Phil Wood: An overdue honor for D.C. baseball legend Sam Rice

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On September 18, 1934, Sam Rice played his final major league game. Wearing a Cleveland uniform, he went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs in a 9-6 win over his previous team, the Washington Senators. He retired with a .322 average and 2,987 base hits, just 13 shy of the 3,000-hit club. His manager, longtime teammate Walter Johnson, offered him the chance to return in 1935 and get those hits but Rice declined, saying at age 44 it was time to go home to Maryland.

In 1963, Rice received the game's ultimate honor when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He passed away in 1974 at the age of 84. Six years later, the Washington Hall of Stars was established at RFK Stadium.

The Hall of Stars was an effort to recognize the great and near-great individuals who distinguished themselves on the D.C. athletic stage. That included professional and amateur athletes, some who had worn the uniforms of local teams and some who were simply born and bred here. Journalists and broadcasters were also part of that equation, along with some other peripheral luminaries who made their own mark on the city's sports scene.

It would certainly have been logical in 1980 to have made the players who'd already been inducted into the national halls of fame of their individual sports automatic inductees into the District's Hall, but they didn't do that. As a result, one of the great unsolved mysteries is how Rice managed to slip through the cracks until now.

Prior to today's game against the Reds, the Nationals will induct this year's class into the now-renamed Washington Sports Hall of Fame. Joining Rice -- who will be represented by his granddaughter Kim Topping -- are longtime voice of Washington baseball Bob Wolff (still working at 92); NBA legends Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing; former Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard; NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood of the Green Bay Packers; longtime Carroll High School coach Maus Collins; NHL Hall of Famer Mike Gartner of the Capitals; and George Michael, the iconic longtime broadcaster.

Beyond Rice's inexplicable absence from the Hall for so many years is how former expansion Senators general manager George Selkirk managed to be voted in.

Selkirk, who had succeeded Babe Ruth as Yankees' right fielder, joined the expansion club as general manager in 1963 and stayed until Bob Short bought the club in December 1968.

He never produced a winning record and other than trade Claude Osteen for Frank Howard, he did little to distinguish himself. Granted, he didn't have a lot to work with, but to receive a unique honor for what amounts to mediocrity seems a bit much, particularly when Rice was still unrecognized.

There's still no D.C. Sports Hall of Fame museum. In a city of great museums, a small facility at -- or near -- Nationals Park makes a lot of sense. As much sense, almost, as the long-overdue inclusion of Sam Rice.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner