd spent the summer obsessed with baseball cards and the Red Sox. I eventually convinced my mom to take me to the box office so we could pick up some tickets. I can still see the gigantic season schedule that hung above the ticket windows. I was so excited when game day came along... September 7, 1986. Bruce Hurst shut out Minnesota, 9-0. My dad and I sat all the way out in right field, near Pesky's Pole. Bill Buckner hit a home run into our section, a few rows away from us, which blew my little mind. I remember two different putouts at home plate in the same inning, one coming from Wade Boggs at third, the other coming from none other than Jim Rice.

But the highlight of the game, as Baseball Reference's WPA-o-Meter corroborates, was Jim Rice's grand slam into the bullpen. It was the first home run I ever saw. I can still see it in the air, everyone around me standing up to will the ball outwards, the ball flying swiftly into the benches, Fenway rising up. It was a lesson. You could watch a million games, and you'd never understand what it was like to be there. 1986 ended badly, but Jim Ed was in many ways my official introduction to baseball.

3. The infamous incident a couple weeks later when a typical jackass Yankee fan grabbed Rice's hat and tried to shove it down his own pants as Jim Ed chased after him. I remember watching TV38 and the cameras watching Jim, staring this douchebag down until he surrendered the hat. Lots of other folks jumped in, including noted roidbag Roger Clemens. Jim Ed jumping into the stands that day sets the standard for running-into-the-stands behavior. Do it for a good reason, and don't punch nobody. (Future entrants would not follow these ground rules.)

By the time I began paying oh-so-close attention to the game, Jim was washed up. Years' worth of back problems came home to roost. But he was the face of the Boston Red Sox when I became a baseball fan, and still one of the looming figures in the American League. Jim Rice, for me, is my first. He still stands as the ultimate example of right-handed power. And rightly so.

Congratulations, Jim Ed. And make sure your acceptance speech ends with "suck it, Neyer."

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