In 1978, Rice won the Most Valuable Player award in a campaign where he hit .315 (3rd in the league) and led the league in home runs (46), RBIs (139), hits (213), triples (15) and slugging percentage (.600). He is one of only two American League players ever to lead his league in both triples and home runs in the same season, and he remains the only player ever to lead his league, and Major League Baseball in triples, home runs, and RBIs in the same season. His 406 total bases that year was the most in the A.L. since Joe DiMaggio had 418 in 1937, and it made Rice the first major leaguer with 400 or more total bases since Hank Aaron's 400 in 1959. This feat wasn't repeated again until 1997, when Larry Walker had 409. No American League player has done it since Rice in 1978.
In 1986, Rice had 200 hits, batted .324, and had 110 RBIs. The Red Sox made it to the World Series for the second time during his career. This time, Rice played in all 14 postseason games, where he collected 14 hits, including hitting two home runs. He also scored 14 runs and drove in six. The 14 runs Rice scored is the fifth most recorded by an individual during a single year's post-season play. The Red Sox would go on to lose the World Series to the New York Mets, 4 games to 3, thus continuing their difficulties.
Since his retirement at the end of 1989, the Boston Red Sox have not reissued the number 14, except during Rice's tenure as the team's hitting coach in the mid-to-late 1990's. The team's long standing tradition is to officially retire the number of players who have been elected to the Hall of Fame as a member of the Boston Red Sox and have spent at least ten years with the team.
Rice led the AL in home runs three times (1977, 1978, 1983), in RBI twice (1978, 1983), in slugging percentage twice (1977, 1978), and in total bases four times (1977-1979, 1983). He also picked up Silver Slugger awards in 1983 and 1984 (the award was created in 1980). Rice hit at least 39 home runs in a season four times, had eight 100 RBI seasons, four seasons with 200+ hits and batted over .300 seven times. He finished his 16-year career with a .298 batting average, 382 home runs (55th best of all-time), 1451 RBIs (56th), 1249 runs scored, 2452 hits (100th), and 4129 total bases (67th). He was an American League All-Star eight times (1977-1980, 1983-1986). In addition to winning the American League MVP award in 1978, he finished in the top 5 in MVP voting five other times (1975, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1986).
Rice is the only player in major league history to record over 200 hits and at the same time having 39 or more HRs for three consecutive years. He is tied for the American League record of leading the league in total bases for three straight seasons, and was one of three A.L. players to have three straight seasons of hitting at least 39 home runs while batting .315 or higher. According to the web site Baseball Reference, Rice ranked among the league leaders in various batting categories more than 100 times during his career. From 1975 to 1986, Rice led the American League in total games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, total bases, extra-base hits, go-ahead RBIs, multi-hit games, and outfield assists. Among all Major League players during that time, Rice was the leader in five of these categories (Mike Schmidt is next, having led in four).
His biggest flaw as a hitter was his tendency to hit into double plays. Rice's ability to hit a baseball dangerously hard, coupled with having many slow-footed teammates on base in front of him (e.g., Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, Bill Buckner, etc.) resulted in many double plays. In 1984 he hit into a single season record of 36 double plays. He is not in bad company when it comes to grounding into double plays, because many of the career leaders in this category are Hall of Famers (e.g., Cal Ripken, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, etc.). Rice led the league in this category in four different seasons (1982-1985), matching Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi. It should be noted that the on-base prowess of Rice's teammates placed him in a double play situation over 2,000 times during his career, almost once for every game he played, and that Rice posted a batting average of .310 and slugging percentage of .515 in those situations, better than his overall career marks in those categories. In addition, the Red Sox were far more successful as a team in the games in which Rice faced at least one double play situation, posting a winning percentage of .572 in those games compared to a mark of .489 in games when Rice didn't face a double play situation.
Rice could hit for both power and average, and at this time, only nine other retired ballplayers rank ahead of him in both career home runs and batting average. They are: Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams.
In 1981, at a point in his career when it looked like he would one day rank among the game's all-time greats, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.
While Rice is generally regarded as one of the better hitters of his era based upon the statistics traditionally used by the BBWAA to evaluate players' Hall of Fame qualifications, he has not yet received enough votes in any single year to be elected to the Hall of Fame. However, during the course of his continuing eligibility period, he has received about 3500 total votes, which is the most ever collected by any player that was voted on for baseball's highest honor. In 2006 and 2007, he received over 63% of votes cast. Rice just missed being elected on January 8th, 2008 when the Ernst & Young count found him on 72.2% of the ballots, only 2.8% short of the required 75%. His last year of BBWAA voting eligibility will be in 2008, which would place him on the 2009 ballot.
He has now appeared on 14 of the possible 15 BBWAA annual ballots, and Rice's current delay in being elected to the Hall of Fame stems in part from more current statistical analysis of player performance. This analysis shows that Rice's HOF credentials may be more questionable than they were considered during his career. The delay may also be related to his often difficult relationship with the media during his playing career, many of whom are still voting members of the BBWAA. Some writers, such as the Providence Journal's Sean McAdam, have said that Rice's chances have been improved in recent years with the exposure of the "Steroids Era" in baseball. In the same article, McAdam expanded this subject by adding "In an era when power numbers are properly viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion, Rice's production over the course of his 16 years gains additional stature. Rice's numbers are very good -- 382 homers, 1,451 RBI -- and best of all, they're not the least bit tainted." As such, Rice has received increasingly more votes each year since the 2003 ballot, improving his vote totals by almost 90 votes over the span of 4 years. However, from several sabermetric standpoints it is viewed that Jim Rice falls short of his peers in the Hall of Fame.
During the 2007 season, the Pawtucket Red Sox started a campaign to get Rice inducted which includes having fans sign "the World's Largest Jim Rice Jersey."