Baseball BeatDecember 08, 2004
Wade Boggs: A First-Ballot Hall of Famer (Part Two)
By Rich Lederer

In Part One, I compared Wade Boggs to the first-ballot Hall of Fame honorees over the past decade to determine whether he was worthy of being selected on his initial attempt. I believe the answer was a resounding yes.

In Part Two, I am going to wade through Boggs' background; present his accomplishments; review his standing among third basemen, modern-day (1900-present) players, and post-expansion era hitters; and discuss his two most similar comps.

Boggs was born in 1958 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was an all-state kicker at Tampa's Plant High School and an All-America shortstop at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round of the 1976 amateur draft, Boggs toiled in the minors for six years -- including two at "AA" Bristol (Eastern League) and two at "AAA" Pawtuckett (International). After an inauspicious start (.263 with no home runs) at short-season "A" Elmira (New York-Penn League), he hit over .300 in five straight minor league campaigns and won the International League batting title in 1981.

Stuck behind Carney Lansford (the reigning American League batting champ) at third base, Boggs played more games at first than third his rookie season. He hit .349 (which, at the time, was the highest average for a first-year player appearing in more than 100 games -- since broken by Ichiro Suzuki, .350 in 2001) and finished third in the 1982 A.L. ROY balloting.

The Red Sox traded Lansford to the Oakland A's for Tony Armas in December 1982, leaving no doubt who the team's starting 3B was going to be in 1983. Boggs rewarded management's faith by leading the league in average (.361), OBP (.444), and times on base (303); placing second in OPS (.931), hits (210), and doubles (44); third in BB (92); and seventh in runs (100). In the 1984 Baseball Abstract, Jim Baker labeled it "one of the best seasons ever without making the All-Star team."

Boggs' career was off and running. He ended up playing 18 seasons in the big leagues -- 11 with the Red Sox, 5 with the New York Yankees, and 2 with his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- and, in the process, became one of the best third basemen in the history of the game. From 1982-1999, the sweet-swinging, left-handed hitter achieved the following:

  • One of 25 players with 3,000 hits.
  • Five-time A.L. batting champion (1983, 1985-88). Only eight players -- Ty Cobb (12), Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner (8 each), Rod Carew, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial (7 each) and Ted Williams (6) -- won more titles.
  • Hit over .360 four times and better than .300 15x.
  • Set a modern-day major league record with seven consecutive 200-hit seasons (1983-89).
  • Scored at least 100 runs (1983-89) and had 40 or more doubles seven seasons in a row (1985-91).
  • Led the league in OBP six times, including five straight (1983, 1985-89).
  • Finished in the top three in AVG and OBP every year from 1983-91, except 1990 when he ended up fifth and sixth, respectively.
  • Most remarkable -- and perhaps least known -- accomplishment was leading the league in times on base eight consecutive years (1983-90), an achievement unmatched by any other player in baseball annals.
  • Shares major league single-season record for most games with at least one hit (135).
  • Won two Gold Glove awards (1994 -- when he was the oldest first-time winner -- and 1995).
  • Selected to 12 consecutive All-Star Games (1985-96).
  • Member of 1996 World Series championship team. (Who could ever forget Boggs' victory lap on horseback at Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series in 1996?)

    Last but not least, Boggs holds the record for the most consecutive seasons with 200 hits and 100 walks with four. Lou Gehrig (1930-32, 1936-37) and Babe Ruth (1923-24) are the only other players to have had back-to-back seasons of 200 hits and 100 walks. Anytime you're number one on a list of three players and the other two are Gehrig and Ruth, it might be safe to assume that we're talking about a pretty extraordinary player.

    * * * * * * *

    The red-haired, mustachioed Boggs was as methodical as he was consistent. A perfectionist with superstitious work habits, he awoke at the same time every morning, ate chicken before every game, and took exactly 150 ground balls during infield practice. He stepped into the batting cage at 5:17 and ran wind sprints at 7:17. His daily rituals were such that a scoreboard operator in Toronto tried to hex him one time by flipping the stadium clock directly from 7:16 to 7:18. Boggs was also known for taking the same route to and from his position in the field and for drawing the Hebrew word "Chai" (meaning "life") in the batter's box before each at-bat.

    More fortuitous than superstitious, Boggs banged out hit #3000 one day after Gwynn and on the same weekend in which Mark McGwire slugged his 500th HR. Ironically, the singles- and doubles-hitting Boggs is the only player to connect for a homer on his 3000th hit. He doubled in his first at-bat the next day, leaving to a standing ovation while his sister watched him play in person for the first time.

    The Devil Rays held Wade Boggs Day later that month on former teammate Carl Yastrzemski's 60th birthday. Boggs was honored by family and friends as well as his first minor-league manager and hitting coach, the scout who signed him, and an 80-year-old Williams, who made the trip despite failing health.

    "You don't get 3,000 hits in this game, buddy, without being one hell of a hitter. I am really happy to be here. Boggs earned my applause."

