Nov. 7, 1978: Rice named AL MVP

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

It took one of the greatest offensive seasons in American League history to earn Jim Rice the Most Valuable Player Award in 1978.

On Nov. 7, 1978, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced that the Red Sox slugging outfielder had won the AL MVP, earning 20 first-place votes compared to eight for runner-up Ron Guidry of the Yankees. The final point margin of 352 to 291 was not as close as some expected, given Guidry’s incredible 25-3 season on the mound.

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But Rice was simply that good.

“The vote was taken over a month ago,” said Rice, who attended a benefit in Las Vegas for boxer Joe Louis the day the award was announced. “I couldn’t do anything to change it.”

He already had.

Rice led all of baseball in 1978 in hits (213), triples (15), home runs (46), RBI (139), slugging percentage (.600) and total bases (406). During a summer that saw the Red Sox lose a huge lead to the Yankees in the American League East standings and then rebound to force a one-game playoff, the 25-year-old Rice was widely acknowledged as the most dangerous hitter in the game.

He played in every one of the Red Sox’s 163 games that year. And in the season’s final days, Rice led Boston to eight straight wins to force the playoff game – hitting .303 with eight runs scored, four homers and six RBI.

Ultimately, Guidry and the Yankees won the one-game playoff and eventually the World Series. But Rice’s incredible season gave him the advantage when the hardware was handed out in November.

“I’m thrilled about it,” Rice told The Boston Globe after learning he had won the MVP award. “But just because you win the MVP one year, that doesn’t mean you’ve established yourself. I’ve got to do it every year.

“But this was an exceptional one. You don’t find many years like that.”

The numbers back up that statement.

Rice became the first AL player with at least 400 total bases since Joe DiMaggio in 1937. No AL player has done it since.

In an era where pitchers regularly won MVPs, the voters appeared to be ahead of their time when considering Rice’s season. Three AL pitchers – Denny McLain, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers – won the league’s MVP between 1968 and 1981, but Rice’s everyday excellence topped Guidry’s mound superiority in 1978.

The “everyday player” argument is a common theme among award voters in the 21st century.

“It’s too bad that we both had such good years. But that’s the way it happens,” Rice told The Globe. “There was a lot of competition for the award. I would say that being the everyday player made the difference.”

Rice would go on to have a similar season in 1979, hitting a career-best .325 with 39 home runs, 130 RBI and 369 total bases.

An eight-time All-Star, Rice retired following the 1989 season and earned election to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series