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Wade Boggs: 2005 Hall of Fame inductee

Nothing average about five-time batting champ

Wade Boggs goes into the Hall of Fame today, representing the Red Sox, and stirring memories of a wild and wacky time in Boston baseball.

So much happened in the 11 seasons Boggs played for the Red Sox. The Sox finished first three times and came within one strike of winning the World Series in 1986. Boggs played with Jerry Remy and Carl Yastrzemski. He won fi ve batting titles for the Sox, hitting .361 or better four times. He cracked 200 or more hits in seven straight seasons and holds the second-highest Red Sox career batting average (.338), trailing only Ted Williams.

He played in Boston when the Celtics were king and the Patriots struggled to put fans in their dismal old stadium. He played for Ralph Houk, John McNamara, Joe Morgan, and Butch Hobson. He played before the construction of the .406 Club, and he claimed the monstrosity behind home plate made it harder to hit the ball over the right-field wall.

We always felt as if we knew a lot about him, sometimes too much. Boggs once told us that he willed himself invisible to escape from a knife fi ght in Florida. He showed us tire tracks on his forearm and explained that he fell out of the family jeep when his wife, Debbie, was wheeling out of a restaurant parking lot in Winter Haven. He ate chicken every day, took exactly 150 grounders beforeevery game, scratched the Hebrew ‘‘chai’’ sign (Boggs is not Jewish) in the batter’s box before every at-bat, and got into hissing contests with more than a few teammates. A former mistress slapped him with a palimony suit, and before that one was over, Wade and Debbie were on the couch with Barbara Walters — baseball’s Bill and Hillary.

‘‘It’s not like I killed the president,’’ protested Boggs. When he used the ‘‘sex addict’’ defense, teammate Oil Can Boyd, who had battled his own demons publicly, asked, ''Who needs the psychiatrist now?"

''I was always on the back page," Boggs acknowledged in a wide-ranging interview as he prepared for today's induction along with Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. ''You guys [media] like quotes. When you wanted something honest I gave it to you and everybody else sugarcoated it, or wouldn't tell you, or they'd go into the trainer's room. Every time you came to me, I told you what was wrong. You guys loved that."

There were on-field controversies. Boggs was accused of being selfish. Some teammates grumbled that he cared only about his stats, that he wouldn't give himself up and move a runner over, that he wouldn't try to hit homers if it meant sacrificing his average. Roger Clemens once groused about Boggs sitting out games at the end of 1986 to protect his lead over Don Mattingly in the race for the batting title. Meanwhile, Boggs's candor and accessibility got him in trouble and was used against him. He did not hide from the media and didn't mince words.

All of the above too often caused us to do what Boggs never did -- take our eye off the ball.

We sometimes forgot to marvel at what he was doing. Let's take 1987, for example. In that season, Boggs hit .363 while also hitting 24 homers. There were times it looked as if he were throwing the ball from the batter's box, aiming line shots over the shortstop's head and into left-center. He was a lefthanded batter with an inside-out swing made for Fenway Park. Lacking speed, quickness, and raw power, he had sensational vision and hand-eye coordination. Always on base, refusing to swing at the first pitch, rarely chasing a ball out of the strike zone, he was actually born too soon. Wade Boggs would have been a stat geek's god had he played for the Red Sox during the Theo Epstein Administration.

''I invented 'moneyball,' " said Boggs. ''Now they're paying $16 million to guys, but back when I played I was being chastised in arbitration for getting on base 300 times. They were saying I don't help the ball club. In those days, the greatest formula in arbitration was home runs, runs, and RBIs."

Boggs played five seasons for the Yankees after leaving Boston, winning a pair of Gold Gloves and a World Series ring in New York. He finished his career back home with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, cracking his 3,000th hit (a homer, of all things) in 1999. He was elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, receiving the third-highest vote total since balloting began in 1936.

''It's the highest honor any baseball player can receive," Boggs said. ''There's no other silver bat, Gold Glove, or MVP that means more than this. When you look at 198 players in 103 years, that's a pretty elite club. It's an exclusive club. You've got to do quite a few things in order to get to this club. It's just not handed to everyone.

''The only time you can think about making it to the Hall of Fame is if you are close to 300 victories, 500 home runs, or 3,000 hits. The only time the Hall of Fame ever came into my mind was probably the time I was rounding first going into second when I hit my home run for my 3,000th hit. I thought, 'Well, there's my ticket. If anybody wants to vote for me for Cooperstown then I've got the credentials to get in.' But getting in is another thing because there's a lot of great players who aren't in and done so much for the game. It's astounding. [Bert] Blyleven. [Bruce] Sutter. You can keep going. And the way that I did it, by getting the third-all-time amount of votes, just says that the writers respected the game that I played. That was the biggest thrill that I got -- being recognized for the game that I played."

