Seasons in Boston: 1982-1992
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, World Series Champion, 12x All-Star, 8x Silver Slugger, 2x Gold Glove, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 American League Batting Title
Red Sox Numbers: .338/.428/.462, 85 HR, 1067 R, 686 RBI, 16 SB, 142 wRC+, 70.8 fWAR
Signature Season (1985): .368/.450/.478, 8 HR, 107 R, 78 RBI, 2 SB, 156 wRC+, 8.8 fWAR
Wade Boggs is a legend, but he’s also misunderstood. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and seventh round draft pick. He had 3010 hits over the course of his career and he was also allowed to languish in the minor leagues for his first six years as a professional while consistently challenging for batting titles. Boggs made twelve All-Star teams, won eight Silver Slugger awards, and five batting titles including one stretch of four straight. This same guy never received a single first place MVP vote during that time span. He’s a Red Sox legend who won his only World Series with the Yankees in 1996. Boggs is proof that people are complicated and not always properly understood.
The reason why Boggs was picked in the seventh round and why it took him until 1982 to break into the big leagues was also the reason why he made the Hall of Fame with nearly 92% of the vote—his approach. After reading Ted Williams’ book “The Science of Hitting” while in high school Boggs determined he would only swing at good pitches and endeavor to put the ball in play. On defense Boggs didn’t have great range and lacked speed on the base paths. Boggs said this of his time in the minor leagues “I was told in the minor leagues that I’ll never play third in the big leagues. That I don’t hit for power so I’m not going to play in the big leagues. I’m not fast enough. I was told so many different things.”
Boggs finally became a starter during his rookie season when the Red Sox incumbent third baseman Carney Lansford sprained an ankle mid-year in 1982. Boggs would finish the year with a .349 batting average and overall numbers that recalled the great hitters from the Deadball Era. His first full season came in 1983 and would begin a streak of seven straight years with over 200 hits. Despite these prolific hit totals he eclipsed eight home runs just once, in 1987. This was also a year in which 4458 home runs were hit league-wide. The second highest total of the 1980’s was just 3813. In 1985, which many regard as Boggs’s best season he set a career best with 240 hits, the most in a single season since 1930 and a total that has only been equaled or surpassed twice since then, by Darin Erstad and Ichiro Suzuki. It stands as the 11th most in the modern era.
From 1982-1992, Boggs’s eleven years with the Red Sox, he was the second most valuable player in baseball according to FanGraphs’s WAR, worth 70.8 wins above replacement. That put him just behind Rickey Henderson with 72.9 and just ahead of Cal Ripken Jr. at 69.8. His totals dwarfed other Hall of Famers like Ozzie Smith, Ryne Sandberg, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell. Boggs’s fWAR with the Red Sox also ranks fourth in team history behind only Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Roger Clemens.
Boggs’s swing was tailor-made for Fenway Park and allowed him to post a .369/.464/.527 line at the park over his career. He never once slugged over .500 at any other park where he played a substantial amount of games. During his eleven years he hit well enough to rank second in batting average, third in on-base percentage, fifth in both hits and doubles, and seventh in wRC+ in team history.
In the postseason with the Red Sox, Boggs had some success batting .262 in 1986, .385 in 1988, and .438 in 1990. In 1986, the Red Sox would advance to the World Series against the Mets and in one of the most infamous games in baseball history, Game Six, Boggs doubled and scored to give the Red Sox a 5-3 lead in the tenth, then Bill Buckner’s error happened. The Red Sox failed to advance further while he was with the team, losing in the ALCS to the Athletics in both 1988 and 1990. Boggs’s relationship with both teammates and the front office took a hit in the late 80’s and early 90’s with a very public affair that led to a very public Boggs apology. He also got into a spat with Clemens over a fielding error and, following the 1992 season, a season that he hit an uncharacteristically low .259, he signed with the hated Yankees.
Boggs’s local legacy was certainly damaged by making this choice and it was hard to watch him joyously mount a police horse and parade around Yankee Stadium after the 1996 World Series win. It just looked and felt wrong and many Red Sox fans will never forgive him for that. Younger fans who didn’t witness his prime, but rather live through his numbers and his off the field exploits regard the “Chicken Man” as a living legend. I was at his number retirement ceremony at Fenway Park in 2016. I can tell you there was plenty of love being shown to Boggs that day. Boggs recalled the honor saying, “My journey has ended and I’ve come back home. This is where I started my career. And, today is the end. To have my number up there with all the greats to ever put on a Red Sox uniform, including Ted, he’s my idol growing up. I wore 9 in honor of Ted in Little League.”
This entry could’ve been about five times the size and it still would have failed to capture the complexity of the Wade Boggs story. However, a few simple facts remain. Boggs is without a doubt the greatest to ever man the hot corner in Red Sox history and on May 26, 2016 any grudges Red Sox fans held against him for joining the Yankees were erased. When you visit Fenway you will now be able to look up at his number 26 and be assured that his greatness is finally getting the appreciation he has long deserved.