Jim Rice and the Situation of Baseball Hall of Fame Voting
Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 31, 2009
Last week, former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Rice was voted into the Hall of Fame in his last year of eligibility: a retired player is given a 15-year window and Rice was first eligible in 1995. Hall of Fame voters, who are selected baseball writers, vote each year and a player needs to accumulate a sufficient percentage of votes. From 1995 to 2008, Rice had come close every year.
So why would Rice become Hall of Fame worthy in 2009 after 14 years of falling short? Telly Halkias of the Advocate suggests it had little to do with Rice and much more to do with the situation of baseball, steroids, and inflated numbers across the league in the period of time following Rice’s retirement.
Though impressive by any measure, Rice’s career numbers, which were amassed between 1974 and 1989, seemed less special during the mid 90s and most of the current decade as juiced-up players belted home runs at unprecedented rates. As steroids now wane from the game, however, home runs and other offensive statistics are declining and Rice’s accomplishments seem more impressive again, both for their values and the fact that they were compiled “without cheating.” We excerpt Halkias’ piece below.
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Jim Rice can thank steroids for his recent induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s quite possible that had there been no era of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, we would not be toasting Big Jim today . . .
He retired in 1989 and became eligible for induction in 1995. Those five years saw the greatest sea change in the game’s history in how it was played, and thus in its statistics . . . Baseball, the sport judged by numbers more than any other, went skyrocketing out of control. In the early 1990s, balls started flying out of Major League parks at unprecedented rates.
The commissioner’s office explained that the baseball had changed, that it was wound tighter. South American producers of the official game ball were setting the internal gut rope with a higher tension, creating a denser core. This physical change was enough to give extra length to any hit, thus the surge in home runs and extra-base hits.
But that wasn’t all. This also coincided with an era of new retro ballparks, which began in 1992 with Camden Yards in Baltimore and hasn’t ended. The new baseball-only facilities have been generally smaller in dimension than the former cookie cutter mausoleums of the 1960s and 1970s.
Finally, expansion happened. In 1998, baseball added franchises in Tampa and Arizona, and this had the immediate effect of diluting the quality of Major League pitching. Hurlers who should have been in the minor leagues for additional seasoning were rushed up to the majors, serving up even more gopher balls to juiced-up hitters.
The net result? Monstrous offensive numbers, just as Rice began serving his penance for being a grouch with the beat writers. As the 1990s progressed, Rice’s career numbers, which hover around the 50th percentile in terms of Hall of Fame inductees, suddenly looked unimpressive.
This was regrettable, particularly since Rice’s home media, the New England Sports Network, offered him a position as commentator and game analyst so that he could make amends with the fourth estate, essentially by becoming a member himself.
When the steroids scandals finally broke in this century, and the public, as well as the press, began to realize how deep the statistical inflation had run during the period of Rice’s retirement, his achievements got serious reconsideration – just in time for his 15th and final year of Hall eligibility.
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To read the rest of the piece, click here. For related Situationist posts, see Steroid-Enhancing Situations, Thomas Nadelhoffer’s The Death of Free Will and the Rise of Cheating, and Goutam Jois’s Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of It?