Wade Boggs did yesterday what he did so well so many times as a Red Sox, Yankee, and Devil Ray. Faced with a difficult pitch, one that might have tied up someone with less poise, Boggs fought it off.
It was hard and in on the hands, and it went something like this: Which cap, Wade, would you prefer to wear on your Hall of Fame plaque?
"If the Hall were to pick my Little League hat, I would have been happy with that," said Boggs, who yesterday received word that he and ex-Cub Ryne Sandberg will constitute the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2005.
"There are lots of pieces in the puzzle that are significant in a career. If you leave out one piece of the puzzle, the Hall of Fame career is incomplete. It was a mixture of the three [teams] that enabled me to be where I am today."
Boggs's place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer was never in doubt. The congratulatory phone call he received at about noon was largely academic, but the grades he received were exemplary. Boggs received 474 votes, third-most all-time behind Nolan Ryan (491) and George Brett (488).
Boggs was named on 91.9 percent of the 516 ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers Association of America, the 19th-highest percentage in history.
Sandberg, meanwhile, received 393 votes, just six above the 75 percent minimum of 387.
Jim Rice fell shy yet again in his 11th year of eligibility. Rice got 307 votes, or 59.5 percent, his best showing yet. Last season he was named on 276 ballots (54.6 percent).
Boggs became the 17th player who spent a significant portion of his career with the Sox to reach the Hall. When his big day comes July 31 in Cooperstown, N.Y., Boggs almost surely will find the Boston "B" engraved on his plaque.
The ultimate decision rests not with Boggs but with the Hall of Fame itself. Boggs played 11 seasons here, five in New York, and two in Tampa, though it was with New York that Boggs won his only Gold Gloves (1994, 1995) and World Series (1996).
"I think that was the turning point in my career that even allowed me to be considered for the Hall of Fame, to become a complete player," Boggs said in a conference call from his Tampa home. "It took a while. But taking all those ground balls and going out there early with Johnny Pesky paid off."
Boggs broke in with the Sox in 1982 and hit .349. His success would be anything but evanescent. He hit .300 or better in 15 seasons, including 10 in a row, and won five batting titles, all with the Red Sox (1983, 1985-88).
Boggs's bat control was legendary. He hit .352 in the 1980s, the highest average of any player with 4,500 at-bats in a decade since Ted Williams possessed the 1940s with a .356 mark. In 1988, Boggs hit only two popups. His seven consecutive 200-hit seasons are matched only by Wee Willie Keeler (1894-1901).
"Probably the best two-strike hitter we've seen in the big leagues," said former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. "Who was better? Ichiro? Might be, but he's only been around a little while."
Boggs's seven consecutive 200-hit seasons and his six consecutive seasons leading the league in intentional walks are American League records. Both accomplishments came in Boston.
And nowhere did Boggs do better work than in the Fens. He hit .369 at Fenway (1,173 hits in 3,176 at-bats) with a .464 on-base percentage. Outside Fenway he managed just .306 (1,837 for 6,004).
Three times he hit .397 or better at Fenway, peaking at .418 in 1985. He compiled a career-best .368 average that year, setting club records for hits (240), games hit safely in (135), multihit games (72), plate appearances (758), and singles (187). His 135 games with a hit stands as a major league record.
For a lefthanded hitter, he pinged the Wall with stunning regularity, giving the pockmarked face of the Monster many a blemish.
"When I was drafted in '76, my father said I got drafted by the perfect team because Fenway was built for my hitting style," Boggs said. "In my opinion, it's the greatest place to hit on the planet."
A serial singles hitter, Boggs clubbed only 118 home runs in 18 seasons, reaching double digits only twice (11 in 1994 and 24 in 1987). His unwillingness to drive the ball irked some people, though Boggs refused to change.
"I could see him in BP hit eight, 10 balls over the bullpen," Morgan said. "He had that kind of power."
Yet of Boggs's 3,010 hits, 2,253 (75 percent) were singles. However, No. 3,000 traveled an estimated 372 feet into the seats at Tropicana Field, making Boggs the only player among baseball's 25-member 3,000-hit club to homer for the milestone.
But along with hits and batting titles, Boggs long will be remembered for his bizarre behavior.
In 1989, his affair with Margo Adams became public when she filed a $6 million lawsuit, launching a process that took 18 months to resolve with an undisclosed settlement. Boggs and his wife, Debbie, who remained with him, sat down with Barbara Walters for a tell-all interview. He said in another interview that he was "addicted" to sex.
Then there was the chicken. He ate it before each game, and it was just one of his routines. He always left home for the park at the same time, entered the batting cage at the same time, and ran sprints at the same time (7:17 p.m. for a 7:35 game). Once in Toronto, a scoreboard operator programmed the clock to go from 7:16 to 7:18. (Boggs banged out two hits that night.)
Sandberg, unlike Boggs, paved his way to the Hall with Gold Gloves, nine in all. His .989 fielding percentage leads all second basemen. He also belted 277 homers, which were tops among second basemen when he called it quits in 1997.
Sandberg reached the Hall in his third attempt, having received 61.1 percent of the votes last season.
"One of my goals for 20 years was to play in a World Series and win a World Series," said Sandberg, who never did reach the fall classic, though his Cubs made the postseason twice. "I think today just puts an exclamation point and diminishes that frustration I had for so many years."