One of baseball’s greatest singles hitters, Rice fell only 13 hits shy of 3,000. In 20 ML seasons, he never hit below .293 and averaged .322. Although he lacked power (21 of his 34 career home runs were hit inside the park), he met every other requirement for stardom. At bat, he usually made contact, averaging only one strikeout in every 34 at-bats. On the bases, he was fast and intelligent, leading the AL with 63 stolen bases in 1920. In the outfield, he was swift and had an excellent arm.
His most famous play was on defense. In Game Three of the 1925 WS, he raced full-tilt after Pirate Earl Smith’s drive, leaped and backhanded it. He and the ball disappeared into the stands, but when Rice emerged with the ball in his glove, the umpire called Smith out. Had he really caught the ball? He refused to say but left a sealed letter at the Hall of Fame to be opened after his death. In it, he’d written: “At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”
Rice joined the Senators as a pitcher in 1915 but by the next season was moved to right field. A lefthanded hitter, he stood nearly erect in the batter’s box, crowding the plate. Although his speed helped him to 497 career two-base hits and the AL lead in triples in 1923, his forte was the slap single. Of his 2,987 career hits, 2,272 went for one base. With a good batting eye he added 709 walks, and he scored 1,515 runs in his career. In 1924, when the Senators won the World Championship, Rice led the AL in hits with 216 and had a 31-game hitting streak. The next year, for Washington’s second pennant winner, he amassed 227 hits and batted a career-high .350. He led the AL with 216 hits in 1926. All told, he topped 200 hits seven times.
At age 40 in 1930, he told Baseball Magazine, “I can still smack the ball,” and proved it by hitting .349 with 207 hits, while scoring a personal-best 121 runs. He was able to contribute a .294 average to the Senators’ third and final pennant win as a part-timer in 1933. In 1963, Rice was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame.