There always seems to be one compelling fact that propels a "borderline" candidate into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Credit Dick Bresciani for punching Jim Rice's ticket to baseball immortality. The Red Sox historian uncovered that only nine retired legends -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott and Ted Williams -- boasted career batting average and home run totals as high as Rice.
But many in the Red Sox nation didn't need Bresciani's evidence -- or the 15 years it took to convince baseball writers -- to conclude that Rice is Cooperstown worthy. An eight-time all-star, the longtime Sox outfielder led the American League in home runs three times (1977, 1978, 1983), RBIs twice (1978, 1983) and was named American League MVP in 1978. Rice also had more homers and RBIs than any other American League player from 1975 to 1986.
"In my eyes, he was a Hall of Famer and I'm glad he's being recognized in a meaningful way," said Chad Bartlett, who owns the No. 1 Rice Basic Set on the PSA Set Registry.
Tim Orff, owner of the registry's top Master set, agrees.
"Is he up there with Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle? No, not really, but he definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," he said.
Derek Irwin, who has assembled the registry's No. 3 Basic set, shares similar sentiments.
"If you compare his statistics to some members of the Hall of Fame, he compares quite favorably," he said.
Irwin is part of a relatively small group of hobbyists pursuing the Rice Basic (43 cards) and Master (357 cards) sets on the PSA Set Registry.
"I've been a big Red Sox fan since 1976, and even though my mom (Jill) is a Yankee fan, she is also a big Jim Rice fan," explained Irwin. "She admired and respected Jim Rice's abilities and she also found him to be terribly handsome."
It was an act of heroism during a nationally televised game on August 7, 1982, that inspired Orff's interest in Rice.
"I didn't become a fan of Rice because of his baseball playing skills. I became a fan because after a little kid got hit in the head with a baseball, Rice jumped into the stands and grabbed him and took him down to the dugout, so the Red Sox people could take care of him. The doctor said he probably saved the kid's life," explained Orff. "When I saw that, I became a fan forever."
Bartlett's affinity for Rice dates back to his childhood. He has been collecting cards of the Bosox star since the early '80s.
"The Jim Rice Master Set is a manageable size. It stops before we got into the 1990s and we had all of those parallel cards. You have a reasonable chance of finishing the set, which is nice," he said.
But the fact that Rice doesn't enjoy vaunted hobby status yet can make it challenging to track down his cards.
"There aren't a lot of Rice cards that come up for auction, compared to the other players in the other sets that I collect," said Bartlett. "Outside of the diehard collectors, I don't think he's necessarily a household name."
"If you look at his cards compared to other Hall of Famers, most of his cards are really low population cards," he said.
Orff points out that Rice's 1973 Venezuelan League sticker (#78) is extremely difficult to track down. Designed to be stuck in an album, these stickers tend to showcase glue residue or paper torn off the back. Just one of these has been graded and it was deemed a PSA GOOD 2.
Rice's 1975 Topps rookie (#616) features him with three other prospects (Dave Augustine, Pepe Mangual and John Scott). This card can be difficult to track down in top condition.
"The '75 set, in and of itself, is a tough set to get because of the coloring on the cards, the borders chip so easily. Even the smallest of defects gets magnified," said Irwin.
Of the 780 Topps rookies evaluated, just one has been deemed a PSA GEM MT 10. There are 73 PSA MINT 9s, and one fetched $350 on eBay in January 2009.
"A couple of years ago, you could get them (PSA 9 rookies) routinely for under $200, but recently, I've seen them go as high as $800," said Bartlett.
Surprisingly, there are more PSA 10 1975 Topps mini Rice rookies (3) than regular 1975 rookies. This is despite the fact that most hobby experts believe that fewer minis were produced. A PSA 10 Rice rookie for $2,817.01 on eBay in April 2007.
But Rice's 1975 O-Pee-Chee rookie (#616) is his most difficult to uncover in pristine condition. Of the 20 graded, there has been just one PSA 9 and two PSA NM-MT 8s (nothing grading higher). A PSA 8 sold for $168.50 on eBay in October 2007.
"The O-Pee-Chee is by far the most difficult rookie -- usually because it's off-center," said Orff.
Irwin says that Rice's second-year Topps card is also difficult to find in flawless form.
"The centering is off on that card," he said.
Of the 180 submitted, there has been just one PSA 10; it sold for $1,009 on eBay in October 2006.
Even more elusive is the O-Pee-Chee single from that same year. Bartlett owns the only example graded by PSA; this card was graded a PSA NM-MT 8OC.
"That 1976 O-Pee-Chee card is brutal. I really don't even see it raw. I think the one I have graded is really the only I've come across," said Bartlett.
"I don't think I've ever seen one. If I saw one, I wouldn't care what condition it was in, I would probably get it," he said.
Two other evasive cards in high-grade are Rice's 1985 (#15) and 1986 Leaf (#146) pasteboards. These singles are the Canadian equivalent of the regular Donruss cards and were reportedly printed in smaller quantities. Both cards have colored borders that are susceptible to chipping. The Leaf cards command a premium over their regular Donruss counterparts.
And with Rice's new Hall of Famer status, the value of his cards is bound to increase in the future.
"He's not someone who when people are looking at their cards think 'I should send this in for grading,' but the Hall of Fame induction may change that," said Bartlett, who has already noticed more Rice cards listed on eBay.
"Now that he's in the Hall of Fame, hopefully it will lead to an increase in interest in collecting Jim Rice items, which will hopefully lead to more registry set collectors," he said.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Derek Irwin and Chad Bartlett provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.