COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Why should we not be surprised that a third baseman playing for Elmira's New York-Penn League team in 1976 found a little free time to sneak away for a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Wade Boggs always did have his eye on the prize.
It's official now. Boggs is in The Club. He's a certified, card-carrying lodge brother of the Babe, the Georgia Peach, the Yankee Clipper, the Big Train, the Iron Horse, the Say-Hey Kid, and Mr. October. Boggs may never have had that extra something that officially renders a player ''beloved," a la Ted, Yaz, or Pudge, but he was relentlessly efficient, a man who irritated and frustrated pitchers almost as much by not swinging the bat (1,412 walks) as he did by swinging it (3,010 hits). He was Mr. On-Base Percentage before we even knew what on-base percentage was. He was even Mr. OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) before we knew what that was (a career .858, with a dazzling 1.049 in 1987).
Yup, Wade Anthony Boggs is an official Hall of Famer (along with Ryne Sandberg), and the reason he was up there making an oft-emotional acceptance speech yesterday was spelled out in the first sentence of his plaque.
A disciplined hitter whose commanding knowledge of the strike zone made him one of baseball's toughest outs.
Is anyone out there going to dispute that?
By staying true to his personal code, Boggs made himself into a Hall of Fame player. Famed for his tape measure batting practice home runs, he adopted a totally different style when the bell rang. He was the late 20th century embodiment of Willie Keeler's noted 19th century dictum, ''Hit 'em where they ain't." He hit 'em through holes and just over the reach of second basemen and shortstops, and he even hit more than his share off the left-field wall.
But he was just as content to take the base on balls, since they, too, led to his hoped-for destination -- first base. Boggs was a committed top-of-the-order guy, a table-setter. He thought there was value in just getting on base, something he was able to do in excess of 300 times a year in his prime. Do not simply glide by that figure. If you get on base by hit or walk 300 times a year, you have joined a very exclusive club.
There is no other way to put it: Boggs was odd. Even he acknowledged that yesterday. ''When you wear the same socks every day, and when you have chicken every day," he said, ''believe me, I have a few superstitions. And they work."
He took his extra ground balls at the same time every day (3:16). He ran his pregame sprints every night at the same time (7:17). He never stepped on the foul line. He made the Hebrew ''chai" sign with his bat before stepping into the batter's box. As time went on, his weirdness knew no bounds. Will yourself invisible? Decide after seeing something on ''Oprah" that, ''Hey, I'm a sex addict, too!" As my man Shaughnessy loves to say, you can't make this stuff up.
He was not thought to be a ''team" man, on or off the field, and maybe that's why the only one of his old mates present for his induction was Dennis Eckersley, in his capacity as a Hall of Famer. He should have hit more homers, some said. He shouldn't have taken so many pitches (isn't that what the nebulous ''they" also said about Ted?), declared others. The way he saw it, that was someone else's job. His job was to get on base. I'll never forget the day in Cleveland when he said, ''If Wade Boggs batted behind Wade Boggs, Wade Boggs would drive in a hundred runs every year."
Sounds reasonable to me.
No one in baseball ever handed anything to Boggs. The Red Sox clearly were skeptical, even as he kept hitting .300 year after year during a seven-year apprenticeship in the minors. Leave it to Peter Gammons to point out that no player in the last 50 years has made a major league debut as late as Boggs did while still accumulating 3,000 hits. Hence the essential themes of Boggs's acceptance speech: triumph over adversity and working to fulfill your dreams.
He was extraordinarily generous in his list of thank yous. Among those he cited were the baseball writers (for their votes); the other Hall of Famers (for their ready acceptance of Boggs and his family); his Little League manager; his high school coach; Red Sox scout George Digby (''for signing a little scrawny kid from Tampa and seeing something other folks had passed on"); Elmira manager Dick Berardino (who was in attendance); Mrs. Jean Yawkey; Ted Williams (more for fishing talks than baseball wisdom); Walter Hriniak; Johnny Pesky (for all those fungoes); Bill Fischer (four years worth of extra batting practice, producing four of his five batting titles); Ralph Houk, John McNamara; George Steinbrenner; and Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli, ''who gave me the opportunity to come home and play before my family and friends."
And, of, course, there was the family, starting with wife, Debbie, his dad, Winfield (''Daddy, I wouldn't be up here without you"), and his mother, Sue.
As a player, Boggs was known for his stoicism, but as a retiree he is freer to express his emotions, and he let it all out on the subject of his mother, who was killed in an automobile accident during the 1986 season. ''One person is not here today," he said, working hard to avoid breaking down. ''But she is here in spirit." Sue Boggs, he said, was ''the rock of the family." His dad was a military man, and his mom did the work of both parents, getting him to practices, watching him play, and keeping the house in order.
This was a Boggs we never saw as a player. This was a vulnerable, quite human, quite appealing, Boggs. But this Boggs would not have put up the numbers.
No, it was the precise, driven, maniacal, obsessed Wade Boggs who got the 3,010 hits and squeezed out the 1,412 walks, and scored more than 100 runs seven straight seasons, and was Mr. On-Base Percentage. What he did is in the books, and on the plaque.
That Wade Boggs did it. This Wade Boggs can enjoy it. He's in The Club, and no one ever can kick him out.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.