ST. PETERSBURG -- When Fred McGriff returned to the Devil Rays early in the 2004 season intently focused on reaching the 500-home run plateau, the team assigned McGriff to the locker he had when he was with the team from 1998-2001.

At first, McGriff appreciated the sentiment. But then someone pointed out to McGriff that his locker was now right next to a huge plaque commemorating Wade Boggs' 3,000th hit, which came when both McGriff and Boggs were with the Rays in 1999.

"Oh no," McGriff said. "Am I going to have to shoot for 3,000 hits, too?"

Baseball was a Tampa Bay-area legacy long before the Devil Rays started playing games in 1998. "El Senor," Al Lopez, who, at 96, is the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is credited with starting the great tradition of Tampa Bay baseball excellence. He was a Major League catcher in the 1930s and '40s and a manager in the 1950s.

Following Lopez from the West Central Florida hotbed were such greats as Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Steve Garvey, Dwight Gooden, McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Rogers, Tino Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Brad Radke, among others.

All possessed great natural ability mixed with a competitive fire.

  2005 Hall of Fame
  voting results
The complete vote (516 ballots, 387 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
 Player  Votes   %
 Wade Boggs  474  91.9%
 Ryne Sandberg  393  76.2%
 Bruce Sutter  344  66.7%
 Jim Rice  307  59.5%
 "Goose" Gossage  285  55.2%
 Andre Dawson  270  52.3%
 Bert Blyleven  211  40.9%
 Lee Smith  200  38.8%
 Jack Morris  172  33.3%
 Tommy John  123  23.8%
 Steve Garvey  106  20.5%
 Alan Trammell   87  16.9%
 Dave Parker   65  12.6%
 Don Mattingly   59  11.4%
 Dave Concepcion   55  10.7%
 Dale Murphy   54  10.5%
 Willie McGee   26   5.0%
 Jim Abbott   13   2.5%
 Darryl Strawberry    6   1.2%
 Jack McDowell    4   0.8%
 Chili Davis    3   0.6%
 Tom Candiotti    2   0.4%
 Jeff Montgomery    2   0.4%
 Tony Phillips    1   0.2%
 Terry Steinbach    1   0.2%
 Mark Langston    0   0.0%
 Otis Nixon    0   0.0%
  Sights and sounds:

Boggs photo gallery
• Boggs highlights: 56K | 350K
Boggs conference call
Sandberg photo gallery
• Sandberg highlights: 56K | 350K
Sandberg conference call
• Official announcement: 56K | 350K
HOF president Dale Petroskey
  announces Class of 2005

And Boggs certainly was no exception. His election into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility just underscores what a player from simple beginnings can accomplish.

"He was a great hitter," Lopez said. "He worked at it and worked at it."

Piniella and LaRussa first watched Boggs hit when Boggs was in high school in Tampa, and then later from across the Major League diamond.

"He was a disciplined hitter who didn't strike out much," said Piniella, who was with the Yankees in the 1970s and '80s and the Mariners in the '90s. "He was a good two-strike hitter who used the wall at Fenway Park well. And he got much better defensively.

"He was a tough out. There was no particular way to defend him. He had just enough power to keep the outfield honest. It seemed to me he could serve the ball anywhere he wanted. Seven 200-hits seasons are pretty remarkable."

LaRussa admired Boggs' style in the 1980s when LaRussa managed the White Sox and A's.

"I watched him stroke hits for years and years and years,'' LaRussa said. "He made hitting well into the .300s seem like it was easy. It wasn't easy. He was a great two-strike hitter. The thing about him was he gave you strike one all the time and he hit .360 with two strikes left. You couldn't strike him out."

Once he signed with the Devil Rays, Boggs joined McGriff in making the team legitimate right off the bat.

"He was a professional who came to the park ready to play," McGriff said. "He did all the things a hitter needs to do to be successful.''

Boggs worked toward his 3,000th hit and finally got it on Aug. 7, 1999. But instead of the magical hit being one of his trademark slaps to the left side of the infield, Boggs stroked his landmark out of the ballpark against Cleveland's Chris Haney.

After that, Boggs didn't just round the bases and take in the adulation. He pumped his fist while running and then knelt in the dirt at home and kissed the plate.

"He provided one of the greatest thrills in Devil Rays history with his 3,000th hit," said Rays general manager Chuck LaMar. "His passion for the game is unsurpassed. He's certainly deserving of first-round induction. I think I speak for most people in baseball when I say he was one of the greatest hitters who ever played the game."

Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli recalled many memorable nights of sitting in the stands as a fan and admiring Boggs' work.

"He was really fun to watch," Naimoli said. "He had a superior work ethic. He was persistent and tenacious at everything he did. He was a tremendous player."

The Rays marked the seat in right field where Boggs' 3,000th hit landed and they retired his No. 12 jersey, which hangs with honor on the outfield wall.

"He was truly special," Naimoli said.