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Numbers back up Boggs

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 15, 2012
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — He spends his days as a high school baseball coach and he’s often away on African safari. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs has a full head of hair these days and occasionally the Tampa native makes his way to Tropicana Field for an autograph signing at the Ted Williams Museum.

Boggs, 54, spent 11 seasons with the Red Sox and entered the Hall of Fame in 2005 wearing a Red Sox cap, yet his No. 26 has not been retired by the team.

“I’m the only Hall of Famer whose number has not been retired [by the team whose cap is shown on the plaque],” Boggs said. “Fergie [Jenkins] and I were the last two, but now Fergie is in [with the Cubs]. That leaves me. It’s disappointing.”

We called Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, to ask whether all living Hall of Famers have had their numbers retired, and the research was ongoing.

“I remember my dad and I discussed the cap thing after I was voted in and we discussed all three caps — the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays. I won a championship with the Yankees, I grew up in Tampa and played for the Rays at the end of my career, and that stuff about Mr. [Vince] Naimoli [former team owner] offering me $1 million to go in as a Ray just never was going to happen. It was clear we wanted to go as a Red Sox because this is where I started my baseball career, where I grew up, where I had my best seasons as a player,” Boggs said.

Is it because he became a Yankee that he’s viewed with such ambivalence by the Red Sox organization?

“I never wanted to be a Yankee, anyway,” Boggs said. “I remember we were sitting in a car in the parking lot at Fenway and Mrs. [Jean] Yawkey came over and she told Debbie and I, and Debbie was right there with me, that she wanted me to be a Red Sox for the rest of my career. This was late in the season in 1991. She offered me a seven-year, $51 million deal, which at the time was a huge deal. I said, ‘Mrs. Yawkey, I’ll sign this right now.’ She said John Harrington will be in touch with you.

“Then, Mrs. Yawkey passed away a few months later. I asked John whether the deal was still on the table and he said it wasn’t. They offered me a year and an option and at that point I knew things had changed because they reminded me they had Scott Cooper. At that point I was going to move on,” said Boggs, who signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Yankees on Dec. 15, 1992, and spent five seasons with New York.

Over the years, Boggs has returned to Fenway for various events. He has been told by the Red Sox that his career does not meet the team’s criteria for having a number retired: a player must have spent at least 10 years with the Red Sox and finished his career in Boston.

Yet the Red Sox made an exception for Carlton Fisk, who spent his first 11 years with the Red Sox and then his final 13 with the White Sox. Through some gimmick of employing him as a special assistant to the GM, the team rationalized that he met the criteria and now his No. 27 is affixed with the other retired numbers on the facade in right field.

Since departing, Boggs has watched many Red Sox players wear his No. 26, including Lou Merloni, Scott Podsednik, Ramiro Mendoza, Wes Chamberlain, Freddy Sanchez, and Lee Tinsley.

Boggs was a .328 career hitter who won five batting titles, all with averages between .357 and .368. He accumulated 3,010 hits, had a career .415 on-base percentage and .858 OPS, and won two Gold Gloves.

He hit .338 with the Red Sox and .313 with the Yankees (as well as .289 with the Rays). He hit .369 at Fenway with a .464 on-base percentage and a .991 OPS.

Should his number be retired? Of course it should. It’s a no-brainer. For all the pomp and circumstance the Red Sox bring to celebrations of every kind, the fact that this one hasn’t transpired is mind-boggling.

If Boggs had played during the Moneyball era his offense would have been revered. His numbers were certainly recognized anyway and he worked as hard as any player to make himself a Hall of Famer. Not bad for a seventh-round pick who spent six years in the minors before getting his shot at age 24. He worked hard at his defense, winning Gold Gloves in 1994 and ‘95 while in his mid-30s.

He also hit .301 in his final season, as a 41-year-old part-time player with the Rays in 1999.

Maybe people remember Boggs more for the Margo Adams scandal or him riding a police horse at Yankee Stadium when New York won the 1996 World Series.

And he was a lightning rod for debate before OBP was in vogue. Some people thought he was a selfish player because he only cared about getting on base, even though he had the ability to hit home runs. His only big power season was 1987, when he hit 24 homers and knocked in 89 runs and still managed to lead the American League with a .363 average and a 1.049 OPS.

He was one of the greatest pure hitters you’ll ever see.

He deserved induction into Cooperstown on the first ballot, with 91.9 percent of the vote. And his No. 26 deserves to be among the retired numbers at Fenway because hitters like Wade Boggs don’t come along very often.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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