EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 24, 2009

Rice owes gratitude to Dick Bresciani

Sox PR man helped drive to Hall of Fame

Bill Burt

Sometimes you need a little luck along the way, especially if you get your "Big Prize," whatever that prize may be.

For Jim Ed Rice, he finally gets what he has waited for after more than a decade of a some painful times waiting.

Rice will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday. Two days later, he will have his number, 14, officially retired at a ceremony at Fenway Park.

Among the people Rice will graciously thank, which will include family, former teammates and Hall of Famers who have rooted him on, will be this man: Dick Bresciani.

You probably never heard of Bresciani. He is the former media relations director for the Red Sox, first as an assistant from 1972 and then as the lead guy in 1981, before retiring in 1997. He has remained with the team since as an historian, also overseeing publications, archives and alumni relations.

You could make an argument that Bresciani might be the most important person, outside of Rice, to help make these next few special days happen.

It was near the beginning of 2005 that Bresciani met with then Vice President of Public Affairs, Charles Steinberg. The topic of Rice's failed Hall of Fame bid came up.

Rice got 307 votes, 80 shy of what was needed to the necessary 75 percent for induction.

"We were talking that it was a shame, that maybe we should do something," said Bresciani. "Charles said I should take some time and come up with some numbers, to see if we could prove his case."

There was never any discussion about this endeavor with Rice, probably because Rice would have nixed it.

"I never told him anything," said Bresciani. "I believe he heard it from other people. Jim is not the kind of guy that would go out selling himself. He just wouldn't do it. So we knew we had to do it."

Bresciani contacted a former intern of his, Dan Berger, who was a devout baseball statistician. A few weeks later, Berger put together some numbers.

"I couldn't believe it," said Bresciani. "I really thought Jim belonged in the Hall of Fame. But when I saw the numbers, compared to guys that were already in the Hall of Fame, I knew we had to do something. When you consider Jim's combination of power and average, he was right there with some legends.

"He also had those three dominating years, from 1977 to 1979, in which he was the best hitter in the game," said Bresciani. "He also finished in the top five of the MVP voting six times. That's unheard of for a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame. And then, of course, he was durable. He wanted to play every night."

Bresciani also courted two of his underlings with the Red Sox, Rod Oreste and Henry Mahegan, and they helped Berger put together a packet of stats, graphics and boxes to prove the case for Rice as well as acquire several hundred e-mail addresses of prospective voters.

While Rice's climb from 59.5 percent in 2005 to 72.2 percent (75 percent was needed) in 2008 was nice, some wondered if it was too little too late, Goose Gossage went in alone after the 2008 vote.

But along came the topic of all topics in baseball: steroids. All of a sudden, the few stragglers seemed to come Rice's way.

"We have confirmed, through e-mails and phone calls, that six guys changed their votes altogether based on our presentation," said Bresciani.

How important were those six?

Well, Rice finally made it in January, passing the 405-vote threshold by seven votes. Quite possibly, without Bresciani's push, Rice might have missed by five votes.

"We don't know if we turned people off, which happens sometimes when you try to promote someone," said Bresciani. "I don't think we did, but you never know."

What Bresciani does know is that Rice was very appreciative of their cause on his behalf.

"He called me the day he got the phone call and thanked me for helping him," said Bresciani. "I told him it wasn't just me, but three other guys. Jim asked for their numbers and he thanked all of them personally that night."

Rice, who was contacted on Wednesday night while in the NESN studio, doing his post-game analyzing, said Bresciani always had a knack for calling them like he saw them.

"I was very lucky to have someone like Bresh who traveled with the ball club and saw what went on, day-in and day-out," said Rice. "He was almost like a player himself, he knew so much about the game. The thing that impressed me is that he saw the shoes I was trying to fill (Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams). He knew what it took to be out there, and he was able to pass that on to today's writers. I am very grateful."

Bresciani leaves today for Cooperstown. He has made the trek to see Yaz, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs in the past. But this one is a little extra special.

"I wouldn't have done the work if I didn't think he deserved it," said Bresciani. "I'm very proud of Jim Rice."

Here's a guess ... the feeling is mutual.

You can e-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.