Seventy-nine-year-old Winn Boggs will be in Cooperstown, N.Y., today to see his son enshrined. Boggs's mother, Sue, was killed in a car accident in the summer of 1986. When he delivers his remarks from the podium this afternoon, Wade will save his tribute to his mom for last. And he promises there will be tears.

Military upbringingWade Boggs's parents married two weeks after they met in 1945. Winn was a career military man who served with the Marines in World War II and flew for the Air Force in Korea. Winn and Sue's third child, Wade, was born in Omaha, June 15, 1958. The boy loved the routines of a military household, doing everything at the same time every day. Wade's father didn't retire from the service until 1967, and the Hall of Famer remembers that his mother did a lot of the driving and cheering from the bleachers in his early years.

Wade's folks kept a photograph of his batting stance when he was only 18 months old and folklore holds that Williams once looked at the picture and roared, ''That kid's got a hell of a stance! Everything's perfect! He ought to become a great hitter!"

Winn was stationed at a base in Savannah, Ga., when Wade was young and instructed his boy on weekends. Winn played fast-pitch softball for 25 years and always wanted his son to consider swinging at the first pitch. It was the only lesson young Wade rejected and it would become a family joke as years passed and Wade became one of the best hitters of his time.

The family moved to Tampa when Wade was 11 and he starred at HB Plant High School. He hit .522 in his junior season, earning national recognition. He also played quarterback for the football team, but when scouts started calling, Wade and Winn agreed that it would be a mistake to risk injury on the gridiron in his senior season. He agreed to stick around as a leftfooted placekicker/punter and earned All-State honors and a football scholarship offer from South Carolina. But baseball was his game.

Boggs's senior season proved to be the first of many challenges. Scouts started coming to his games and pitchers wouldn't give him anything to hit, and he started to chase balls out of the strike zone and opened the season hitting .111. His father knew just what to do: Winn Boggs went to the Tampa Public Library and checked out ''The Science of Hitting" by Ted Williams and put it on Wade's bed. The ardent student went 26 for 32 the rest of the way and finished at .485.

Still, pro scouts were dubious. Some players are showcase thoroughbreds. They have size and speed and cannon-like arms. They can demonstrate five tools in a 20-minute workout. Imagine looking at a 16-year-old Vladimir Guerrero and you get the picture. What can't be measured quickly is plate approach and plate discipline. And then there's a player's internal makeup, toughness, and desire -- skills that don't show up on a stopwatch or tape measure. Boggs had everything he needed to become a big league ballplayer, but little of it could be seen by watching him play a couple of games. The Major League Scouting Bureau labeled him a nonprospect. The Bureau would not be the last to doubt his potential.

Luckily, veteran Red Sox scout George Digby saw something. At Digby's urging, the Sox drafted Boggs in the seventh round in 1976 and the club signed him for $7,500. He left home two days later and hit .263 for Elmira of the New York-Penn League. He would not hit below .300 again until 1992, his final season with the Red Sox.

Of every 10 young men who sign professional baseball contracts, only one gets to play in the big leagues. Boggs has a theory about the odds and the process.

''I look at it on the funnel basis," he said. ''A lot of guys go in at the top, but the one in 10 comes out at the end. The other nine might have more ability, but the one has everything makeupwise, maybe not abilitywise. I was told in the minor leagues that I'll never play third in the big leagues. That I don't hit for power so I'm not going to play in the big leagues. I'm not fast enough. I was told so many different things. There are so many intangibles. People kept saying that I can't do this and I can't do that."

Perseverance pays Boggs played six years in the minors. He lingered there, not because he couldn't hit, but because the Sox convinced themselves early that he was not a major leaguer. Boggs's first pro manager, Dick Berardino, now 68 and still with the organization as a consultant, admits that he thought Boggs would never make it to the bigs. The book was out: too slow, not enough power, below-average defensively.

A lot of young men would have given up. Not Boggs. He loved playing baseball and he had the hope of fulfilling his dream. So he just kept hitting and working. It didn't really get depressing until 1981, when he led the International League in hitting (.335), then failed to get called up in September. He was 23 and had six minor league seasons under his belt. He also had a wife and a 5-year-old daughter (Meagann).

