Change-UpDecember 12, 2008
Shaughnessy At It Again
By Patrick Sullivan

Every year as the Hall-of-Fame vote nears, the debates over certain players intensify. As part of this tradition over the last few years, you can set your watch to a Dan Shaughnessy mail-in supporting the candidacy of Jim Rice. Shaughnessy's case for Rice and, in fairness, almost any writer's case for Rice, invariably contains the same three components.

One, there is a baseless assertion that Rice was "feared."

Shaughnessy, from yesterday's Boston Globe:

Rice was dominant. Rice was feared.

From The Boston Globe, January 9, 2008

He was more feared than Tony Perez, who is in the Hall of Fame.

I doubt Dan took the time to actually look into it but Perez was intentionally walked almost twice as many times as Rice was in his career.

In fact, when I look at this article from Shaughnessy from December of 2007, I know he didn't look into it.

People who played and watched major league baseball from 1975-86 know that Rice was the most feared hitter of his day. Managers thought about intentionally walking him when he came to the plate with the bases loaded.

What an insult to the managers of Rice's day. He was far too enticing of a double-play candidate to intentionally walk with the bases loaded. Even If there are no outs, the bases are full and you feel you have to give up a run, don't walk Rice. Just let him give you the two outs he probably will anyway. Rice ranks tied for 179th on the all-time intentional walk list. Included among the others with 77 career intentional walks are the likes of Geoff Jenkins and Clay Dalrymple (among others). On the other hand, Rice ranks sixth all-time in GIDP's, an exceptionally astounding tidbit when you consider that Rice had 9,058 plate appearances in his career. The five players ahead of him on the all-time list all had north of 12,300 plate appearances. Rice was an absolute out machine and if he had the longevity of most Hall of Famers, he would have been the Sadaharu Oh of double plays - so far in the clear of the next closest guy that his record would have been as safe as can be.

The second major component of a Shaughnessy Jim Rice Hall of Fame case contains statistical cherry picking that even the most hard headed flat-earthers would have to admire. Park factors don't matter, great on-base men that inflate your RBI totals don't matter. You just regurgitate numbers as though they have any meaning at all without context.

Also from yesterday...

...when Rice retired in 1989, he was one of only 13 players with eight or more seasons of 20 homers and 100 RBIs. The others were Ruth, Foxx, Gehrig, Aaron, Mays, DiMaggio, Killebrew, Musial, Ott, Schmidt, (Ted) Williams, and Banks.

Shaughnessy from 12/6/05

Of the 17 players (who've been on the ballot) boasting at least 350 homers and a .290 average, all are in Cooperstown -- except for Rice and Dick Allen. He is the only player in major league history with three consecutive seasons of 35 homers and 200 hits. In the 12 seasons spanning 1975-86, Rice led the American League in games, at-bats, runs, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging, total bases, extra-base hits, multi-hit games, and outfield assists.

The case against Rice is simple.

1) Playing home games in Fenway drastically inflates the value of his production. Hitting in the same lineup as players like Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans (a much, much better Hall candidate btw) inflates his RBI total. Context matters.

2) He did not play for a very long time by Hall standards; did not play at a HOF level for enough seasons.

3) His defense or base running were not such that they make up for his batting statistics, which fall well short of HOF caliber.

The stats Shaughnessy reels off amount to noise in the presence of these items.

Finally, the Shaughnessy Rice defense will in all likelihood contain a jab at the rational among us who choose to devote some time to analyzing where players stack up against one another. Here is Shaughnessy yesterday:

On the other hand, we have members of Bill James Youth who've never been out of the house who believe Rice has no business being in the Hall.

For one, the "Bill James Youth" comment is a thinly veiled Adolf Hitler a sports column...about the Hall-of-Fame candidacy of Jim Rice. Stay classy, Dan.

Second, I mean, are we still doing the "blogger/stat geek lives in his or her parents' basement" thing? In 2008? Really? The web is here to stay, Dan. How's that NYT stock you've amassed over the years holding up?


Shaughnessy ends his piece yesterday with this:

Guess you had to be there. Or maybe talk to some of the players and managers who were there.

Now, it's possible that Shaughnessy means that you actually had to be physically "there". Let's say he doesn't, however. First, he was in Baltimore while Rice put up his best seasons so Shaughnessy himself wasn't really "there" but for fifteen or so nights a season. Second, such a stringent qualifier would discount the opinions of too many of his BBWAA brethren (I'm looking at you, Jenkins) who were not "there" to see Rice all that often.

So let's assume he means "you had to be paying close attention to baseball at the time when Jim Rice was playing." That's fair enough. Contemporary opinion should matter for something I suppose. I happen to believe that stats tell most, if not all, of the story if you know which numbers to look at and don't cut corners. But I don't think it's unreasonable to contend that contemporary opinion matters.

