Discussion

Rice swung and missed on Jeter

Updated: August 23, 2009, 5:52 PM ET
By Buster Olney

On a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I happened across a YES Network broadcast of Yankee Ron Guidry's 18-strikeout game against the California Angels in 1978, and a few things jumped out at me, as if somebody had set off some cherry bombs in the room.

1. Guidry's slider was absolutely devastating in that game, as good as history has advertised, diving toward the back foot of right-handed hitters.

2. Many players' physical conditions were much worse than they are today, and this has less to do with any performance-enhancing drugs that have infiltrated the game during the past 20 years and more with the simple reality that players didn't train or eat the way they do now. I don't want to demean any individual player who participated in that game, but some looked as though they would be better suited for beer league softball than Major League Baseball these days.

3. The hitters of that era were not as sophisticated in their approach at the plate as hitters are today -- not as balanced, not as disciplined (although the strike zone clearly was higher). Some of the batters -- including some stars in that game -- appeared to have almost no chance of hitting the ball to the opposite field, let alone driving it.

None of this is a surprise, of course. Turn on an NBA game from 30 years ago, and you will be stunned by the slender bodies and the lack of defense; it's evident that the defense played today is much, much tougher than it was then, and that the game is called differently.

The NFL team I rooted for as a kid, the Minnesota Vikings, had 220-pound defensive linemen, and when they ran into the huge offensive linemen of the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl, they were obliterated. Halfway through the 20th century, there was a debate about whether any man could run a mile in four minutes or less or would disintegrate physically; the four-minute mile was to the runner what the sound barrier was to test pilots at the end of World War II. Now the world-record time to complete one mile is three minutes, 43 seconds and change, or about 45 seconds faster than the first recorded mile.

In 1921, Charlie Paddock ran a record time of 10.4 seconds in the 100 meters, and Usain Bolt's recent time is about eight-tenths of a second faster than that. It's all part of the evolution in sports.

But Jim Rice apparently doesn't believe in that kind of evolution. He thinks his generation was better in a lot of ways.

According to The Associated Press, Jim Rice told Little Leaguers, "You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod, you see Jeter. Guys that I played against and with, these guys you're talking about cannot compare.

"We didn't have the baggy uniforms. We didn't have the dreadlocks. It was a clean game, and now they're setting a bad example for the young guys."

I cast a vote for Jim Rice to enter the Hall of Fame because he was one of the best players of his time. I don't know, however, whether he's the wisest judge of the players of this era or even his own. It's not entirely clear whether Rice was talking about the differences between the generations in their respective standards of play, or in collective character, or in style, or maybe all of the above.

Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez probably will have to answer for their PED pasts when their names appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, and as I've mentioned here before, I don't think either will get in. But somebody needs to wake up Rice and remind him that not all the players of his time -- or in any time, or in any line of work -- are qualified for the pearly gates of pristine personality.

During Rice's career, Major League Baseball fell into a full-blown cocaine scandal that enveloped such stars as Dave Parker and Keith Hernandez. Rice's Red Sox teammate, Butch Hobson, battled substance abuse. Another teammate, Bill Lee, talked openly about his use of marijuana. Mickey Mantle, a baseball god to Rice's generation, was an admitted drunk, and many players and managers of Rice's time faced the same issue.

Rice presumably is referring to the use of steroids, which certainly have helped skew the numbers -- home runs and RBIs -- in which Rice has a particular interest. But it might be worth considering whether some of the best players of prior generations all shared the same amphetamines, or maybe some players were at an advantage because they had better access to more refined stimulants, or perhaps some were at a disadvantage because they chose not to take speed.

And Rice owes Jeter a public apology for the way he spoke about him, because after 15 years of playing in the majors, there are three indisputable truths about Jeter.

To read about Derek Jeter, the Yankees-Red Sox series, possible player movement and more, you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN TOP HEADLINES