- P, OF
- February 20, 1890
- 5' 9"
- 150 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-07-1915 with WS1
- Hall of Fame:
Thirteen hits from 3,000 is a lot more than Sam Rice could have been expected to accomplish considering his tragic pre-baseball life, the fact that he came up as a pitcher, and that he didn't secure a full-time major league job until he was 26 years old. A quick outfielder with a great arm, Rice led the American League in hits twice and stolen bases once, while finishing in the top ten in batting eight times. On six occasions he collected at least 200 base hits, and he was an effective player well into his 40s. He was one of the most popular players in Washington Senators' history, and one of the most respected men in baseball during his career. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963.
Rice was born Edgar Charles Rice, in Morocco, Indiana, on February 20, 1890. Morocco was an industrial town, with a mill and a factory that produced textiles. Not much is known about Rice's parents or siblings. When he was a young man, in his early 20s and just married, Rice left home to take a job several miles away. While he was gone, his entire family was killed by a tornado. Rice lost his wife and two children, and his father and mother, in addition to everything he owned, and his home. Following the tragedy, which was covered widely throughout the state, Rice left the area and joined the merchant marines for a few years, traveling the Great Lakes and playing semi-pro ball as he moved along. Later in life, after he was a ballplayer, he remarried, but did not tell his second wife about the disaster until a newspaper reporter revealed it in the 1950s. Rice's first marriage and the loss of his children had been a dark secret he'd kept for decades.
On January 24, 1913, Rice enlisted in the U.S. Navy. On April 15, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson ordered warships to Mexico to respond to an insurrection, Rice was a seaman aboard the battle ship USS New Hampshire. Rice saw action during the war, when the New Hampshire bombarded the city of Vera Cruz. Later, he told his daughter, that he had seen men falling on both sides of him during heavy fire. Back in the United States in August of 1914, Rice played baseball for semi-pro teams in Virginia while on leave. The owner of the Portsmouth team recognized Sam's skill and bought his enlistment from the Navy for $800.
Rice played for the Portsmouth Truckers in 1914 and 1915, mostly as a pitcher. A southpaw, Rice had a strong arm, but also exhibited a flashy bat, hitting .304 in parts of two seasons. In July of 1915, the owner of the Portsmouth team tipped off Senators' owner Clark Griffith that the Virginia League was about to fold. The owner was still in debt $600 to Griffith, and suggested that he take his "star pitcher" as payment for the loan, since the league was about to go belly-up. That's how the Washington Senators acquired Sam Rice.
On August 7, 1915, Rice made his big league debut when Griffith inserted him as a relief pitcher. A month later, on September 7, Rice got his first big league start, pitching the second game of a doubleheader against the Athletics in Philadelphia. The Senators scored seven runs for Sam, as the lefty earned his first (and last) major league victory. The next season, Rice started in the Senators' bullpen, but his batting skills made him Griffith's first choice off the bench in a pinch. In late July, when he surrendered a double to light-hitting Hooks Dauss of Detroit, Rice tore the toe plate from his pitcher's cleat and announced that he was through with pitching. For weeks, teammate Eddie Foster had been urging Rice to give up pitching and become an outfielder. Foster's instincts proved prophetic, as Rice hit .299 that year, and followed with 14 .300 seasons before he retired 18 years later.
Playing mostly right field, Rice's biggest defensive assets were his quick feet and his strong arm. He led the American League in assists once, and was among league leaders several times. His 454 putouts in 1920 were an AL record at the time, and he led the loop in that category twice. On the basepaths, Rice used his speed to swipe a league-best 63 bases in 1920, and he ranked in the top five in that category for eight straight years. Of his 34 career home runs, all but 13 of them were of the inside-the-park variety. He spent much of his career as a leadoff hitter, banging out singles, which were his specialty.
In 1924, Rice led the AL in hits, and the Senators won their first pennant, earning the right to face the New York Giants in the World Series. In a seven-game thriller, Rice hit .207 (6-for-29) with two stolen bases, as the Senators copped their only World Championship. The following season, Rice and the Senators repeated as AL champs, but lost the Series in seven games to Pittsburgh, despite Sam's .364 average, 12 hits, five runs, and three RBI. In one of the most famous plays in World Series history, Rice fell into the stands in Game Three of the 1925 World Series, seemingly robbing Pirate Earl Smith of a home run. With he and the ball out of view in the crowded stands, the umpire could not tell if Rice had held on to the ball. Rice emerged with the ball safely in his glove and Smith was called out, prompting an argument by Pittsburgh. Rice was cryptic about the play, guarding the details of what happened in the stands as if he enjoyed the intrigue. When summoned by commissioner Landis to explain the play, Rice responded that he must have caught the ball "because the umpire said so." That was good enough for Landis, but the debate raged for years.
In 1933, still with Washington, Rice made a pinch-hit appearance in the Fall Classic, collecting a hit to raise his career World Series average to .302 (19-for-63). By that time, Rice was the Senators' fourth outfielder, and at the end of his career. In January of 1934, Washington released Rice, and a few weeks later he signed with Cleveland. At the age of 44, Rice hit .293 in 97 games for the Indians in 1934.
Though the left-handed hitting Rice never led the league in batting, he was a top-ten finisher eight times, with a career-high of .350 in 1925, when he banged out 227 hits. Rice reached the 200-hit mark six times, including 1930, when he was 40 years old. Keeping himself in great shape, Rice was one of the most productive players in baseball history after his 40th birthday, hitting .321 in 543 games after the age of 40. His career average was .321, on the strength of 2,987 hits. When Rice retired following the 1934 season, he didn't realize the significance of the 13 hits he needed to reach the 3,000 mark. At that time, milestones such as 3,000 hits were rarely noted. In the 1940s, by the time he had the desire to collect the extra 13 hits, Rice was in his 50s.
After his playing career, Rice ran a chicken farm in Maryland, and later raised pigeons. He remained very active, well into his 80s, playing golf and working around his home. As late as the age of 83, Rice could shoot his age on the golf course. In 1963, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, after Washington sportswriter Shirley Povich campaigned for him for years. In 1965, prompted by officials at the Hall of Fame, Rice penned a letter explaining the famous play in the 1924 Series. His instructions were to have the note opened upon his death. On October 13, 1974, Rice died at Rossmor, Maryland, at the age of 84. The letter, dated July 26, 1965, detailed the entire play and concluded that "at no time did I lose possession of the ball."
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