Well guess who started writing about baseball in earnest in 1977, Rice's first great season? None other than Bill James. And if you have read over Rich Lederer's Abstracts on the Abstracts series, you find that James devoted a lot of effort, smack in the middle of Rice's career, to analyzing what kind of player Rice was. Let's take a look.

Here is James from the 1978 Baseball Abstract:

"A number of numerical attacks on Reggie Jackson's status as a superstar have attempted to downgrade him by making statistical inferences which I think are misleading...He is described as a ballplayer who has never hit .300--but that is lilke describing Roberto Clemente as a guy who never hit 30 home runs, or Ty Cobb as a player who never hit 20. The fact remains, Jackson does an awful lot of things well, and most often does them well when his team needs them. His On-Base percentage last year was .378, better than most .300 hitters, and it's a more important statistic. His excellent SB% (.850), GIDP/AB ratio (1/175), and slugging percentage (.550) add up to a hell of a lot more than the eight singles by which he missed .300. But more to the point, Jackson has never played a season in a good hitting ballpark. His three home parks, in Oakland, Baltimore, and New York, are, except for Anaheim, the 3 toughest places to hit in the league. To compare his stats in Yankee (sic) to those of, say, Jim Rice in Fenway, is just ridiculous."
"It is difficult to say anything intelligent about the Red Sox without discussing the park they play in. The public perception of this team is that of a heavy hitting outfit with a suspect pitching staff. But the fact is that the heavy-hitting Boston offense, in 81 road games, scored only 365 runs, essentially an average total, while the 'mediocre' Boston pitching and defense limited their opponents to 305 runs on the road, the lowest total in the league. You might want to read that sentence again, because it is surely the most shocking contention in this book."

Here is James during Rice's awesome three-year peak, real-time offering up the goods on the extent to which Fenway Park would inflate any hitter's batting numbers. On the Orioles beat, think Shaughnessy was digging in with this level of analysis?

In the 1979 Baseball Abstract, James goes into great detail to run through the respective MVP cases of Rice and Ron Guidry. It's a fascinating read, well worth going back and checking out.

This is from Rich's piece on the 1979 Baseball Abstract:

Later, in "Guidry/Rice: A Post Script," James volunteers that "the purpose of this essay, of course, was not to put to rest the MVP debate as much as to introduce a variety of analytical theories and techniques that you might not be familiar with."

30 years later, there is at least one columnist who is all set with his own "analytical theories and techniques" thank you very much.

Oftentimes the mainstream will accuse the SABR-inclined of having it out for Rice. I can see why that may be the case - hell, here I am writing about Rice for what seems like the fiftieth time - but the reason he garners so much attention is that Rice provides the prototypical case for the need to consider context when statistically evaluating baseball players. In the 1980 Baseball Abstract, James dispels any notion that he personally has it out for Rice by claiming he "has virtually qualified for the Hall of Fame already." This was a reasonable assumption coming off his 1977-1979, three season Hall-worthy peak.

Just in case you thought that James was not getting it right when it comes to Rice, he unveiled in the 1986 Baseball Abstract a projection system that foresaw Rice retiring "in just a few more years with totals of 399 home runs, 1434 RBI and a .298 average, 2419 hits." James then concedes that his own methodology, in Rice's case, "probably is much too conservative." As Rich points out in his note, it wasn't conservative at all. Rice ended up with 382, 1451, .298, 2452. Bill's gut told him the projection was conservative but the projection, the data, ended up being right. Funny, that.

Here is the most amazing part about all of this. In Wednesday's column, Shaughnessy mentions James, acknowledging his now famous contention that Roy White was better than Rice. Shaughnessy also takes an excerpt from Rob Neyer, who himself responded to Shaughnessy's column yesterday. And yet, sticking to his guns in the face of well reasoned dissent, Shaughnessy simply asserts "Guess you had to be there", a statement so bankrupt, so lacking in creativity or thought that James was able to respond to it 23 years earlier.

I will end with Bill James, from his 1985 Baseball Abstract.

"Virtually all sportswriters, I suppose, believe that Jim Rice is an outstanding player. If you ask them how they know this, they'll tell you that they just know; I've seen him play. That's the difference in a nutshell between knowledge and bullshit; knowledge is something that can be objectively demonstrated to be true, and bullshit is something that you just 'know.' If someone can actually demonstrate that Jim Rice is a great ballplayer, I'd be most interested to see the evidence."


You could also add that Rice's bat turned average at 33 and died two years later. And that he didn't help the Red Sox much in his only significant postseason, 1986, contributing a brutal double-play ball in the top of the 10th that almost lost them that Game 5.

