Boggs hits his way to the Hall
Twelve-time All-Star gains entry on first try
TAMPA -- One of the most superstitious men ever to play the game of baseball got the call at 12:26 p.m."That was perfect because I wore No. 12 in New York and Tampa Bay and I wore No. 26 in Boston," Wade Boggs said. He even had his trademark meal of chicken before the call arrived, in hopes that it would ensure a positive message about the results of the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. But when the big call finally came, Boggs didn't believe it. "The phone had started to ring at about 8:30 a.m. from friends and well wishers," Boggs said. "So when Jack (O'Connell of the BBWAA) called, Jack said, 'Congratulations you are in the Hall of Fame,' and I thought it was one of my friends pulling a joke on me. It went on like that for a few more minutes. Finally, (Jeff Idelson of the Hall of Fame) said, 'Boggsy, it's official, you are in.' That's when it sunk in." Wade Boggs is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
| 2005 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
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No doubts about Class of 2005
Boggs hits his way to the Hall
Ryno charges into Hall of Fame
Red Sox lavish praise on Boggs
Rays react to Boggs Hall call
From Beantown to Bronx to Hall
Sutter closing in on Hall of Fame
Boggs is fans' favorite to make Hall
"I'm so honored and it's so special," Boggs said. "I'm overwhelmed. It's been kind of crazy around here. My mind right now is like a rolodex, thinking of all the people who have helped me along the way."But then, all Boggs had to do was look around him on Tuesday afternoon to start with those supporters who helped him most. It was all he could do to hold back the tears. "My family has been great," Boggs said. "My mom (who died in 1986) is here in spirit. My wife (Debbie), we've been together 28 years. She's been through snow storms in Boston, (World Series) champagne rides in New York and flowers (for his 3,000th hit) in Tampa Bay. And if she hadn't cooked the chicken all that time, I wouldn't be up here." Boggs thanked his children (Brett and Meagann) too, but saved special mention for his dad, Win. "My father has been my hitting coach all my life," Boggs said. "He coached me in Little League and even threw me out of a game once for throwing my bat. I was 15 and had just struck out but I threw that bat against the fence and let the umpire know in no uncertain terms that the pitch was a ball. "On my way back to the bench, my father said, 'That's it son, you're out of the game.' In those days, you didn't question 'The Sarge,' but I had to know why he did that. We had a long talk on the way home and he let me know that the bat didn't cause me to strike out or my helmet. And that there's a proper way for a player to behave. I never forgot that. There were many times in the Major Leagues I wanted to throw my bat but didn't." Boggs said his dad also fielded his son's calls every other day in his five-year trip through the minor leagues. "I called him late one day to tell him I had gone 4-for-12 in an extra-inning game the night before and all he wanted to know about was the eight outs," Boggs said. "He could tell from the outs that I made how I was swinging. He was going to correct my outs over the phone." Boggs could not say enough about his 79-year-old father. "He's the reason why I'm around," Boggs said. "He was there every phone call in the minors. He made me throw right handed. He was one of my biggest backers. The tears are flowing but they are tears of joy. The one person you thank throughout the whole journey is the man who made it possible and that's my dad." Boggs was named on 474 of 516 ballots, or 91.9 percent, cast by voting members of the BBWAA. His vote total was the third-highest in the history of the voting. "It's mind-boggling to be put in the same category as a Nolan Ryan or a George Brett," Boggs said. "I was just hoping for the 75 percent. But when you talk about almost 92 percent, and a vote total surpassed by only two players, that's the overwhelming part. It's recognition for the kind of love I had for the game, for the kind of drive I had and dedication I had. "But, honestly, I never dreamed of making it into the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to play in the Big Leagues. I just thought of myself as a good player who had a good career. Very few people go to Cooperstown. When you talk about the Hall of Fame, it's all the forefathers who made this game what it is today." In 1976, while playing his first year of pro ball in Elmira, N.Y., Boggs and a couple of his teammates used an off day to visit the plaques commemorating those forefathers. "It was a wonderful, quaint place, quite memorable," Boggs said. "And you start thinking, wow, if I could ever make it to the Big Leagues, this is where all the great players go. That would be great. It's a special place. "But the Big Leagues was such a long shot at that time that getting into the Hall of Fame was as far away as Mercury and Pluto." His hitting is what got Boggs to his destination. For 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, his skills at the plate propelled him to five batting titles, 12 All-Star appearances and seven 200-hit seasons in a row. By the end, he had collected 3,010 hits and a .328 lifetime average. "I knew I would take a lot of criticism for not being a power hitter," Boggs said. "But I'm happy with the numbers." Boggs started his career as a Boston Red Sox, pounding hits toward the Green Monster. After joining the Yankees, he celebrated a 1996 World Series with a memorable ride on horseback. Then, as a Devil Ray late in his career, he drilled a home run for his 3,000th hit before kneeling down and kissing home plate. "The way you want to be remembered is