Inside Pitch

Feb. 20, 1890: Future Hall of Famer Sam Rice is born


FEB. 19, 2013

Though he didn't play his first full campaign until age 27, Hall of Famer Sam Rice collected 2,987 hits, finishing his career with a .322 batting average and six 200-hit seasons. (NBHOF Library)

Sam Rice’s life was irrevocably changed by a force of nature before his big league career ever began.

But that didn’t stop Rice’s big league dreams – or his desire to make those dreams a reality.

One-hundred twenty-three years ago this week – on Feb. 20, 1890 – future Hall of Famer Sam Rice was born in Morocco, Ind. Working various jobs growing up while maintaining a family farm, Rice’s life would change drastically in 1912.

Having tried out for several professional baseball teams in past years, Rice was out of town continuing to persue his dream. While gone, a tornado flattened the town killing his wife and two children. 

After losing his entire family, Rice joined the Navy in 1913, and played ball for a team on the ship. A year later his dream finally came true, making a pro team in Petersburg, Va., as a pitcher. 

Future Hall of Famer and owner of the Washington Senators Clark Griffith took a chance on Rice by accepting his contract in exchange for debt that was owed to him. On Aug. 7, 1915, Rice made his debut with the Washington Senators as a relief pitcher. 

His time on the mound would not last long, as a combination of wildness and going 9-for-11 pinch hitting sent him to the outfield. With new life, the right fielder made the most of it, hitting .302 and stealing 35 bases in his first full season at the age of 27. 

A leadoff man most of his career, Rice holds franchise records in hits, runs, doubles, and triples – finishing with a .322 career average. Having a 33.7 AB/K ratio, striking out was a rarity for Rice as he spent most of his career scattering hits across the field – never hitting below .293 in a season. He collected 2,987 hits in 20 seasons, the closest anyone has come to 3,000 without reaching the magic milestone.  

“You must remember there wasn’t much emphasis on 3,000 hits when I quit. And to tell the truth, I didn’t know how many hits I had.” said Rice on retiring so close to 3,000. 

Nicknamed after the champion thoroughbred racehorse Man-O-War, Rice had blazing speed and led the league with 63 steals in 1920.

In 1925, Rice had his best year topping out at .350 and leading the Senators to the World Series. In Game 3 of the series versus the Pirates, Rice made one of the most controversial catches in the history of the game. 

Late in the game with the Senators leading, Rice made a marvelous catch robbing Earl Smith of a home run. The umpire, who could not see the play, ruled it a catch as the Senators went on to win the game but would eventually lose the series in seven games. The play remained a mystery for years until Rice’s death, when a letter he wrote that depicted what had happened that autumn day was finally allowed to be read under his permission. 

“I had a death grip on it. At no time did I lose possession of the ball.” said Rice.

Rice was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1963. He passed away Oct. 13, 1974 at the age of 84. 

Nick Anapolis is the spring 2013 public relations intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame


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