Rice has number retired at Fenway

Rice has number retired at Fenway

BOSTON -- To this day, Jim Rice is curious why the Red Sox never reissued the No. 14 he wore with such pride for 16 seasons.

In the opinion of the ever-modest Anderson, S.C., native, he'd had a nice career, one that included 382 home runs, 1,451 RBIs and 2,452 hits. But it was nothing special, Rice thought, and certainly not deserving of a place in Red Sox lore.

On Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the eight-time All-Star left fielder learned that the only organization he played for respectfully disagreed with his assessment.

In a tribute to his brilliant career, the Red Sox retired Rice's No. 14 in a pregame ceremony that came two days after the former slugger was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"He was one of the most dominating offensive players in the game," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "I viewed him like a Sandy Koufax -- one of the best, but for a shorter period of time."

The seventh Red Sox player to have his number retired by the franchise, Rice joins Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Johnny Pesky (6), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9) and Carlton Fisk (27).

"It's meaningful," Rice said. "When you talk about being in the category with two left fielders like Williams and Yaz, and playing your entire career in one city, that means a lot."

Tuesday's festivities capped a whirlwind of a week for Rice, who did not expect his number to be retired so shortly after being inducted into the Hall.

"Once you accept your credentials of being a Hall of Famer, you think your number is going to be retired, but not this soon," Rice said. "I would have liked to have a little bit of breathing time, but if you're going to do it, why not today?"

After emerging from his former stomping grounds, which featured an enlarged version of the No. 14 in the left-field grass, Rice hugged former mentee Nomar Garciaparra along the third-base line before making his way to home plate. He then addressed the Fenway faithful and acknowledged those who helped define him as a player -- and a man.

Among those on hand were Rice's family members and former teammates Dennis Eckersley, Dwight Evans, Fisk, Fred Lynn and Bob Stanley.

Yet none of those supporters were chosen to unveil Rice's No. 14 along the right-field façade. That responsibility belonged to Pesky, a man who impacted Rice's career like no other.

"He wasn't raising that number for me," Rice said of his former coach. "He was raising it for us. Johnny Pesky was a father figure to me."

A fixture in the Boston organization for decades, Rice is revered among current Red Sox players.

"It's not too many times a guy gets inducted into the Hall of Fame," left fielder Jason Bay said. "After what Jim did here in Boston, he deserves it. He's here all the time keeping things loose. Every team has guys who have meant a lot to the city, but I don't think a lot of the teams have the pleasure of having those guys around on a daily basis. He's almost like an extended part of the team."

Rice's number is now part of a select bunch that includes the greatest players in franchise history.

"Before you get to Cooperstown, you have to wear this number and put numbers on the board," Rice said. "This was my life. The Red Sox gave me an opportunity. They drafted me and took a big chance drafting me, because they could have taken somebody else.

"By having your number retired with some of the greats out there who are also Hall of Famers, and knowing you played for this organization, it can't get any better than that."

And yet, there were times when Rice never thought such an honor was possible.

"I asked [equipment manager] Joe Cochran, 'Why didn't you give my number away?'" Rice recalled. "I had pretty good numbers, but I didn't think I was going to be good enough as far as the Red Sox retiring my number. Normally when someone leaves, they give their number away, and I expected someone to have my number at some point.

"But he never gave it away."

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.