Humbled Boggs meets the press
Newest Hall member recalls long path to stardom
NEW YORK -- The first, and only, time Wade Boggs was in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he was scared numb.Sort of like that thing with the horse. "Are you kidding? I can't stand horses," said Boggs, forever remembered for riding one around Yankee Stadium in the wake of the Yankees' World Series triumph over Atlanta in 1996. "When I was five, I was bitten in the back by a horse, and ever since then me and horses haven't gotten along. "That was the first time I'd ever been on one. I'm deathly afraid of horses. In Boston, those mounted police were always around and I avoided the horses. I still don't know how I wound up on that horse." How he wound up in the Hall of Fame is easier to understand. With 3,010 hits and an 18-year average of .328, on Tuesday he became a first-ballot electee with the highest plularity (91.9 percent of the votes) since 1998. Boggs, along with fellow inductee Ryne Sandberg, took his first public bows Wednesday at a midday function at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
| 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
The two former infielders will be formally enshrined during July 31 ceremonies in Cooperstown."I'm really looking forward to going back there, and taking the time to enjoy it," Boggs said. Yes, he's been inside the hallowed place before. Twenty-nine years ago, as an 18-year-old playing his first pro summer in Elmira, N.Y., Boggs and a couple of teammates took an off-day drive to Cooperstown. "As an 18-year-old, you look around that place and think, 'Wow. Hope one day I'll get to play in the big leagues.' That's all you think about, just making it to the big leagues. I was blown away by that experience in Cooperstown." The place hasn't grown much since that 1976 afternoon -- or, for that matter, since its 1936 opening. Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey, sharing the dais at Wednesday's function, at one point underlined the exclusivity of the shrine by pointing out, "Of the very few who even make it to the Major Leagues, only one in a hundred makes it to the Hall of Fame." For emphasis, Petroskey then added, "That's 195 players -- in 130 years." To his right, Boggs hunched his shoulders and winced, as if from the weight of that distinction. Boggs, at 46 looking little different from the steely-eyed left-handed hitter who terrorized American League pitchers in three uniforms, should have had no doubts about being promptly invited to join the party. After all, no man with 3,000-plus hits has ever even been detained for a second ballot. Still, human nature and pessimism being what they are, he was skeptical even after the phone rang Tuesday morning. He worked his way through three Js -- Jack O'Connell, of the BBWAA electorate, Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark and Hall vice president Jeff Idelson -- before buying it. "Then my mind became like a Rolodex," Boggs said. "It flipped really fast, really vividly, through a lot of memories. Starting with when I was five, then Little League and high school and the minors." The minor league phase of the mental scrapbook must have taken a while. Remarkably -- given how effortless he would make hitting look -- Boggs spent six seasons in the minors before surfacing in Boston. With the Red Sox, he dispensed with any learning curve. Quickly adept at peppering the Green Monster with opposite-field liners, Boggs batted a cumulative .356 in his first seven seasons. The meteoric debut validated a simple utterance he had heard from The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, years earlier. Boggs always had unwavering confidence in hitting, which, growing up in Omaha, he'd considered one of life's vital functions, along with breathing and eating. As his late mother, Susan, once said in a magazine profile, "It seemed like he was born to hit, just like some kids are born to play the piano." But hitting in the Majors seemed intimidating, until, in one of his early Spring Trainings with the Red Sox, he came across Williams thumbing through his stats in the club's media guide. "Kid," Boggs recalled Williams calling to him, "you know you walk twice as much as you strike out?" Then Williams added, "It's a lot easier to hit in the big leagues than it is in the minors." "It took me a while to understand that he meant because of the improved lights, better travel, pitchers always being around the plate. I always remembered what he told me." Boggs remembered it, and spent 18 years proving it. Only once did he hit below .280, and had 10 seasons of .325-plus. Not bad for someone with an obsessive-compulsive "disorder." That clinical diagnosis may sound harsh, but how else to describe the daily rituals -- from eating chicken to buttoning his jersey just the right way -- which brought Boggs infamy? Nomar Garciaparra's gloves-tweaking routine? Multiply that ten-fold, and you had a typical Wade Boggs day. "Day in and day out, I was consumed by having to do things a certain way," Boggs recalled. "I had 75 to 80 superstitions. They helped me focus in one direction, but it was like a snowball effect. They consumed you." Asked whether he remains a hostage of routine, the part-time volunteer high school coach and full-time recreational hunter smiled.
"No. You don't need much focus to go out and get the paper in the morning, and read it."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.