This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
If he were alive today, Sam Rice would be 121 years old. Though his playing days ended 77 years ago, the Sam Rice story remains one of the most fascinating in baseball history.
Born on February 20th, 1890 in Morocco Indiana, Edgar Charles “Sam” Rice endured a personal tragedy that changed the course of his life. His path to the big leagues was a bit unconventional, to say the least.
In his early 20’s, he worked several miles away from his home. A tornado ripped through the town where his wife, children, and parents lived, killing them and prompting Rice to leave Indiana as a result.
In an attempt to escape his past, he signed up with the Merchant Marines and began playing ball throughout the mid-west. In 1913 Rice enlisted with the United States Navy as the President Woodrow Wilson attempted to handle a Mexican revolution. Though he saw action, he also continued playing baseball when on leave. During this time he was eyed by the owner of a team in the Virginia League and his enlistment was purchased by the Petersburg Goobers.
Two years later Rice’s contract was again purchased, this time by the Washington Senators of Major League Baseball. For the next two decades, Sam Rice dominated the American League to the tune of a .322 batting average. In eight seasons over the course of his career his season average ranked among the top ten in the league. He ranked among the top 10 for hits in a season twelve times, twice leading the league in hits and collecting 200+ hits six times.
His 2,987 career hits remains the highest total for anyone in major league history that didn’t reach the immortal number of 3,000. There are multiple reports that Sam Rice wasn’t even aware of his hit total until after retirement. There was an attempt to bring Rice out of retirement some years later to collect the remaining thirteen hits, but the outfielder refused the offer.
In a February 1975 Baseball Digest issue, Shirley Povich wrote about the letter Sam Rice left after his death regarding his famous World Series catch. Click here to check it out!
In addition to his hitting prowess(his 2,271 singles are 14th all time), Rice was excellent on the base paths as well. His 184 career triples still rank 14th all time and his 498 doubles place him 53rd all time in that category. He once led the AL with 63 stolen bases in 1920 and his career total of 351 are good for 107th all time.
Sam Rice may best remembered for an over-the-wall catch during Game 3 of the 1924 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the eight inning he made a sprawling catch to rob Earl Smith of a home run. He tumbled into the stands and, though many disputed it, the umpires called Smith out. Rice himself wouldn’t comment on whether he caught the ball for the rest of his life, but he sent a letter to the National Baseball Hall of Fame to be opened upon his death and confirmed he had indeed caught the ball and maintained possession.
After retirement, Rice had to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963, nearly 30 years after his final season. Sam Rice passed away on October 13th, 1974 at the age of 84.
Also Born On This Day:
Livan Hernandez(b.1975) is a fifteen year major league veteran who has spent time with seven teams. The Cuban defector may be best known as a member of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins and the 2002 San Francisco Giants that reached the World Series. The half brother of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez was won 166 games throughout his career and has a 3.97 postseason ERA.
Shane Spencer(b.1973) played seven years in the big leagues as a backup outfielder and is best remembered as a key member of the New York Yankees team between 1998 and 2002. Since retiring following the 2004 season, Spencer has spent time coaching in the minor leagues.
Muddy Ruel(b.1896) was considered one of the best defensive catchers in the league during his career that started in 1915 and concluded in 1938. During that time he was a teammate with Sam Rice as they won a World Series title in 1925 with the Washington Senators, and Ruel scored the series winning run in Game 7 against the New York Giants. He also served as a battery mate of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson.