Sam Rice

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Sam Rice
Sam Rice.jpg
Outfielder
Born: February 20, 1890
Morocco, Indiana
Died: October 13, 1974(1974-10-13) (aged 84)
Rossmoor, Maryland
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
August 7, 1915 for the Washington Senators
Last MLB appearance
September 18, 1934 for the Cleveland Indians
Career statistics
Batting average .322
Hits 2,987
Home runs 34
Runs batted in 1,078
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Induction 1963
Election Method Veteran's Committee

Edgar Charles "Sam" Rice (February 20, 1890 – October 13, 1974) was an American pitcher and right fielder in Major League Baseball. Although Rice made his debut as a relief pitcher, he is best known as an outfielder. Playing for the Washington Senators from 1915 until 1933, he was regularly among the American League leaders in runs scored, hits, stolen bases and batting average. He led the Senators to three postseasons and a World Series championship in 1924. He batted left-handed but threw right-handed. Rice played his final year, 1934, for the Cleveland Indians. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963.

Rice was best known for making a controversial catch in the 1925 World Series which carried him over the fence and into the stands. While he was alive, Rice maintained a sense of mystery around the catch, which had been ruled an out. He wrote a letter that was opened after his 1974 death which claimed that he had maintained possession of the ball the entire time.

Early life[edit]

Rice was the first of six children born to Charles Rice and Louisa Newmeyer. Charles and Louisa married about two months after his birth. He grew up in various towns near Morocco, Indiana, on the Indiana-Illinois border, and considered Watseka, Illinois, his hometown.[1] He was known as "Eddie" during his childhood. In 1908, Rice married 16-year-old Beulah Stam.[2] They lived in Watseka, where Rice ran the family farm, worked at several jobs in the area, and attended tryouts for various professional baseball teams.[3]

By April 1912, Rice and his wife had two children, aged eighteen months and three years. While Rice's wife cared for the children, Rice traveled to Galesburg, Illinois, to play for a spot on a minor league baseball team, the Galesburg Pavers of the Central Association.[4] Rice spent about a week with the team, appearing in three exhibition games. In an appearance on April 21, Rice entered the game as a relief pitcher and finished the last three innings of a Pavers victory, giving up one run in a game marked by forceful winds.[5]

That same day, Rice's wife took their children on a day trip to the homestead of Rice's parents in Morocco, about 20 miles from Watseka. A storm arose and a tornado swept across the homestead, destroying the house and most of the outbuildings. The tornado killed Rice's wife, his two children, his mother, his two younger sisters and a farmhand. Rice's father survived for another week before also succumbing to his injuries. Rice had to attend two funerals: one for his parents and sisters, and a second for his wife and children.[6]

Early baseball career[edit]

Probably wracked with grief, Rice spent the next year wandering the area and working at several jobs. In 1913 he joined the United States Navy and served on the USS New Hampshire, a 16,000-ton battleship that was large enough to field a baseball team. Rice played on that team during one season.[7] He was on the ship when it took part in the United States occupation of Veracruz, Mexico.

In 1914, Rice joined the Petersburg Goobers of the Virginia League as a pitcher. He compiled a 9–2 record with a 1.54 earned run average (ERA) that year, then returned in 1915, earning an 11-12 record with a 1.82 ERA.[8] Team owner "Doc" Lee owed a $300 debt to Clark Griffith, who owned the major-league Washington Senators at the time, and he offered Rice's contract to Griffith in payment of the debt. Lee is credited with two acts which influenced Rice's subsequent career: he changed the player's name from "Edgar" to "Sam", and he convinced the Senators to let Rice play in the outfield instead of pitching.

Major league career[edit]

First MLB seasons[edit]

Sam Rice, Washington Senators, 1916

Rice played 19 of his 20 seasons with the Washington Senators. He appeared in only 62 total major league games in 1915 and 1916. He played 155 games in 1917, registering a .302 batting average in 656 plate appearances.[9] Rice was called back to military service with the army in 1918.[10] He joined the 68th artillery and was stationed at Fort Terry in New York. He appeared with the Senators in a few games during two furloughs.[11] By September, his company was sent to France and they prepared for combat, but the men did not see any action before the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918.[12]

In 1919, Rice played in 141 games and hit .321, one of 13 seasons in which he hit at least .300. He .338 in 1920, recorded a league-leading and career-high 63 stolen bases and was caught stealing a league-high 30 times. In 1921, he hit 13 triples, the first of ten consecutive seasons in which he finished in double digits in that category. He collected a league-high 216 hits in 1924. Though not the league leader in 1925, he recorded a career-high 227 hits and a .350 batting average, a career high among his full seasons.

The catch[edit]

The most famous moment in Rice's career came on defense. During game three of the 1925 World Series with the Senators playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Senators were leading the Pirates 4–3. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Sam Rice was moved from center field to right field. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Pirates catcher Earl Smith drove a ball to right-center field. Rice ran down the ball and appeared to catch the ball at the fence, potentially robbing Smith of a home run that would have tied the game. After the catch, Rice toppled over the top of the fence and into the stands, disappearing out of sight. When Rice reappeared, he had the ball in his glove and the umpire called the batter out. The umpire's explanation was that as soon as the catch was made the play was over, and so it did not matter where Rice ended up. His team lost the Series in seven games.