this: Each and every day that Wade Boggs put on a uniform, I went out and played 110 percent and gave everything I had," Boggs said. "Whether it was breaking up a double play or getting a hit for a win, I hope that's the way I will be remembered." His bust in Cooperstown, N.Y. will display a Red Sox cap, a decision made by the Hall. And that is just right because, from the very beginning, Boggs idolized the great hitters of the game, starting with Ted Williams. Boggs read Williams' book on the science of hitting and then got to know the man himself. Boggs went hunting and fishing with Williams many times but doesn't recall how they fared because they always talked about hitting a baseball. They discussed the poetry of a sweet swing, the gift of great vision which allowed both men to detect the rotation of a pitched ball, and the hint of fire in the air after the bat struck the ball just right. "I read (Williams') book when I was a junior in high school," Boggs said. "The game was something that appealed to me quite a bit. It was just you against the pitcher. No one can throw a block for you or set a pick. It's you against him. "I was blessed with really good eyesight and really good hand-eye coordination. And I had the ability to turn it into a chess a match, to turn it against the pitcher. Beating the guy out on the mound was the common goal." Boggs accomplished many impressive feats during his career. In his 11 seasons with the Red Sox, he led the league in hitting five times, ranging from .357 in 1986 to .368 in 1985. He led the American League in hits, with 240, in 1985. In 1988, Boggs led the league in runs scored, with 128, and doubles, with 45. In 1989, he led the AL in runs scored again, with 113, and in doubles again, with 51. Six times, he led the league in on-base percentage and six times he led the league in intentional walks. Boggs was a hit machine, able to guide the ball seemingly where he wanted. He stayed fairly healthy throughout his career and had a career-high 24 homers and 89 RBIs (along with a .363 average) in 1987. "Fenway Park was built for my hitting style," Boggs said. "Early on, I just need to get a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger to utilize it as a weapon. I don't think there's a better place to hit than Fenway Park." Boggs also was a 12-time All-Star but two of the honors he cherished the most were his Gold Gloves, earned while he was with the Yankees in 1994 and 1995. "Getting those was special," Boggs said in December. "Especially after so many people had told me I couldn't play third base in the Major Leagues. I loved to prove people wrong. I did what I had to do to accomplish that. I have to thank (the doubters) as much as I have to thank everyone who supported me because I might have gotten complacent." In 1996, Boggs helped the Yankees start a run of four World Series Championships in five years as the New Yorkers topped the Braves in six games. After the last out, Boggs promptly climbed on the back of a mounted policeman's horse and enjoyed a victory lap around Yankee Stadium. "It kind of goes back to the Yankees in 1994," Boggs said. "We had a great team in 1994 but didn't get a chance to prove it. It was the best team I had ever played on. Then in 1995, it was the last year for Don Mattingly. Every player wants on his resume to be a world champion. A lot of players never achieve that. "The drive that I had to get back (to the World Series) in 1996 made it possible. We never got flustered after being down 2-0 to Atlanta. We would not be denied. Back in Yankee Stadium for Game 6, after Girardi's hit, the place just erupted. I have no recollection of how I got up on the horse. Come to find out, a couple of policeman had helped me up. I was just proud to be called a champion. The good Lord said, "He deserves to be a World Champion.' "The World Series victory was right up at the top of the list (of memories)." In 1998, the Tampa native signed to play in the first season with the expansion Devil Rays. "Getting the 3,000th hit in front of friends and family, that was one of the reasons to come home and play," Boggs said. Boggs homered to right field off Cleveland's Chris Haney for his milestone hit. "That night was very special," Boggs said. "My son (Brett) was a bat boy. And my daughter made it back from a wedding in South Florida in time for the press conference (after the game)." But Boggs didn't just trot around the bases after his heralded hit and head for the dugout. He stopped, knelt in the batter's box and kissed home plate. "I don't know why I did that," Boggs said. "I had run over it so much, I just stopped. It was spontaneous. It was just of those things that just happened." It was at that point in time that Boggs had to take a look at the big picture. "I first started thinking about the Hall of Fame on Aug. 7, 1999," Boggs said. "That's the first time I felt like I had good enough numbers to qualify for the Hall of Fame." Boggs retired after that season and tried his hand as the Rays' hitting coach. But he found that trying to teach professional players to hit the ball did not offer the same rewards as hitting the ball himself. Since then, Boggs, now 46, has done as much fishing and hunting as he could fit in. And he has become the assistant baseball coach at Wharton High School in North Tampa in order to work with Brett, an outfielder. They could have practiced again on Tuesday, but instead, the entire Boggs family took a day to reflect. "When someone says you are one of the best to have ever played baseball, when you put that in perspective, it's overwhelming," Boggs said. "To think about becoming one of the 258 best, and I played against many of those guys, it's very special. "This is the day that a lot of great players live for."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.