    The groundskeepers dug up and presented the home plate that Boggs knelt down and kissed after circling the bases for his 3000th hit. Boggs played his final game five days later, ending his season (and career) prematurely with an injured knee.

    Boggs retired with the following Hall of Fame qualifications:

    Black Ink: Batting - 37 (39) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
    Gray Ink: Batting - 138 (109) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
    HOF Standards: Batting - 57.5 (33) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
    HOF Monitor: Batting - 267.0 (16) (Likely HOFer > 100)
    Overall Rank in parentheses.

    Boggs exceeds the average HOFer in three of the four categories. He barely misses in Gray Ink but laps the field in HOF Monitor, ranking #16 all time.

    The man who wore uniform numbers 26 and 12 throughout his career also compares favorably in Win Shares with 394 vs. 337 for the average HOFer. He is tied for 50th all time, 38th among non-pitchers, and 4th among third basemen (behind Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and George Brett). By the way, Boggs was so fond of the latter that he named his son Brett and asked George to be the godfather.

                AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
    Boggs      .328    .415    .443    .858     130     
    Brett      .305    .369    .487    .857     135
    Mathews    .271    .376    .509    .885     143
    Schmidt    .267    .380    .527    .908     147
                TOB         TB
    Boggs      4445       4064            
    Brett      4283       5044
    Mathews    3785       4349
    Schmidt    3820       4404

    No matter whether one prefers basic counting stats, rate stats, more advanced metrics, peak value, or career value, the conclusion is the same: Schmidt is the best third baseman of all time while Brett, Boggs, and Mathews rank second through fourth in whatever order you like. I would argue that Frank "Home Run" Baker is worthy of the number five spot based on his superb peak value and would rate Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo sixth and seventh.

    Since 1900, Boggs ranks 39th in Runs Created Above Average and 26th in Runs Created Above Position. His RCAA puts him ahead ahead of Carew, Roberto Clemente, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Chuck Klein, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Al Simmons, Duke Snider, Willie Stargell, Bill Terry, Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, and Yastrzemski.

    Boggs ranks third all-time as a Red Sox (behind Williams and Yaz) in RCAA, second in RCAP (behind only Williams), and fourth among 3B in RCAA (behind Mathews, Schmidt, and Brett).

    Since 1961, Boggs ranks 18th in RCAA and 6th in RCAP. That's right, only five players in the post-expansion era have created more runs above the average at their position than Boggs. The five? Barry Bonds, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, and Schmidt.

    * * * * * * *

    If you look up Wade Boggs in the Thesarus, you might find the following:

    Entry: Boggs.
    Part of Speech: Proper noun.
    Definition: Left-handed, high-average, line-drive hitter with good bat control and eye.
    Synonyms: Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

    If you look up Boggs on Baseball-Reference.com, you will find the following:

    Similar Batters

    Rod Carew (881) *
    Tony Gwynn (851)
    Paul Waner (828) *
    Sam Rice (807) *
    Zack Wheat (802) *
    Frankie Frisch (798) *
    Roberto Alomar (778)
    Tim Raines (768)
    Jimmy Ryan (765)
    Charlie Gehringer (757) *

    *denotes Hall of Fame

    Boggs, Carew, and Gwynn are all from the same school of hitting. They each accumulated at least 3000 hits while winning a total of 20 batting titles during their careers.

                AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+
    Boggs      .328    .415    .443    .858     130     
    Carew      .328    .393    .429    .822     131
    Gwynn      .338    .388    .459    .847     132
                TOB         TB
    Boggs      4445       4064            
    Carew      4096       3998
    Gwynn      3955       4259

    Three peas in a pod. The bottom line is if you like Carew or Gwynn, you gotta like Boggs (and vice versa).

    Wade Boggs. 3000 hits + five-time batting champ + one of the top four third basemen of all time + one of the top 40 non-pitchers ever = first-ballot Hall of Famer.

  • Comments

    "Who could ever forget Boggs victory lap on horseback at Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series in 1996?"

    Um, as a Red Sox fan, I sure could.

    Nice addition to Part One, Rich. All in all, the guy could flat out rake, was an on-base machine and could handle the leather. A fantastic player indeed.

    That's a pretty impressive resume. I think voters would need to have their head in the sand not to vote for him.

    One more add on Boggs:

    He led MLB in H, AVG, OBP, BB, and 2B over the following five-year periods--an indication of his sustained peak value.

    H: 1982-86, 1983-87, 1984-88.

    AVG: 1981-85, 1982-86, 1983-87, 1984-88, 1985-89, 1986-90, 1987-91.

    OBP: 1981-85, 1982-86, 1983-87, 1984-88, 1985-89, 1986-90, 1987-91, 1988-92.

    BB: 1983-87, 1984-88, 1985-89.

    2B: 1983-87, 1985-89, 1986-90, 1987-91, 1988-92.

    What a great hitter. And what a great piece summarizing the case for him! It's amazing that someone who played for Boston and New York could actually be underrated, but I think that's the case with Boggs.