Hey Patrick,

You just need to drop a few "f-bombs," add some exclamation points and insert a food reference and you're getting close to a Fire Joe Morgan entry.

Obviously, this is a big compliment.


The "You had to be there" defense is one based upon pure emotion. Emotional reactions (fear, loathing, likeability, standoffishness, whatever) should have no bearing on a debate centered around the HOF. Baseball is a superstitious sport. Managers could fear someone because of some unforeseen potential, a hot bat, or a slump and say that "someone is due."

Its bunk. Its an emotional response. But liking, disliking, loving, hating, loathing, fearing, or rooting for a particular player should have no part in a HOF discussion.

Good article.

So, if Bill James had weakened himself by opening an Eastern front, Jim Rice would already be in the Hall of Fame?

Excellent piece. While I am an avid Sox fan who believes that Rice does belong in the HOF, I also despise Shaughnessy and his belittling, childish, condescending style. Your post makes him look like Bill James' bitch.

A guy who took 1500 extra ABs to hit 5 more HRs playing at Fenway than Norm Cash hit playing at Tiger Stadium is not a HoFer (and Cash played during a pitcher's era).

Good player, all star, but not HoF. Slugging right-handed hitting OFers who can pop a few at Fenway are a dime a dozen. He didn't even hit 400 career HRs hitting in that band box.

He did hit into a lot of double plays to go with his 100+ strikeouts a year. And you already pointed out his stone glove and cement shoes in the field and on the bases.

"You had to be there"? That puts Mark Fidrych in the HoF on the first ballot.

Rice was so "feared" that he only walked 50 times a season. Vlad Guerrero gets 60 a year, and he swings at everything between 1B & 3B. Never mind the guys that get 100 or 150 free passes a season.

Solid slugger to be sure, but not HoF material.

Your quote James to imply that Rice's power was based on his hitting in a band-box. The facts don't back that up. If you look up his splits, you'll find 208 home, 174. Most batters hit more at home than away, regardless of park. Rice's home/away figures are pretty typical. The guy was the premier hitter in his era.

For most players on the bubble I don't mind one way or the other if they get in, but when Rice goes in that will open the floodgates to "player X was better than Rice, he had more HR, RBI and a higher OBA, etc."


Rice's home SLG: .546
Rice's away SLG: .459

Homeruns are seriously not the end-all measure of power.

In his career, Jim Rice slugged .546 at home.
He slugged .459 in away games. A .459 slugging percentage in away games in the years Rice was playing just doesn't seem to cut it for making the hall of fame.


If Rice didn't hit more HRs than that at Fenway, then he even more certainly doesn't belong in the HoF.

@Lost without FJM: I totally agree.

Patrick, great article and please know that there is a huge market in debunking general sportswriting with careful analysis like you just provided. Keep the heat on the old guard of BBWA and maybe one day sports journalists will return to journalism (e.g. fact checking please?) and move away from fan fiction. I would love more articles like this!

Shaughnessy is an astoundingly lazy writer, but I'm guessing that the reason he said "Managers thought about intentionally walking him when he came to the plate with the bases loaded," is because sometime in 1976-79, Rice came up with the bases loaded, and a manager pitched to him, he hit a double or triple, and the manager later said, "I actually gave some thought to walking him with the bases loaded." How unlikely is this?

Blyleven and Santo were more valuable and better players than Rice, and they can't get into the HOF. Alan Trammell - an excellent all-around shortstop - can't even get 20 percent of the vote.

Ted Simmons and Lou Whitaker couldn't even get 5 percent on their only appearance on the ballot, and they rank among the top players at their positions. Something is seriously wrong when Jim "6-4-3, inning over" Rice is knocking on Cooperstown's door.

It's a misdemeanor if Rice eventually gets in.

It's a felony if he gets in BEFORE the other players -- many named above -- who accomplished significantly more during their careers.

When someone writes, "Rice was the premier hitter {note, not "player"] of his era," I wish he would say exactly what years "his era" consisted of. Then I could go to the sources and list the players who outperformed him.

Trying to argue with Dan is nuts; it's like trying to argue with Bill O'Reilly. He's intellectually dishonest, boorish, a bully, and he pretends to be dumber than he actually is. All he's doing is saying crazy things to get strong reactions.

I sent him an email once and he challenged me to fight him. Over some stupid baseball thing. He's a grown man working for a newspaper, and he's challenging his readers to a fight. What's sad is he's occasionally a pretty eloquent writer. Why even bother talking to someone like that?

I feel too much emphasis is made on statistics. I just remember that when Jim Rice was in his prime, there was never anybody more impressive. I wish they had video recorders back then so I could have recorded the time Rice broke his bat and hit the ball off the Green Monster (350 feet), and the time he broke a bat checking his swing. I have never seen or heard of, any other player doing either of these. As for not getting many intentional walks,what mannager in his right mind is going to walk Rice to get to Yaz (with a right handed pitcher on the mound)?