Controversy persisted over whether Rice actually caught the ball and whether he kept possession of it. Rice himself would not tell, only answering: "The umpire called him out," when asked. Magazines offered to pay him for the story, but Rice turned them down, saying: "I don't need the money. The mystery is more fun." He would not even tell his wife or his daughter. The controversy became so great that Rice wrote a letter to be opened upon his death.[13]

Later career[edit]

Leading the league in hits again in 1926, Rice finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player Award voting.[9] His batting average dipped to .297 in 1927, but he hit .328, .323 and .349 between 1928 and 1930.[9] Though Rice hit .310 in 1931 across 120 games, Dave Harris got significant playing time when the team was facing lefthanded pitchers. The Senators also began to explore younger players for their outfield spots.[9][14]

The Senators held "Sam Rice Day" in late 1932, where the team presented him with several gifts, including a check for more than $2200 and a new Studebaker automobile. He played only 106 games that year, often appearing as a pinch hitter. In 1933, the team returned to the World Series. Though the team lost, Rice batted once in the third game, getting a hit. The Senators released him after the season.[15]

He played 1934 with the Cleveland Indians, then retired at the age of 44. Cleveland manager Walter Johnson talked to Rice about returning in 1935, but Rice refused.[15] Rice retired with a .322 career average. He stood erect at the plate and used quick wrists to slash pitches to all fields. He never swung at the first pitch and seldom struck out, once completing a 616-at-bat season with nine strikeouts. As the ultimate contact man with the picture-perfect swing, Rice was never a home run threat, but his speed often turned singles into doubles, and his 1920 stolen base total of 63 earned him the timely nickname "Man o' War".

With 2,987 hits, Rice has the most of any player not to reach 3,000. Rice later said, "The truth of the matter is I did not even know how many hits I had. A couple of years after I quit, [Senators owner] Clark Griffith told me about it, and asked me if I'd care to have a comeback with the Senators and pick up those 13 hits. But I was out of shape, and didn't want to go through all that would have been necessary to make the effort. Nowadays, with radio and television announcers spouting records every time a player comes to bat, I would have known about my hits and probably would have stayed to make 3,000 of them."[16]

Career statistics[edit]

See:Career Statistics for a complete explanation.

G AB H 2B 3B HR R RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG
2,404 9,269 2987 498 184 34 1,514 1,078 708 275 .322 .374 .427

[17]

Later life[edit]

By the 1940s, Rice had become a poultry farmer. His farm was located in Maryland next to that of Harold L. Ickes, the United States Secretary of the Interior. Rice and Ickes employed several workers of Japanese descent who were displaced from the West Coast by order of the U.S. Army after the outbreak of World War II.[18]

Rice was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. He and three other players - John Clarkson, Elmer Flick and Eppa Rixey - were elected unanimously that year by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, which considered players who had been inactive for 20 or more years. Rice said that he was glad to be inducted and said that he thought he would probably be elected if he survived long enough.[19]

Rice remarried twice, first to Edith and at age 69 to Mary Kendall Adams. Mary had two daughters by a prior marriage, Margaret and Christine.[20] In 1965 Rice and his family were interviewed in advance of a program to honor his career. The interviewer asked Rice about the tornado, and as he told of the storm and its destruction, his wife and children learned for the first time of the existence of his previous family.[21]

Rice made one of his last public appearances at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies honoring Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle in August 1974. He died of cancer that year on October 13.[13] He was buried in Woodside Cemetery in Brinklow, Maryland. After Rice's death, officials could not immediately locate the letter describing his World Series play. However, in an interview, his wife Mary said, "He did catch it. You don't have to worry about that anymore."[13] When the letter was located, its conclusion stated, "At no time did I lose possession of the ball."[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Carroll, p. 9.
  2. ^ Carroll, pp. 9-10.
  3. ^ Paul Niemann, Red, White & True Mysteries, Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, 10 November 2011
  4. ^ Carroll, p. 11.
  5. ^ Carroll, pp. 11-12.
  6. ^ Carroll, pp. 12-15.
  7. ^ Red, White & True
  8. ^ "Sam Rice Minor League Statistics & History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved December 22, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Sam Rice Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  10. ^ Carroll, p. 40.
  11. ^ Carroll, pp. 43-44.
  12. ^ Carroll, p. 47.
  13. ^ a b c "Baseball Hall of Famer Sam Rice is dead at 84". Bangor Daily News. October 15, 1974. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  14. ^ Vosburgh, Ted (August 17, 1931). "Johnson leads in tribute to A's great club". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved December 22, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Fleitz, David L. (April 3, 2007). More Ghosts in the Gallery: Another Sixteen Little-Known Greats at Cooperstown. McFarland. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-7864-8062-3. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  16. ^ The 3,000 Hit Club. Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  17. ^ Sam Rice Stats at baseball-almanac.com
  18. ^ Eads, Jane (January 31, 1945). "200 Japanese-Americans work in important government jobs". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Rixey, Sam Rice in Baseball Hall of Fame". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 28, 1963. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  20. ^ Sports Illustrated Magazine, August 23, 1993, Letters- Margaret Adams Robinson. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1138332/index.htm
  21. ^ "There is one thing about Edgar 'Sam' Rice that no one could dispute: He sure could keep a secret." Red, White & True
  22. ^ "Rice claims he never lost ball". Ellensburg Daily Record. November 5, 1974. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]