01/04/05 4:55 PM ET
Sox lavish praise on Boggs
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Though the latter stretch of his career included five years with the Yankees and then two years with his hometown Devil Rays, Boggs was original property of the Boston Red Sox, the organization that drafted him in 1976. It wasn't until 1982 that Boggs and his big bat arrived at Fenway Park, but he won all five of his batting titles in a Red Sox uniform before leaving for New York following the 1992 season.
During those 17 years in the Red Sox organization, Boggs left impressions that are still indelible to those who watched.
"I'm really happy for Wade," said former Sox left-hander Bruce Hurst, who was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame with Boggs in November. "He was obviously a very talented player, but in a way, a self-made player. He put in countless hours. There weren't a lot of people around when he was taking extra BP at one in the afternoon in the minor leagues. We signed together in 1976.
"In BP, I think he knew exactly what he wanted to do, what kind of hitter he wanted to be. I think he really worked hard to end up what he ended up being."
It's hard to find a dissenting opinion.
As natural as his swing was, Boggs was a certified workaholic.
"He had a lot of drive and desire to go along with his ability," said Joe Morgan, who managed Boggs at Triple-A Pawtucket and with the Red Sox (1988-91). "He knew what he wanted and he went about it the right way with plenty of work."
By being selected on 474 of 516 ballots (91.9 percent), Boggs easily surpassed the 75 percent requirement for election. He will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, in a July 31 ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Hall of Fame decided that the plaque of Boggs will have a Red Sox cap, which is certainly fitting when you consider that's where his legend was built. Boggs is the 17th player to spend a significant portion of his career with the Red Sox to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
When Ellis Burks broke in with the Red Sox as a top prospect in 1987, he couldn't help but be positively impacted by Boggs.
"He symbolized a lot of great things in the game of baseball," said Burks. "He's one of those players that you could bet your bottom dollar if he's on the field, he's going to give 110 percent every game. A great teammate, a competitor and one of the best hitters I've ever seen. Wade Boggs was one of those guys you could count on every day to get two or three hits. For a young player to see something like that, that really motivated me and made me work just that much harder because the guy put his heart and soul into it."
Before Burks entered the picture, Boggs awed even the veterans, who took notice in the early '80s as the third baseman quickly established himself as a magician with the bat.
"I played with him when he was a rookie and all of a sudden, this guy was getting hits on 0-2 counts like nobody's business," said Dennis Eckersley, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame a year ago.
"I was like, 'This guy can hit.' Line drive to left field, 0-2, with regularity. He was like a hit machine. I didn't get a chance to play with him when he had that long run [of batting titles], but he was an incredible player."
While current Red Sox ownership was not around for the Boggs years, he left a reputation of excellence behind that still looms large.
"Every time Wade Boggs stepped to the plate, he gave us a clinic in what it takes to be a great hitter," said Red Sox owner John W. Henry. "All of New England celebrates his election to Baseball's Hall of Fame today."
"It's easy to look at what Wade Boggs achieved over the course of his Major League career and marvel at the consistency -- all of those seasons batting .340 or .350 with 200 hits, 40 or 50 doubles, 100 walks and 100 runs scored," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "But when you ask his former teammates and coaches what they remember most about Boggs, nearly every one of them talks about how hard he worked from the day he got to the Major Leagues to the day he retired. They all remember the hours of extra hitting and, especially, the hundreds of ground balls he took from Johnny Pesky each and every day."
Pesky, still a constant presence with the Red Sox, remembers those days vividly.
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"He did everything on the baseball field," said Pesky. "He knew what he couldn't do, and he worked at the things he couldn't do. For example, the fielding. Every day I took a pocket full of balls, and I wouldn't hit him 50 ground balls -- I'd hit 150 ground balls. He got to the point where he enjoyed it, so we'd come out every day at three o'clock, nobody in the ballpark. He'd be there and he'd say, 'Come on, let's go.' I'd be ready for him because I knew what he wanted. He did this and he became a good fielder."
As the '80s wore on, Boggs hitting .330 or better was one of the most certifiable locks in all of New England.
"You could depend on him," said Pesky. "I thought he was one of the most dependable we ever had around here. Boggs has to be in the top three or four [Red Sox players]. I'm a 100 percent Wade Boggs fan."
Just two months after Boggs went into the Red Sox Hall of Fame, the team watched with satisfaction as he received entry into the Hall of Fame that resides in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"Wade Boggs was one of the best hitters in the game on the day he arrived in the Major Leagues, but through his relentless effort, he also became a Gold Glove third baseman," continued Lucchino. "I know he's as proud of that fact as he is of the five batting titles or the 3,000 hits."
Because Boggs lacked power and didn't have a lot of speed, his development through the minor leagues took some time. But once he got to Fenway in '82, he was a Major Leaguer for good.
He began his rookie year as a reserve at both third and first base. But, in June, Carney Lansford was injured trying to beat out an inside-the-park home run, and an eager rookie seized his sudden opportunity by lashing one line drive after another.
Boggs hit .349 in '82. The next year, he won his first batting title with a sparkling, .361 average. Following what was, for him, an off-year (.325 average) in '84, Boggs went on to win four consecutive batting titles, hitting .357 or above from '85-88.
"He took the first pitch all the time, except if it was a tough lefty. He could have easily hit 30 home runs a year if he wanted," said Bob Stanley, the all-time leader for the Red Sox in saves. "We always heard about him, but he really never had an opportunity to get out up here because we had [Butch] Hobson and then Carney Lansford. Carney led the league in hits one year, so it was hard for Boggs to get up. But then when he got up there, he was here to stay."
Once Morgan succeeded John McNamara as manager in July 1988, it didn't take him long to realize one fact: As Boggs went, so went the Boston offense.
"He got 100 walks too, in addition to those 200 hits every year," said Morgan. "He was on base 300 times, that's what the thing is all about, getting things cranked up. When he got on a lot, we won. I would say he's the best two-strike hitter there ever was, in our time anyway."
The first manager Boggs ever had in the Major Leagues was Ralph Houk, who also managed Hall of Famers such as Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.
"Wade made himself a Hall of Famer by hard work," said Houk. "He had a lot of ability, but he did everything possible. He trained as hard and worked as hard as any player I've ever managed. He made himself a great ballplayer. There's no question about it."
In 1,625 games with the Sox, Boggs was a .338 hitter, making eight All-Star appearances during that time. He holds several club records for third basemen, including most games (1,165), assists (2,956) and double plays (299).
"Wade Boggs was the consummate hitter," said Sox chairman Tom Werner.
Which ultimately made him the consummate Hall of Famer.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.