Cocky Rickey Henderson and surly Jim Rice are going into the Baseball Hall of Fame together this year. That somehow seems appropriate, as the two players represent the yin and yang of baseball’s hitting game.
Henderson, elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, was a complete offensive package throughout his 25-year career. He hit 297 home runs, including a major-league record 81 leading off games. But Henderson is best known as the greatest base stealer in major-league history, swiping 1,406 bags in his career (468 more than Lou Brock) and 130 in 1982, a single-season record that no one has come close to breaking. He also owns the career record for runs scored (2,295).
While Henderson was a great leadoff hitter with unequaled ability to steal bases and score runs – a real threat on the basepaths – Rice was a prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger. Elected in his 15th and final year on the baseball writers’ ballot, Rice obviously was a borderline Hall-of-Famer in the eyes of many voters. Many observers believe it was Rice’s surliness toward sports reporters that resulted in the Boston Red Sox slugger having to wait so long for enshrinement. That kind of reasoning always puzzles me, along with the idea that only certain players deserve to be first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. Either a player is a Hall-of-Famer or he isn’t.
I also don’t understand how similar players being considered for enshrinement at the same time don’t get similar vote totals. If Rice is a Hall-of-Famer, then why isn’t Andre Dawson, who essentially was his better National League counterpart? “Hawk” Dawson hit more homers (438 vs. Rice’s 382), drove in more runs (1,591 vs. 1,451) and stole more bases (314 vs. 58). Both players won an MVP award, but Dawson also was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1977. (Rice finished second to Fred Lynn in the 1975 American League Rookie of the Year vote.) Dawson’s career also lasted five more years and he was a designated hitter for only two years. Other than 171 games as a DH, Dawson played outfield his entire career, much of it on bad knees caused by the artificial turf in Montreal, where he played during his first 11 seasons. If not for those bad knees, Dawson’s stolen base total would’ve been much higher.
Hopefully Dawson doesn’t have to wait six more years to get elected in his last year of eligibility, as Rice did. The baseball writers should do the right thing and vote him in next year.