''The only thing I ever wanted to do was play professional baseball and in the minors I was getting paid to play so I didn't get discouraged," he remembered. ''But the big thing I wanted was to have one day in the big leagues. In 1981, I won the batting title and they called nine guys up to the big club and I wasn't one of them. I said, 'I really don't know what they want.' On the last day, [Pawtucket manager] Joe Morgan called and said, 'Why don't you work out at first base in the offseason?' I wound up going to Puerto Rico to play first, but the day before we started, the third baseman broke his ankle so I played third, wound up hitting .374, and making the All-Star team. After that, the Sox put me on the 40-man roster and invited me to spring training."

In 1982, Carney Lansford was the Red Sox third baseman and he was the reigning American League batting champ. This didn't leave much room for Boggs, but the 23-year-old minor league warrior played great defense when he spelled Lansford in the Grapefruit games and new manager Houk was impressed. On the last day of spring training, Houk summoned Boggs, complimented his defense, and told him he'd made the club as a utility infielder.

The '82 Sox opened the season in Chicago, but inclement weather wiped out the games and Boggs didn't make his big league debut until a few days later in Baltimore, when he went 0 for 4 off Orioles starter Dennis Martinez.

''I hit four dribblers in the infield, all off changeups," he said.

Boggs got the first of his 3,010 big league hits off Chicago's Richard Dotson, but he didn't receive much playing time until Lansford was badly injured in a home plate collision with Tigers catcher Lance Parrish. Boggs went into the starting lineup the next day and hit .361 the rest of the season. His overall rookie batting average of .349 was (at the time) the highest ever recorded by an AL rookie playing in 100 or more games. He finished third in rookie of the year voting, trailing Cal Ripken Jr. and Kent Hrbek. Lansford was traded and the next year Boggs hit .361, winning the first of his batting titles and solidifying his status as one of the premier hitters in the game.

Established as a batting champ and AL All-Star, Boggs hit .368 in 1985, hitting an astounding .418 at Fenway Park. Teddy Ballgame (.428 in his .406 season of 1941) was the only Sox player to have a better year at Fenway.

The Sox were mediocre and boring in Boggs's first four seasons, finishing fifth with a symmetric 81-81 record in 1985. Then came 1986.

Buoyed by a 14-0 start from young righthander Roger Clemens, the 1986 Red Sox moved into first place May 23 and never relinquished the lead. Boggs was on his way to another batting title (.357) and the Sox were bound for the seventh game of the World Series.

Like the rest of his teammates, Boggs has vivid memories of the Game 6 near miss at Shea Stadium. He was standing at third base when Mookie Wilson's infamous grounder slipped between the legs of Bill Buckner. Boggs had doubled and scored in the top of the 10th when the Sox apparently clinched the game.

''I remember all of it," he said. ''In the bottom of that inning, we got two outs real quick. I glanced over my left shoulder and saw ''Congratulations, World Champion Boston Red Sox" on the scoreboard. Harry Wendelstedt was the third base umpire and he asked me to flip him my cap when we won. He said he collected 'em from World Series games. Then [Gary] Carter hit the bloop over short. Then [Kevin] Mitchell hit the jammer over second. Everything started. Then all of a sudden we're walking off the field and I said, 'See you tomorrow night, Harry.' "

The Sox lost Game 7 and as the Mets celebrated, Boggs wept in the Sox dugout. TV delivered the private scene around the world.

What few fans knew was that Boggs was crying over the memory of his mother. She'd been killed in June and he'd taken shelter in his game-day cocoon to escape the reality of her loss.

''The finality of the season tore me up," he said. ''I'd been OK as long as I had the game to preoccupy myself with. Then, when it was over, I was thinking, 'Now I've got to go home and when I walk in the house, she's not going to be there.' That's what's going on when you see the image of me in the dugout."

Bitter departure The Red Sox fielded competitive teams in the years after 1986 and Boggs, a perennial All- Star, continued to get 200 hits a year and won a couple more batting titles. In 1988 and '89, his widely publicized personal problems rocked the organization, but the hits kept on coming and the Sox finished first in '88 and '90.

Morgan managed Boggs at Pawtucket and again with the Red Sox from 1988-91. Morgan was sometimes frustrated when Boggs wouldn't swing at the first pitch in bases-loaded situations, but the skipper had no doubts about Boggs's ability with the bat.

''The guy never changed," said Morgan. ''He had unbelievable dedication. And he was the best two-strike hitter I've ever seen. He was very seldom fooled on a slow pitch. I used to notice that when the shortstop was in the hole, he'd hit a grounder up the middle, and when the shortstop was up the middle, he'd hit a single in the hole. I told him how lucky he seemed to be and he said, 'When I see the shortstop in the hole, I try to hit the outside of the ball. When he's up the middle, I hit the inside of the ball and slice it the other way.' "

Morgan was fired after the 1991 season, a year in which he had the Sox in contention in September. His parting words were, ''These guys aren't as good as everybody thinks they are." That proved prophetic when the Butch Hobson Sox of 1992 finished in last place with a 73-89 record. It was Boston's poorest showing since 1966, and it was the worst year of Boggs's career. He hit only .259.

