Sunday, August 27, 2006

Good evening sports fans. Things have been a bit hectic here as I juggled a side project or two, a possibly broken TV and my preparations for the upcoming season of fantasy football. If only I had the desire to apply the time and energy I currently devote to foolishness to a positive, career building strategy.

The West Coast has not been kind to our friends in the AL East. Yes, the Red Sox are coming off of a sweep at the hands of the Mariners. Yes, they are 6 and 1/2 games out of first. Yes, the CHB has dusted off the wait till next year bit in his own inimitable fashion, and utterly butchered it. Yes, it looks bleak for the Old Towne Team, but I am not convinced. The lone voice of optimism for the 2006 edition of the Red Sox is the author of Sedition in Red Sox Nation.

It scares me. But I remember doing a victory lap on my friends and family after the Yankees beat the Sox like they stole something in Game 3 of the ALCS in 2004. I even got an "eff you" out of my brother as soon as he picked up the phone after a big home run by the Bronx Bombers. And then there was the comeback. And I had to listen to every person I taunted taunt me. In case you wonder, ladies and gentlemen, crow is singularly unappetizing. But I answered the calls, because only a tool taunts when things are good and then hides when they aren't. So I am waiting until the Sox are mathematically eliminated this year before I celebrate.

For as poorly as the Red Sox performed against the Mariners (who are themselves, an unfortunate 13 games behind Oakland), there is still the fact that they lost no ground to the Yankees on this trip. It doesn't matter in the end that the Red Sox can't beat Tampa Bay. Nor does it matter that the As savaged the Red Sox not long before my long silence. It doesn't even matter that the Yankees trounced the Tigers when they met earlier this season. There are too many games left to be played for me to rest comfortably. But that isn't the theme of tonight's post.

Nor is the theme the bizarre recusatio (Latin for a rhetorical device where a speaker claims he will not talk about something in the act of talking about it. I try to avoid being a nerd whenever possible, but you can see how many words it took me to explain one Latin term, had to do it) Shaughnessy published in the Sunday Globe. Read it, and tell me that it's not a rip job on Manny. I'll warn you ahead of time that if I'm not buying it from the CHB, I probably won't buy it from you. But if those few who read this and know me can convince me, I will apologize.

Tonight's theme has been on my mind for a long time now. Every year, people in Red Sox Nation think Jim Rice should be in the Hall of Fame but he doesn't make the cut. Every year, I don't think he should get in and they tell me he was the best power hitter in baseball in his era. To borrow a quote from a Roy Orbison song (and I don't feel guilty, since Gram Parsons covered it and Nazareth mauled it): "I'm young, I know, but even so...I know a thing or two." And to borrow a quote from Skip Bayless, "It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good."

Jim Rice was a good player. He was not however, the best power hitter in baseball in his era, unless you restrict his era to 1077-1978, or you discount the great fighting city of Philadelphia. In 16 seasons, Jim Rice hit 382 home runs. Mike Schmidt hit 548 home runs in 18 seasons. Rice drove in 1451 runs, Schmidt drove in 1595. Both retired in 1989, and only one is in the Hall of Fame.

1978 was a magical season for Jim Rice. He hit 46 homers and drove in 139. He had 15 triples, 406 total bases and won the MVP. He also batted .315. Mike Schmidt only hit for an average over .300 once, the strike shortened 1981 season. In his best statistical season, Schmidt hit 48 home runs, but drove in 121 runs and had just 342 total bases.

He hit .298 for his career, which is higher than Schmidt's .267 average. Rice also hit 20 more triples in 2 fewer season. But then he played in Fenway Park, not Veterans Stadium. And Jim Rice played in a lineup that featured a pitcher hitting in only World Series games in 1975 and 1986. Conversely, Schmidt only played in games with a DH following the 1980 and 1983 seasons.
When one looks at the career number, it is then that the advantage is much more clearly in Schmidt's favor. Jim Rice hit 30 or more home runs four times in his career. Mike Schmidt hit 30 or more home runs every year from 1974 to 1987, with the exception of 1978. Jim Rice out homered Mike Schmidt in 1977, 1978 and 1988 in the years their careers overlapped. Mike Schmidt 40 or more home runs 3 times, compared to just once fore Rice. The Phillies third baseman led the league in homers a mere 8 times, whereas Rice managed the feat a robust 3 times (77,78 and 83). Schmidt was MVP 3 times, to Rice's 1. Rice won two Silver Slugger awards, Mike Schmidt won 6. Schmidt won the World Series in 1980, and won the World Series MVP. Rice, as we all know, won 0 titles.

Rice batted .333 in his lone World Series (1986). Schmidt hit .220 in his two World Series, but there was his disastrous showing in 1983 where he hit .050. In 1980, he hit .381 with 2 HR and 7 RBI (for those of you keeping score at home that matches the totals for Rice's 18 playoff games, none of which came in World Series play). In 2 more seasons, Schmidt drew 201 intentional walks to Rice's 77. He was also hit by 79 pitches while Rice was hit a mere 64 times, for someone who was allegedly unpopular with his rivals on a colossal scale.

It is somewhat unfair to compare the two, as Schmidt was the greatest third baseman (just think of the 10 Gold Gloves he won from 1976-1984 and 1986) of all time, and Rice was Jim Rice. For someone like ARod to rival Schmidt he'd have to hit 800 HR and tap dance across the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers. Jim Rice was a very good player and a good hitter, but he didn't earn a place in a league with Mike Schmidt.

As much as people say Fenway isn't the hitter's park we all think it is, there is no way you can convince me that a hitter like Mike Schmidt wouldn't have out up more home runs here than in the Vet. Nor can you convince me that Jim Rice didn't have an artificially high triples stat because of the stadium, not to mention RBI that might have been outs if he didn't play in what John Updike called the lyrical bandbox of Fenway Park. And if you don't believe me, go to this site and compare for yourself.

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