In the late 1970s he was part of one of the sport's great outfields along with Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans, who was his teammate for his entire career; Rice continued the tradition of his predecessors Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as a power-hitting left fielder who played his entire career for the Red Sox. He ended his career with a .502 slugging average, and then ranked tenth in AL history with 382 home runs; his career marks in homers, hits (2,452), RBI (1,451) and total bases (4,129) remain Red Sox records for a right-handed hitter, with Evans eventually surpassing his Boston records for career runs scored, at bats and extra base hits by a right-handed hitter. When Rice retired, his 1,503 career games in left field ranked seventh in AL history. Rice was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26, 2009, as the 103rd member voted in by the BBWAA.
In 1978, Rice won the Most Valuable Player award in a campaign where he hit .315 (third in the league) and led the league in home runs (46), RBI (139), hits (213), triples (15), total bases (406, a Red Sox record) and slugging average (.600). He is one of only two AL players ever to lead his league in both triples and home runs in the same season, and he remains the only player ever to lead the major leagues in triples, home runs and RBIs in the same season. His 406 total bases that year were the most in the AL since Joe DiMaggio had 418 in 1937, and it made Rice the first major leaguer with 400 or more total bases since Hank Aaron's 400 in 1959. This feat wasn't repeated again until 1997, when Larry Walker had 409 in the NL. No AL player has done it since Rice in 1978, and his total remains the third highest by an AL right-handed hitter, behind DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx (438 in 1932).
In 1986, Rice had 200 hits, batted .324, and had 110 RBIs. The Red Sox made it to the World Series for the second time during his career. This time, Rice played in all 14 postseason games, where he collected 14 hits, including two home runs. He also scored 14 runs and drove in six. The 14 runs Rice scored is the fifth most recorded by an individual during a single year's postseason play. The Red Sox went on to lose the World Series to the New York Mets, 4 games to 3, the fourth consecutive Series appearance by Boston which they lost in seven games.
Rice led the AL in home runs three times (1977, 1978, 1983), in RBI twice (1978, 1983), in slugging average twice (1977, 1978), and in total bases four times (1977-1979, 1983). He also picked up Silver Slugger awards in 1983 and 1984 (the award was created in 1980). Rice hit at least 39 home runs in a season four times, had eight 100-RBI seasons and four seasons with 200+ hits, and batted over .300 seven times. He finished his 16-year career with a .298 batting average, 382 home runs, 1,451 RBIs, 1,249 runs scored, 2,452 hits, and 4,129 total bases. He was an American League All-Star eight times (1977–1980, 1983–1986). In addition to winning the American League MVP award in 1978, he finished in the top five in MVP voting five other times (1975, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1986).
Rice is the only player in major league history to record over 200 hits while hitting 39 or more HRs for three consecutive years. He is tied for the AL record of leading the league in total bases for three straight seasons, and was one of three AL players to have three straight seasons of hitting at least 39 home runs while batting .315 or higher. From 1975 to 1986, Rice led the AL in total games played, at bats, runs scored, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging average, total bases, extra base hits, go-ahead RBIs, multi-hit games, and outfield assists. Among all major league players during that time, Rice was the leader in five of these categories (Mike Schmidt is next, having led in four).
In 1984 he set a major league single-season record by hitting into 36 double plays. His 315 career times grounding into a double play ranked third in major league history behind Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski when he retired; he broke Brooks Robinson's AL record for a right-handed hitter (297) in 1988, and Cal Ripken, Jr. eventually surpassed his mark in 1999. Rice led the league in this category in four consecutive seasons (1982-1985), matching Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi for the major league record. The on-base prowess of Rice's teammates placed him in a double play situation over 2,000 times during his career, almost once for every game he played. Rice posted a batting average of .310 and slugging percentage of .515 in those situations, better than his overall career marks in those categories.
Rice was an accomplished left fielder, finishing his career with a fielding percentage of .980 and had 137 outfield assists (comparable to Ted Williams' figures of .974 and 140). Although never possessing great speed, he had a strong throwing arm and was able to master the various caroms that balls took from the Green Monster (in left field) in Fenway Park. His 21 assists in 1983 remains the most by a Red Sox outfielder since 1944, when Bob Johnson had 23. Aside from playing 1543 games as an outfielder during his career, Rice also appeared as a designated hitter in 530 games.
