From Beantown to Bronx to Hall
Boggs follows Ruth's path from Boston to Cooperstown
The B-movie that would chronicle the storied Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, from Bucky to Boone, now has another sequel.Babe (Ruth) has been joined by (Wade) Boggs as the only two position players to ever go from Beantown to the Bronx on their way to Cooperstown. Boggs had already established his Hall of Fame credentials through 11 seasons in Boston before signing with the Yankees as a free agent in 1993. And that, precisely, was the big obstacle to his acceptance in the Yankees family. But not to Gene Michael, who as presiding general manager recruited Boggs to replace Charlie Hayes at third base.
| 2005 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
Wade, Ryno are Hall choices
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
"His Boston background was no problem," recalled Michael on Tuesday morning. "Truth is, George [Steinbrenner] pushed for him. And he was a good choice for us."Steinbrenner was quick to salute Boggs' election, toasting him as "one of the greatest hitters that I have ever seen." In a statement issued by the club, Steinbrenner also said, "I compliment the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers Association of America for electing him on the first ballot. He is very deserving, and I could not be happier for Wade, [wife] Debbie and their family." "He could always hit," Michael said, "and we always selected hitters who would take a lot of pitches. He could grind out an at-bat. And a lot of people don't know he could run; he got a lot of leg hits." Still, the view from the clubhouse was shaded by cynicism. Boggs was a former Red Sox player and, much worse, was preceded by a reputation as a selfish Red Sox player. "When he came over, a lot of people were telling us he was not a good teammate," said Jim Leyritz. "And then he walked in and was the complete opposite of what we'd heard. He made a concerted effort to be a part of the team. "When you get a name as big as that, especially a Red Sox guy, everyone watches him. Wade knew all eyes were on him, and he came in and fit right in with the clubhouse. As one of the young guys, I looked up to him as what being a teammate was all about." "Wade was a great player and a great teammate," concurred Bernie Williams. "He was one of the guys who was there when I was trying to establish myself, and he was a real role model for me. I learned a lot from him." Paul O'Neill arrived by trade from Cincinnati at the same time as Boggs, and the two were instrumental in returning the Yankees to their familiar pinnacle. "When you think of Wade Boggs," said O'Neill on Tuesday, "you think about a guy who hit .350 just about every year. Even as a player, you started to take it for granted until you realized just how hard that was to do. He was, without question, one of the premier hitters of his era." Leyritz had no trouble admiring his new teammate's ethic and skills, even though he literally lost his uniform to him. For several years, Leyritz had worn No. 12 -- which Boggs requested upon his arrival in New York. "He took my number. It was no problem," said Leyritz, who switched to No. 13. "We knew by then he was a Hall of Famer." Boggs is the sixth Hall of Famer to have played for both the Red Sox and the Yankees. In addition to Ruth, they are pitchers Jack Chesbro, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and Red Ruffing. In his five seasons with the Yankees, 1993 through 1997, Boggs advanced on Cooperstown. He batted .313 in 601 games, drove in 246 runs and, most significant, became an exceptional third baseman. Or at least became belatedly recognized for his defensive abilities. Remarkably, Boggs did not earn his first Gold Glove until 1994 -- his 13th season. For good measure, he kept the hardware in 1995. "I thought he should have won more Gold Gloves," said Michael. "He made himself into a good third baseman, which was a shortcoming earlier in his career." Hitting was never a problem for the left-handed swinger, who would lean into pitches and drive them to the opposite field. Boggs hit over .300, usually way over, in 10 of his 11 Boston seasons, winning five batting titles. Four of the crowns came consecutively (1985 to 1988), a stretch across which he averaged .363 -- but only 74 RBIs. Such clashes in numbers may have fueled that "selfish" reputation, but overlooked was the fact that Boggs scored 450 runs across the same stretch. "He could hit more home runs if he wanted to," said Michael. "He could do whatever he wanted to, he had such strong hands. But he wanted to be a high on-base percentage guy." Leyritz was treated to daily up-close looks at that philosophy in practice. The young catcher/infielder was in a batting practice group with Boggs and Don Mattingly -- another Yankees Hall of Fame candidate who, ironically, again fell short of election. "To see him take batting practice with the kind of power he had," said Leyritz of Boggs, "then see him at game-time have the discipline to hit the ball over the shortstop's head ... that impressed me even more. "Watching that made me a better hitter. It taught me that sometimes you're better off hitting the ball the opposite way into the gap, even though you have the power to hit the ball out of the park." "Wade Boggs is a very deserving first-ballot Hall of Famer," said manager Joe Torre. "He was a great player and worked very hard to achieve all that he did. His work ethic and dedication to excellence were second to none." Leyritz's other enduring memory of Boggs also came from watching him -- in the minutes after the Yankees finished off Atlanta to win the 1996 World Series. It was a big moment for the Yankees -- their first title in 18 years -- and an even bigger moment for Boggs -- his first title at the end of his 15th season. "When you see a player who had accomplished everything he had kiss home plate, crying, it tells you what baseball meant to him," said Leyritz. Of course, Boggs sharing a ride with one of New York City's mounted finest, galloping around Yankee Stadium, is perhaps the lasting image of that celebration. And here's an amazing irony of which you may not be aware: Boggs set a defensive record in that World Series by not having a single fielding chance in the four consecutive wins against the Braves.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.