Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame slugger Jim Rice isn’t losing any sleep over the sign-stealing scandal that has grabbed headlines recently in Major League Baseball.
He hopes the Red Sox hire an “old-school” manager such as Jim Leyland to replace Alex Cora, who was fired by Boston on Jan. 14. Cora was implicated in MLB’s investigation into video sign-stealing while he was a coach with the Houston Astros. Similar activity allegedly occurred when Cora was in Boston.
Rice was the featured guest Thursday night at sports radio 92.9 The Ticket’s seventh annual hot stove night at the Gracie Theatre on the Husson University campus in Bangor.
Rice was engaging and exhibited a keen wit while interacting comfortably with almost a full house of Red Sox fans. He downplayed the sign-stealing scandal, saying “all teams cheat and all the players cheat. It’s part of baseball.”
Rice said teams didn’t need to steal signs when he played. They took cues from how the defense was positioned in certain counts and situations.
“You knew who the fastball pitchers were and who the breaking-ball pitchers were [so you knew which pitch you were likely to see],” Rice said. “If someone thought you were cheating, you’d get the next [pitch] in the ribs.”
As for Leyland, the 75-year-old spent 22 years as a manager with Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and Detroit. He won three pennants and one World Series in 1997 with the Marlins.
“When you talk about making a change where you want to see a difference, you have to go back to old-school,” said Rice, who turns 67 on March 8. “With this new generation and all the analytical things, instead of playing baseball the players are worrying about home runs.
“You should think about being a team, not a lot of individuals,” he said. “When I played, you never thought about numbers. You just thought about winning.”
Rice said Leyland knows baseball and won’t tolerate the selfish habits of modern-day players.
“You go into the locker room today and of the 25 players in there, 23 of them will be on their cellphones,” Rice said. “You should have to put those phones in a box. You can do without them for four hours.”
He said the Red Sox have three throwback-type players in third baseman Rafael Devers, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and right fielder Mookie Betts.
Rice said they work hard at the game, are passionate, take instruction and are unselfish. He observed that most hitters don’t do the fundamentals like trying to hit the ball to the right side of the infield to advance a runner.
“They just try to hit the ball out of the ballpark,” he said.
Betts, the American League Most Valuable Player in 2018 when he led them to the World Series title, recently signed a one-year, $27 million contract with the Red Sox but he will become a free agent after this coming season.
The Red Sox are reportedly in trade talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers involving Betts.
“Whether Mookie stays or goes, he is going to do his best and whatever he can for his team. That’s his makeup,” Rice said. “If the Red Sox aren’t happy with him or feel they can move him and make themselves a better team, they’re going to do it.”
Rice said he doesn’t know how the Red Sox will be this season coming off an injury-riddled and disappointing 84-78 campaign in which several players underachieved.
“I don’t know who’s going to be in spring training. I haven’t looked at the roster yet,” Rice said.
Rice was an eight-time All-Star and was the 1978 American League MVP, when he hit .315 with 46 home runs and 139 runs batted in.
He played in 2,089 regular-season games, all with the Red Sox, and hit .298 with 382 homers, 1,451 RBIs, 373 doubles, 79 triples and 1,249 runs scored.
Rice said he took pride in being a line-drive hitter who hit the ball from gap to gap. He never considered himself a home run hitter.
He would like to see the players, rather than the media, vote on who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve never seen a media member hit a baseball,” he said.
Don Zimmer was his favorite manager and Eddie Yost was No. 1 on his list of third-base coaches. He credited Red Sox hitting coach Johnny Pesky with spending hours and hours with him working on his hitting.
Rice is convinced the Red Sox would have won the 1975 World Series against the Reds if he had been able to play. He had a broken hand.
“I always hit better in the latter part of the season. I hit .300 or better,” he said. “I wanted to play. I took the cast off. But they put me on the disabled list so I couldn’t play.”
An earlier version of this story included the wrong opponent for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series. It was the Cincinnati Reds.