It was the only time that Boggs seemed affected by outside forces. He'd been able to keep hitting through the snubs in the minors, the death of his mother, and the calamity of the palimony suit, but it wasn't until he felt betrayed by the Sox front office that he finally stopped hitting .300.

''The only bitter taste that I had with the Red Sox was with the way the front office handled that whole thing at the end," said Boggs. ''The thing that blew up everything was the death of Mrs. Yawkey. We had a five-year deal on the table and Mrs. Yawkey wanted me to sign that five- year deal. She told me in the parking lot at Fenway Park at the end of 1990. She said, 'We have a five-year deal on the table and we want you to sign and we're going to keep you in Boston because we want you to follow along the same lines as Ted and Carl.' She died in 1991. I still had a year left and she wound up dying and when she did, they pulled it off the table. We sat down and said, 'Where's the five-year deal?' and they said it was no longer on the table. It was John Harrington, John Donovan, Haywood Sullivan, and Lou Gorman. They said, 'Here's the deal -- a year and an option.' "

That was the end of Boggs in Boston. After the dismal 1992 season, he signed a three-year deal to play with the Yankees, and he won his two Gold Gloves in New York. He hit over .300 in his first four years with the Yankees. He hit .311 in 132 games for the 1996 world champions. Meanwhile, he was routinely booed in Boston and many Red Sox fans still haven't gotten over the sight of Boggs riding a police horse around Yankee Stadium after the clinching game of the '96 Fall Classic.

Of his time in Boston, he said, ''There's been a lot of water under the bridge. Everybody's gone. I still love the fans, love the city. I enjoyed my years in Boston. We went to the World Series in '86, playoffs in '88 and '90. We had winning teams. I got to play with Carl Yastrzemski two years. At his retirement, I was crying during the ceremony. I was thinking, wow, is this going to be me someday."

A father's pride After he finished with the Yankees in 1997, he returned home to Florida and played his final two seasons with the moribund Devil Rays. His 3,000th hit on Aug. 6, 1999, stands as the biggest moment in the history of the franchise.

Boggs was assistant general manager of the Rays in 2000, then put the uniform back on and served as hitting instructor in 2001. He enjoyed teaching young hitters -- until he noticed they weren't applying much of what he preached. After 2001, he left professional baseball and became a full-time father/coach to his high school-aged son.

Brett Boggs was born a month after the 1986 World Series. Debbie Boggs remembers being uncomfortably pregnant during the playoffs, and the five-hour flight to California for the ALCS was particularly torturous. Also pregnant at that time was Deb Clemens, who gave birth to Koby less than a month after Brett was born. In the spring of 2005, Brett Boggs and Koby Clemens were highly recruited baseball players. Brett, named after Hall of Famer George Brett, accepted a scholarship at the University of South Florida. Koby turned down a scholarship with the University of Texas and signed with the Houston Astros.

For the last four springs, Wade Boggs has coached his son as an assistant at Wharton High School in North Tampa. He's watched every at-bat and says he'll gracefully leave the bench and watch from the bleachers when Brett gets to college.

''He'll go as far as he can," said Wade. ''He'll give baseball what I gave it. Give everything you've got and let the cards fall. He's got the ability. He wants it. And now it's just whether or not he can keep going and cross those little bridges and not have any setbacks and pioneer his own way into his own name."

Wade Boggs still goes to the batting cage and is still at his playing weight of 205 pounds. And today he'll be flanked by his father and his son as he walks into Cooperstown.

''Any time a dad's son can make it to the big leagues, he's very proud," Wade said. ''And any time a dad can be represented in the Hall of Fame, it makes him even that more proud."

It's all part of what makes baseball the best game.

''Baseball is the only game that dads take their kids out in the backyard and play Wiffle ball or stickball or catch with," he said. ''You don't see a lot of dads getting in the local pickup football game. Some do, but everybody and every dad wants to take their young son to a ballgame and have a hot dog and soda and say, 'Look at this major leaguer,' and hopefully someday you can be out there. I think every kid that plays Little League has that dream of maybe one day being in the big leagues."

Wade Boggs made it to the big leagues. And now he has made it to the Hall of Fame. And after all that muddy Charles River water under the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, he goes into Cooperstown wearing the cap of the Boston Red Sox. Just like Yaz and Ted.

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