Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice overcame devastating grief to forge a long career in the major leagues and a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Prior to his big league career his first wife, two children, two sisters, and both parents were killed in a tornado in Indiana. After the disaster, Rice wandered, joining the merchant marines, serving in the border war with Mexico, before earning a contract playing baseball professionally.
Rice was originally a pitcher in the minor leagues but when he suffered a terrible outing, he tore the front toe plate from his spikes and vowed to never pitch again. He was fast enough and a good enough hitter that he made it to the majors as an outfielder. Even though he didn’t play regularly in the major leagues until after his 27th birthday, Rice accumulated 2,987, falling oh so close to the 3,000-hit mark. He said later that had he known the plateau was such a big deal “I would have played another year and gotten the hits I needed.”
The truth of the matter is I did not even know how many hits I had. A couple of years after I quit, 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.”
He spent all but one of his twenty years in the uniform of the Washington Senators, and he was the favorite player of president Calvin Coolidge. Six times he topped the 200-hit mark and six times he batted more than .330 in a season. He was frequently among league leaders in hits, triples, and stolen bases. He finished in the top ten in batting average eight times but never really sniffed a batting title because he played in a league with many high-average players. Still, his career .322 mark is among the best in history.
In Game Three of the 1925 World Series he made a running catch of a deep fly ball off the bat of Pittsburgh’s Earl Smith and his momentum carried him into the stands. There was controversy over whether or not Rice had held on to the ball to the conclusion of the play, but it was ruled an out and the Senators held on for a tight win in the game, though they lost the series in seven games. Later, after his death, Rice’s will stipulated that a letter be released about the incident. His letter stated that “at no time did I lose possession of the ball.”
Very appropriate that Rice and Ichiro are both on this exclusive list, as Sam was a very similar player to Suzuki.†Like Ichiro, Rice played right field and had a very strong throwing arm (he had started his career as a pitcher). Both Ichiro and Rice were lightning quick, and both were excellent at making contact. Rice was a fantastic athlete. His daughter explained that Sam never took any lessons as a golfer but was nearly a scratch player, and he hit with right-handed sticks. He was also a great skeet shooter and excellent at billiards, cards, and horseshoes. Rice simply excelled at any competitive endeavor.