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Meanwhile, the debate rages on. Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe brought it out in the open in a controversial column that appeared on July 4. Ryan got out his own personal scorebook, covering 83 games, 44 of which were in 1978, Rice's MVP year. He noted that Rice batted .354 in the first six innings and .269 from the seventh inning on, and that 20 of his 25 homers and 66 of his 85 RBIs came in the first two-thirds of games. Ryan also pointed out Rice's penchant for strikeouts (105.7 per season) and double plays (19.9). But Ryan also wrote, "Even if he is not what people want him to be, he is apparently better than almost everything else out there." He concluded, "As far as signing him goes, it's like Ann Landers always says to a woman wondering whether or not she should leave her husband: 'Will your life be better off with him, or without him?' "
On the day the column appeared. Rice hit a grand slam homer in the 10th inning to beat Oakland 13-9. "A wind-blown fly ball," says Ryan in defense. "Anyway, complaining about your slugger is a great pastime. Phillie fans bitch about Mike Schmidt, Brewer fans about Cecil Cooper, and I'm sure a lot of people in the Bronx mutter about how Ruth struck out against Urban Faber."
Rice says, "It's tough enough playing every day, worrying about who's pitching and everything, so why worry about what's being written about you?" But he is getting sensitive about the double play business. After his double in the 10th beat California 4-3 on July 20, Rice brushed off reporters by saying, "Why talk to me, I'm always hitting into double plays. What do I have now, 90?"
It's lack of recognition that really stings Rice. He was such a good athlete that the Anderson, S.C. school board redrew its district line so that Rice could attend Hanna High School, which had more affluent students. His senior year Rice batted over .450, but the team's MVP award went to Steve Whitfield, who also batted over .400.
Rice had a sensational rookie year with the Sox in 1975, but so did Lynn, who was voted Rookie of the Year and MVP, and when Detroit's Vern Ruhle broke Rice's left hand with a pitch in September, he missed out on all the exposure the Red Sox' classic seven-game World Series with the Reds would have given him. In '77 he hit .320 with 39 homers and 114 RBIs, but Rod Carew happened to hit .388 that year. Rice was justly rewarded in '78 with the MVP (.315, 46 HRs, 139 RBIs, .600 slugging average), but he finished fifth in the MVP balloting in '79, behind Don Baylor and three others, even though he hit .325 with 39 homers and 130 ribbies. With any luck he could have been the first player to win three straight MVPs.
Last year Rice had another monster season (.305, 39, 126) and finished fourth in the MVP voting, behind Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and Carlton Fisk. "The guy [Ripken] outhit me by 13 points, but I had 12 more homers and 24 more RBIs," Rice says. "Is the MVP for the best player, or for the best player on a first-place team?" Boston finished sixth.
The biggest shadow Rice has played in has been that of Yastrzemski, but that was lifted on the final day of the 1983 season. The game was Yaz's last, and everything he did was greeted with a standing ovation. But in the eighth inning, Rice walked to the plate, and the fans were on their feet again, changing the guard, crowning a new hero. Yaz was leading the cheers. "That felt very good," says Rice, who says no more about it.
"I wish I had a hundred dollars for every time I've talked to Jim about dealing with the press," says Harrelson. "I want the press to see what he's really like, to see him around children. Kids know better than anyone else if someone is good or bad, and kids love Jim Rice."
"I know you guys can't see it," says Jackson, "but he's one of the best men I know. A friend is someone who makes you feel good just by being with them, and Jim Rice makes me feel good.
"Here's a black man from South Carolina, thrown into a city like Boston. Talk about cultural, sociological shock. But don't try to tell that to anyone, because they'll tell you the man makes all that money, why can't he deal with it?"