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Thoughts on Henderson and Rice and the Hall of Fame

Jul 27, 2009, 8:30 AM EDT

Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted into the Hall of Fame
yesterday. A lot of folks were either hoping or expecting that Rickey
would say something silly or arrogant or what have you, but that was
always going to be a longshot. While never one to suffer from
self-esteem problems, it’s been close to 20 years since Rickey has been
the hot dog in the Oakleys we all remember, and anyone who watched and
listened to him carefully as his career wound down knows that he
(eventually) grew into a rather mature player with a sense of history
and even, dare I say it, humility about him. I mean, how can you not be
humble when you play in the independent leagues in your 40s like
Henderson did?

Anyway, I thought his speech
was very genuine and, at least on the Rickey scale, quite appropriate
to the occasion. Indeed, given the man Henderson seems to have become,
an instance of true “Rickeyspeak” probably would have seemed forced and
wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun as a lot of commentators are
snarking about today. I especially thought his nod to Billy Martin –
“Mr. Billy Martin always got the most out of me. I miss you very much,
and I wish you were here with me today” — was quite nice.

What can you say about Jim Rice? For a couple of years a lot of folks
have been saying that he wasn’t truly Hall of Fame worthy. Bill James
called him “the most overrated player in the past 20 years” when he
wrote his “Historical Baseball Abstract
in the late 1980s. I tend to agree with that assessment, but it’s
probably not worth getting all worked up about. His worthiness, or lack
thereof, is a function of what any given person thinks the Hall of Fame
is all about. If it’s truly about “fame” he’s a fine choice, as anyone
who is around my age certainly grew up with him being talked about as
one of the best players in the game, rightly or wrongly so. If you’re
more into the whole Hall of Merit thing, well, he probably doesn’t belong there.

That argument is irrelevant now, of course, as he now and forever will be Jim Rice: Hall of Famer. As for his speech:
Pretty much par for the course as these things go. An argument could be
made that he showed less humility than Henderson, but I don’t feel too
strongly about making it. I did not know that his real name is Ed, so I
guess you really do learn something new every day.

Overall, the best speech of the day came not from a player, but from
a player’s daughter, as Judy Gordon, daughter of Veteran’s Committee
inductee Joe Gordon, said her father “insisted against having a
funeral, and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball
Hall of Fame as his final resting place.”

That statement struck me just the right way yesterday. It seems so
spot on. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Cooperstown, but when I
was there as a kid, I got the same feeling I get when walking around an
old graveyard. I mean that in the best of ways, mind you — I love old
graveyards. The dead seem to speak there, and if the setting is
pleasing — as Cooperstown certainly is — you can’t help but feel good
about humanity as you tread about and think about those who came and
went before.

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