Finally in the Hall of Fame, Jim Rice wants nothing to do with the debate over whether Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds belong, too.
“I’m not in the situation to vote for the guys and I’m not going to put myself in the situation where I have to answer that question because I think you as the media, you’ve got to judge that,” Rice said.
“You should know players that are on steroids, that have been on steroids — and two players that have NEVER been on steroids.”
With that, the Boston Red Sox slugger leaned over Tuesday and wrapped his arm around Rickey Henderson’s shoulder as both players broke into laughter.
Cooperstown classmates this year, Rice and Henderson sat side-by-side for a news conference at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel one day after they were elected to the Hall.
“I think you’re looking at two players that probably could’ve played at any time,” Rice said proudly.
Henderson, a member of nine teams during his 25-year career, will go in with an Oakland Athletics cap on his plaque. Baseball’s career leader in runs scored and stolen bases, he had four separate stints with the A’s, playing for his hometown club in 14 seasons.
Rice stayed with the Red Sox his entire career, literally following in the left-field footsteps of Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway Park.
In fact, Yaz was the last left fielder voted to Cooperstown (1989) until Henderson and Rice got the call Monday. Henderson scooted in on his first try, Rice in his 15th and final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.
McGwire, however, fell far short.
Stigmatized by accusations he used performance-enhancing drugs, the power-hitting first baseman received 118 votes (21.9 percent) in his third year of eligibility. That was down from the 128 votes he got in each of his first two tries and way below the 75 percent needed for induction.
Henderson, who played with McGwire in Oakland, supported his former teammate and didn’t disparage Clemens or Bonds, either.
A federal grand jury has been asked to determine whether Clemens lied under oath last year when he told Congress he did not use illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds is scheduled for a March trial on charges he lied to a federal grand jury in 2003 when he denied knowingly using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
“I played with Mark McGwire, played against Barry Bonds, batted against Roger Clemens, and to me they all (were) great ballplayers,” Henderson said. “Steroids came in, I had no clue about steroids. Didn’t even know that guys were using steroids.”
Clemens and Bonds are slated to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2013, a landmark year that would also include first-timers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa.
Rice said he’s never lifted weights — “My dad was big” — and his favorite thing to do in a game was hold an opponent to a single on a ball hit off Fenway’s Green Monster. He thinks the Red Sox will retire his No. 14.
The 50-year-old Henderson said he could still help a major league team if it called looking for a leadoff hitter. He thinks even today he could “outsteal” most of the speedsters in the game. He said most of those amusing tales about him aren’t true, and he called manager Billy Martin a “father figure.”
Afterward, Rice and Henderson read the Top Ten List on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
The pair will be inducted into the Hall during ceremonies July 26 in Cooperstown. They’ll be joined by former New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, elected posthumously last month by the Veterans Committee.
Gordon will be depicted on his plaque wearing a Yankees cap. He played seven of his 11 seasons in New
York, winning four of his five World Series championships and the 1942 AL MVP award.
An exhibit on the Cooperstown class of 2009 will open in Cooperstown this spring, Hall president Jeff Idelson said.
One piece of memorabilia that’s missing is the home plate Henderson crossed when he scored his 2,246th run, breaking Ty Cobb’s career record. Henderson said he and San Diego Padres chairman John Moores went out to the field the following day and dug up the plate as a keepsake.