Year Inducted: 2009 (BBWAA, ballot #15, 412/539)
Tony Conigliaro was one of the greatest bats to ever come out of the Red Sox farm system. In his first four seasons he hit over 100 homers, drove in nearly 300 and slugged over .500. Then he got hit in the face with a pitch and had to miss the remainder of 1967 and all of 1968. He made a brief comeback in 1969 and 1970, but his vision was fading fast and was out of the game after a horrible season in 1971. He tried once more for a comeback as the Red Sox DH in 1975, but after a few weeks it was obvious that he just couldn’t hit anymore, so he retired and gave way to another big right handed hitter named James Edward Rice. That seemed to turn out okay.
All 16 of Rice’s seasons were in Boston. He hit .298/.352/.502 with a wRC+ of 128. Along with his 389 homers, he also hit 373 doubles and 79 triples. Rice was an ever present threat in the Red Sox lineup, and drove in over 1400 runs while scoring over 1200. A dominant slugger in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Rice lead the league in HR three times and RBI twice during his career.
Rice’s main claim to fame was his MVP season in 1978, a year which Red Sox fans would rather forget. Boston was running away with the AL East division, but the Yanks stormed back in the second half and won the division in a one-game playoff thanks to a home run by Bucky Dent. However, that didn’t take the shine off of Rice’s great season-a year where he hit 46 homers, drove in 139 runs and slashed .315/.370/.600 for the Sox.
Rice’s numbers, in a vacuum look like a poor selection for the Hall of Fame, especially when one factors in Fenway Park which is a haven for big right handed hitters like Rice. However, where he really shines is when he gets compared to players in his career. In his peak seasons (1975-1986) he ranked third in home runs, first in RBI and 6th in fWAR. Unfortunately, all of his value comes from those seasons. Following 1986 Rice injured his elbow and knee which, along with diminishing eyesight, hastened a very sharp and abrupt decline which severely impacted his Hall of Fame eligibility. In short careers, or careers that end abruptly, the faults of a player really begin to stand out. Rice was a poor base runner and poor fielder.
However, when healthy there were few in his day that could match him. Rice was a top hitter in the game for some time and definitely deserves induction.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/24/16: This catcher was a star in the pre-1900’s era.