Rice's number 14 was retired by the Red Sox in a pre-game ceremony on July 28, 2009.
Rice was associated with a variety of charitable organizations during his career, primarily on behalf of children, some of which have carried on into his retirement. He was named an honorary chairman of The Jimmy Fund, the fundraising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, in 1979, and in 1992 was awarded that organization's "Jimmy Award", which honors individuals who have demonstrated their dedication to cancer research. Rice is also active in his support of the Neurofibromatosis Foundation of New England. Rice's involvement with Major League Baseball's RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) resulted in the naming of a new youth baseball facility in Roxbury, Massachusetts in his honor in 1999. A youth recreation center in Rice's hometown of Anderson, South Carolina is also named in his honor.
Rice's most notable humanitarian accomplishment occurred during a nationally televised game on August 7, 1982, when he rushed into the stands to help a young boy who had been struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Dave Stapleton. As other players and spectators watched, Rice left the dugout and entered the stands to help 4-year old Jonathan Keane, who was bleeding heavily. Rice carried the boy onto the field, through the Red Sox dugout and into the clubhouse, where the young boy could be treated by the team's medical staff.
While Rice was generally regarded as one of the better hitters of his era based upon the statistics traditionally used by the BBWAA to evaluate players' Hall of Fame qualifications, he was not elected until his 15th and final year of eligibility, netting 76.4% of the votes, in 2009. Over the years he was on the BBWAA ballot, he received 3,974 total votes, the most ever collected by any player that was voted on for baseball's highest honor. In 2006 and 2007, he received over 63% of votes cast. Rice just missed being elected in 2008 when the count found him on 72.2% of the ballots, only 2.8% short of the required 75%. Rice became the third enshrinee to get into the shrine on his last chance on the ballot, and the first since Ralph Kiner (1975).
Rice's delay in being elected to the Hall of Fame stemmed in part from more current statistical analysis of player performance. This analysis suggested that Rice's HOF credentials might have been more questionable than they were considered during his career. The delay may also have been related to his often difficult relationship with the media during his playing career, many of whom are still voting members of the BBWAA, and his career fading relatively early - he last played in the major leagues at the age of 36. Some writers, such as the Boston Herald's Sean McAdam, said that Rice's chances improved with the exposure of the "Steroids Era" in baseball. In the same article, McAdam expanded this subject by adding: "In an era when power numbers are properly viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion, Rice's production over the course of his 16 years gains additional stature." As such, he has received increasingly more votes each year since the 2003 ballot, improving his vote totals by 133 votes over the last five years on the ballot. However, from several sabermetric standpoints (not including Black Ink, Gray Ink or HOF Monitor) it can be argued that Rice falls short of his peers in the Hall of Fame. In addition, the meme that was circulated by the Red Sox PR department that Rice was the "most feared hitter of his generation" was questionable, as he never came close to leading the league in Intentional Walks and dominates the top 5 seasons in which a player has grounded into the most double plays. Nevertheless, several commentators have noted that the continued criticism of Rice's statistics not meeting sabermetric standards is unfair given that several other Hall of Fame players, notably Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, fare even worse against such standards.
During the 2007 season, the Pawtucket Red Sox started a campaign to get Rice inducted which included having fans sign "the World's Largest Jim Rice Jersey."
Although other players have compiled career statistics more similar to Rice's, most notably 1999 Hall inductee Orlando Cepeda, perhaps the most similar player to Rice was 1968 inductee Joe Medwick. Both were power-hitting left fielders who batted right-handed and played their home games in stadiums which favored hitters, and both had a period of a few years in which they enjoyed a remarkable burst of offense, each winning an MVP award at age 25 – Rice after collecting 400 total bases, and Medwick after becoming the last NL player to win the Triple Crown. Both retired at age 36 due to the cumulative effect of various minor injuries. Their career totals in games, at bats, runs, hits, RBI, steals, on-base percentage, slugging average, extra base hits and total bases are all fairly similar, with notable differences only in batting average and home runs; Medwick's higher average (.324 to .298) can be partially attributed to the higher emphasis on batting average in the 1930s, while Rice's advantage in home runs (382 to 205) is largely the result of a dramatic increase in homers over the 40 years between their careers (Rice ranked 10th in AL history upon his retirement, while Medwick ranked 11th in NL history upon his). Medwick was elected to the Hall in his final season of eligibility in 1968, which Rice also duplicated.