SBIRD, that's the problem with with our own eye-witness... We see something when we watch, then we see it again and we draw conclusions on too small of a sample size. Furthermore we color our own opinions based on fandom. I'm not picking on you, we all are guilty of it in one arena or another.

Statistics help us see through the noise. The problem with statistics, is that like Dan S., sometimes we look for statistics to support an opinion. The proper use of statistics is to ask a question and see what the statistics show...

You'll have to come up with a better excuse than batting in front of Yaz. Yaz played through about half of Rice's career, and his last few years he wasn't very effective.

Besides, if they didn't want to walk Rice because of Yaz, that means Yaz was the feared hitter, not Rice. No one will argue that.

I saw Wily Mo Pena break his bat and hit one off of the monster. Should Wily Mo Pena go to the hall of fame?

That depends, can he break his bat checking his swing?

The hall of fame is about the best baseball players not the ones that awed you. If that were the case put Bo Jackson in the Hall because I remember being at the Kingdome just walking all over the M's and it made an impression that is pretty impressive considering I was only 6 at the time. Hell put Usain Bolt in the Majors and he will suck but he will do something awe-inspiring at some point.

To that Jenkins article, just terrible. Jack Morris was exceptionally good in the post season. 3.80 ERA compared to his career 3.90 including a terrible '92 series in which he gave up 10 runs in 10 2/3 innings

When it comes to context, we should apply it equally. Rice had a .920 ops at home and .789 on the road. Santo had a .905 at home and .747 on the road. It seems inconcsistent to bash Rice's candidacy and laud Santo's, without pointing out that they both played in the Coors field of their day. Neither one screams out as a hall of famer (although Santo was at least a great fielder, whereas Rice was a leftfielder).

Doug B.: That last statement in parenthesis is exactly the difference. Santo was a third basemen that played excellent defense. Rice was a left fielder that played average at best defense. That sums it up right there.

One other thing, you'd be hardpressed to find more than a handful of better third basemen in all of baseball history than Ron Santo. It's not hard to find many left fielders that are roughly equal or better than Rice.

Since Willy Mo Pena has been brought up, while he was with the Reds he hit a homer at every Reds game I attended. Just imagine how good he would've been if I was a season ticket holder???

Tim Raines was intentionally walked twice as many times as Rice too.

That's a great one, Brent. No comparison between the two players and it would seem that Raines may have even been more "feared".

10 contemporaries' career road stats doubled, ordered by HR:
Baines: .351/.461/.812, 398HR
Baylor: .347/.449/.797, 364HR
Evans: .361/.437/.798, 364HR
Lee May: .303/.442/.745, 350HR
Rice: .330/.459/.789, 348HR
Horton: .322/.441/.763, 344HR
Parker: .350/.497/.847, 338HR
Parrish: .308/.435/.744, 328HR
Bonds: .351/.464/.815, 318HR
Reg. Smith: .347/.463/.810, 312HR

No Hall of Famers. Most not even close. Here is what a HOFer looks like (even probably a lower-tier one):
Winfield: .356/.485/.841, 494HR
Or here is a far better, but still very marginal, candidate:
Dawson: .316/.483/.800, 462HR

Same 10, ordered by OPS:
Parker .847
Bonds .815
Baines .812
Smith .810
Evans .798
Baylor .797
Rice .789
Horton .763
May .745
Parrish .744

Excellent Article Patrick.

I love those old Bill James posts.

I always think of James like the first Homo Sapien that showed a bunch of Neaderthals the wheel. Then the Neaderthals laughed at their caveman Bill James called him names for thinking such crazy thoughts and probably hit him over the head with a rock.

Great post by Dave in Toledo. Both Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan seam a little unhinged. I remember Bob Ryan sreaming and yelling at a caller on the radio because the caller correctly brought up the point that George Foster and Greg Luzinski were also considered "Feared" and are not even on the HOF ballot.

I read a great blog post by Jim Jividian where he thought the "feared" hitter thing regarding Rice comes from a racial perspective.

Basically he believes that because Rice was the first Black Boston baseball star surrounded by a mostly white team and mostly white fan base that this left an impression of "fear" among the all white Boston media of the time. Also, remember that Rice played during a very volatile time period (Forced Busing) vis-a-vie race in Boston.

Basically, the all white Boston media was never able to separate the "fear" they felt emotionally maybe on a sub-conscious level about Rice with the objective view of the man as a baseball player.

Ironically, the image they created in their head was of a player better than he actually was.

My bad, the Shaughnessy post was by James.