Sox 88 – Jim Rice

On the day that pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in Winter Haven, Jim Rice captured the front page of the Globe with a series of statements. The article was entitled "Angry Rice: 'I'm Not Dead' ".
 
The piece was authored by Dan Shaughnessy, who, like many writers, had clashed with Rice in the past. "I haven't retired," Jim was quoted as saying, "Of course, I don't own the ballclub. Whatever they decide they're going to do is what they're going to do, but I'm not dead."
 
Rice's Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox was coming to a sad end. He was only 35, an age when many sluggers are still productive. But his powerful body was beginning to give out. The previous season, he had undergone surgery on both knees, which severely affected his power. The result was his poorest year in the majors. His average dropped to .277 with 14 homers and 62 rbi's. His .408 slugging percentage was the lowest full-season mark of his career. For the first time in five years, he was not chosen for the AL all-stars.
 
In the interview, Rice also touched on his contentious relationship with the media. "I talk to you guys if you talk to me as a man. If I get bleeped, you're going to get bleeped. That's it…I don't want no bull. If anytime you guys want to talk, you come to me and you want to talk baseball. I'll give you the honest truth and you do me justice and we'll have no trouble at all."
 
Perhaps because he was such a complex figure, there has been no authoritative biography of Jim Rice. But in his well-known book Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, Howard Bryant paints a picture of Rice that is similar in some ways to his left field predecessors, Ted Willliams and Carl Yastrzemski. Like Williams, he was fiercely independent and proud of his many achievements. And like Yaz, he did not really want to talk about his relationships with teammates or his life away from the diamond- he simply wanted to play and do his job. And since Rice was Boston's first African-American superstar in a time of racial unrest in Boston and because of the team's image as negative toward minorities, many expected Jim to be a spokesman. It was a role he defiantly refused. According to Bryant, "he wanted to be judged only on his numbers. But when there were none to post, Jim Rice the man carried little value. Rice had treated so many people with such contempt that when he fell, a long line of people waited for him on his way down."
 
For those fans who had followed Rice's prodigious numbers over 16 seasons with the Sox, his final years were difficult to watch. Against his will, his last two campaigns were mostly as a DH. His averages continued to drop. When the Sox released him late in 89, no one would call.
 
The Shaughnessy piece was a rather sad one. The late 80's Jim Ed Rice was a victim of both his deep feelings as a black man and the racial situation of Boston and of the Sox. He and the team would eventually reconcile, but it would take a long time.

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