Still a hulking presence at 56 years old, Jim Rice worked to fight back tears as he stood at home plate at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.
"I never thought I'd even get into the Hall of Fame," said the long-time Andover resident. "I had pretty good numbers, but I didn't think it would be good enough for the Red Sox to retire my number. I thought they'd give it out the year after I was gone."
On Tuesday, just two days after he was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Rice became a member of an even more exclusive club. The Boston legend became just the seventh player in Red Sox history to have his number retired by the club.
His No. 14 was unveiled on Fenway Park's right field facade in a ceremony before the Red Sox faced the Oakland A's. He was joined on the field by his family and former teammates, Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Dennis Eckersley and legends Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn.
Only Fisk, Ted Williams, fellow Merrimack Valley resident Carl Yastrzemsky, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Joe Cronin have their numbers retired by the team. Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier, has his No. 42 retired throughout the league.
"When you think about being in the same category as Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemsky," said Rice. "Playing your whole career in once city in left field like those two is amazing." Rice had long been a popular Hall of Fame candidate with fans, and he was finally selected this year in his last on the ballot.
His career was nothing short of legendary. In 16 seasons, all with the Red Sox, he was an All-Star eight times and won the 1978 Americ an League Most Valuable Player.
Rice finished with a .298 career average, a stellar 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs in 2,089 games. He led the league in home runs three times and RBIs twice. But, maybe more impressive, was that he also led the league in hits once and total bases four times.
"That 11-year span was awesome," said current Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "For a righthanded power hitter to lead the league in hits is pretty amazing. We all knew about the home runs and RBIs, but the hits are incredible."
Rice received a standing ovation that lasted approximately five minutes when he emerged from a door in left field. His number, which now sits between Williams (9) and Fisk (27) on the right field wall, was covered by a red sheet before it was unveiled by Red Sox legend and Rice's close friend Pesky.
"He wasn't raising that number for me," said Rice, who still works for the Red Sox as a studio analyst. "He was raising it for both of us. We spent hours at every field working on ground balls. We spent hours in that dusty batting cage in center field. We didn't hit new balls. We hit whatever balls were available. We'd do it in the winter before spring training, and used to lock the door. Johnny was a father figure to me."
Thrilled to be a part of festivities was the player that currently plays Rice's old position of left field, 2008 American League All-Star Jason Bay.
"We're going to run out of numbers," he joked. "We'll be down to triple digits. It's testament to the guys that have been here. Not too many guys are inducted into the Hall of Fame, and did what Jim did here.
"He is still around the team a lot. Every team has guys that have done great things. It is a privilege to have Jim around."
Rice was flattered that no other Red Sox player will ever wear his No. 14. The last time a player other than Rice donned the numeral was Ben Oglivie from 1972-73, and the last time it was in service was when Rice was a coach from 1995-2000.
"You wear a number and your try to put numbers on the board," he said. "This (No. 14) was special before I got to Cooperstown. The Red Sox gave me an opportunity. They drafted me and took a chance. It took me four year to make the majors. And to have your number up there was the greats, Hall of Famers, and you played for this organization and still work for it (at NESN). It can't get any better than that."