Boggs a rookie again in Cooperstown
Third baseman tries to soak in Hall induction atmosphere
Cooperstown, N.Y. -- In the waning years of what proved a Hall of Fame career, Wade Boggs returned home to St. Petersburg, Fla., to play for the Devil Rays. The five-time American League batting champion and horse-riding World Series hero felt an obligation to his hometown expansion team to teach the rookies some big-league etiquette.
Now on the verge of entering baseball's shrine, Boggs has been on the receiving end of Hall of Fame etiquette. Boggs is a rookie again as he and Ryne Sandberg await induction Sunday as the newest members, Nos. 259 and 260, of the game's most hallowed roster. MLB.com will carry live audio and video streams of Sunday's induction ceremony, which begins at 1:30 p.m. ET at the Clark Sports Center.
Mike Schmidt noticed Boggs signing an autograph that read "Wade Boggs, HOF [Hall of Fame] 2005" and turned to fellow Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson and said, "He's not allowed to write that until after Sunday, right?"
Robinson was even harsher to the 12th third baseman to gain election to the Hall.
"We were going to a function, and Brooks said, 'Rookie, to the back of the bus,'" Boggs said. "My wife [Debbie] and I had to go to the back. And all the Hall of Famers have to walk into a room before you. We're put in our place."
The Hall of Fame is, after all, a very special place. The hazing for the new arrivals is done good-naturedly. Late Friday night at the Hawkeye Grill, the bar at the Otesaga Hotel, Boggs was tapped by Kirby Puckett to sing and warbled his way through "Friends In Low Places," which was followed by Sandberg's rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago."
Puckett, who was inducted in 2001, has already become a fixture at induction weekends for his dead-on Louis Armstrong impersonation of "What A Wonderful World," and 2004 inductee Paul Molitor brought down the house last year with a rendition of "Glory Days" that would have impressed Bruce Springsteen.
Yet for all the back-of-the-bus instructions, Boggs cannot help but feel welcome. The taunts coming from the Hall of Famers are akin to the interaction among siblings, which is how Boggs views his new teammates.
"Playing in your career, you bump into Al Kaline, you bump into Harmon Killebrew, you bump into Brooks Robinson," Boggs said. "You know these people, and they are Hall of Famers. And you bump into Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford on Old Timer's Day. You know them, but you're not in the Hall. And now, once you get the call and you're here for this weekend, you're with them. Now you're in the family. And that's exactly the way they treat us. Their arms are wide open. From treating your kids or treating your friends or whoever you brought to the Hall of Fame, it's the most enjoyable experience you could ever imagine."
Boggs mentioned that he met George Kell, the All-Star from the 1940s and '50s who is the oldest living third baseman in the Hall of Fame. "It was unbelievable how nice he was to me, the baby of the third basemen in the Hall of Fame," Boggs said. "It couldn't get any better."
Accompanied by his wife, his father, Winfield, his son, Brett, and scores of relatives and friends from Tampa, Fla., Boggs has tried to take other Hall of Famers' advice to drink in the special atmosphere of induction weekend.
"A lot of the Hall of Famers have said, 'Enjoy the weekend; take everything in,'" Boggs said. "Johnny Bench said, 'Write a journal.' I think you forget a lot of things that go on this weekend because it goes so fast. We played 18 holes of golf today. I wish we could have played 36. That's how much fun we were having. That's one thing I'm taking from this weekend is trying to let it all slow down."
Boggs made a fine debut in the Hall of Fame golf tournament. His fivesome included Tampa pals T.J. Ferlita, Lou Fusco, Reggie Holt and Mark Leonard, and they finished second to Gary Carter's team.
"My friends were just overwhelmed by the galleries of people coming out to watch the Hall of Famers," Boggs said, "It was just great to look at the mountains and the lake and say, 'Wow! I'm in Cooperstown, New York.'"
More difficult for Boggs was trying not to dwell on Sunday's festivities, when he will have to give a speech that is not supposed to run past 20 minutes but at latest count was still about 35 minutes.
"I'd rather face Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson every day of the week," Boggs said. "This is probably the most difficult thing I'll have to do in my life."
Asked to provide an idea of what his speech will be about, Boggs said, "You'll have to come tomorrow. I can't start, because if I start, I'll start crying."
Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, for whom Boggs named his son, has been telling people all weekend that Boggs will break down less than two minutes into the speech. That's interesting coming from Brett, who sobbed his way through his own moving induction speech in 1999. Bill Mazeroski became so caught up in the emotion of the moment at the 2001 induction that he could not stop crying and was unable to deliver his speech.
"Everybody asks about the speech, and that's where the anxiety gets to you," Boggs said. "I just hope I get one word out of my mouth before I start crying. I don't want to pull a Bill Mazeroski and just sit there and cry the whole time. It will be an emotional time, and I just hope to deal with it. As it gets closer, I have this feeling in my stomach that gets worse and worse. I'm sure [Saturday] night and [Sunday] morning, it will be absolutely miserable, but I wouldn't have it any other way. For myself, this is the last piece of the puzzle. I could be sitting home on the couch right now watching someone else get inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm just very thankful to be here."
Jack O'Connell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.