Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best

More than two decades after playing his last game for the Boston Red Sox, Wade Boggs had his number retired at Fenway Park last night. The ceremony felt long overdue, as Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters in franchise history.

Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best…

Fans and media tend to overrate hitters who drive runs while underrating those who score themBoggs Was One of Boston's Best. He was destined to be under-appreciated, then, for Boggs was one of Boston’s best table-setters, an on-base machine who often put himself in scoring position via doubles (he clubbed 578 for his career). Batting in front of prolific RBI men such as Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, Boggs averaged 100 runs scored per 162 games and twice led the majors.

Everyone knew Boggs was a tremendous hitter, but few understood his true worth as a ballplayer. His gaudy OBPs and plus defense at the hot corner (which wasn’t recognized until later, when he won back-to-back Gold Gloves in his late 30s) made him incredibly valuable. Baseball-Reference defines an MVP-caliber season as one where a player accrues at least eight wins above replacement, which Boggs did every year from 1985 to 1989, yet never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Moneyball was still two decades away, and nobody had WAR to tell them he was the American League’s top position player in 1986, 1987, and 1988.

That might not have been the case had he played elsewhere, however. He was helped immensely by Fenway Park, whose Green Monster allowed him to wait back on pitches until the last possible second, at which point he would flick his wrists and stroke another double or single off the wall in left. Nobody did this better than Boggs, who holds the highest Fenway average of all-time at .369. He was most proficient at this before the EMC Club–then called the 600 Club—was erected in 1989, altering the wind currents within the park and making it much less favorable for hitters. It’s no coincidence that Boggs never won another batting title after 1988.

…And Baseball’s Best

Age and the 600 Club caused Boggs to tail off a bit in the early ’90s, but his final year in Boston—1992—was the worst of his career. He slumped to .259/.353/.358 as the Sox sunk to last place. His contract was up and Lou Gorman, Boston’s general manager at the time, let the 34-year-old walk, even though he was just one year removed from a .332/.421/.460 campaign worth 6.4 bWAR.

That proved to be a terrible mistake, as Boggs found a second wind with Boston’s arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. Boggs batted .313/.396/.407 in his five years in pinstripes, making four All-Star teams and helping the Bombers to a championship in 1996—10 years after his previous World Series bid ended in agony. Following his New York stint he returned home to finish out his playing days in Tampa Bay, where he ended his career on a high note by batting .301 and notching his 3,000th hit on his 118th, and final, home run.

Boggs retired in 1999 as one of the five best third basemen in baseball history. His .328 lifetime average is the second-highest of anyone who debuted after World War II, while his .415 OBP ranks fifth among players who have debuted since 1945 and appeared in at least 2,000 games. He was an eight-time Silver Slugger winner, a five-time batting champion, and an All-Star every year from 1985 to 1996. His most impressive accomplishment, however, was batting .401 over a 162-game span from June 9th, 1985 to June 6th, 1986.

Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters—perhaps second only to Ted Williams—and top third baseman. It’s a good thing he was finally recognized for it.

The Green Monster Has Lost its Magic

Green Monster

When I was a kid, Fenway Park seemed to be the most magical place on Earth, and the famous Green Monster was its most enchanting feature. However, while the allure of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark remains, The Wall has, in my opinion, lost some of its appeal in recent years. Once a sacred monument to Red Sox tradition, the thirty-seven foot fence now resembles a giant billboard serving corporate greed. The magic has diminished.

Perhaps it’s because I’m British and, thus, more sensitive to such things, or perhaps it’s Green Monsterbecause I’ve grown older, and now see baseball as the billion dollar business it is. But, without question, I no longer see a beguiling landmark when I look at the Monster. Instead, I see a commercialized mess.

I still love the hand-operated scoreboard and all the nostalgia it entails, but, right now, the beauty, authenticity and uniqueness of such features is being shrouded in a haze of intrusive and often incongruous advertisements. For instance, during this homestand, the Monster has been plastered with the logos and slogans of twelve different sponsors, from Volvo and Hyundai to CVS Pharmacy and W.B. Mason. Admittedly, several of the sponsorship slots are still dedicated to Red Sox charities such as the Jimmy Fund, which I totally admire, but the other advertisements frequently look vulgar. In particular, the three purpose-built ad boards atop the Monster command your attention and, therefore, ultimately detract from The Wall itself.

Of course, plastering sponsorship onto the outfield walls of Fenway Park is nothing new. In the early part of the park’s existence, everything from shaving foam to cigarettes was advertised, including on the massive left-field fence. However, between The Wall being painted green in 1947, and the addition of an All-Star Game promotional logo in 1999, advertisements were disallowed on the sacrosanct structure.

During that 52-year period, the nation fell in love with The Wall. They admired its size and width, but also its simplicity, innocence and ability to summon bygone times. There was an unspoiled beauty to the Monster that allowed people to easily imagine what the park was like when their parents and grandparents first discovered it. That’s what made it special. That’s what made it different. That’s what made it magic.

Monster

However, since 2000, that nostalgia and romance has gradually slipped into the teeth of capitalism greed. It began with a fairly unspectacular Red Sox logo being printed onto The Wall in 2001; continued with the addition of the Monster seats and specific advertising panels on the scoreboard in 2003; and, in ensuing years, has steadily worsened, to the point where today, a new generation of fans sees the Monster as just another outfield wall clad in a myriad of sponsorship.

I understand the enormous marketing potential of The Wall, as the most recognizable ballpark feature in Major League Baseball, and I’m aware we live in a highly-commercialized age. But, still, the modern Monster leaves me with a sense of dissatisfaction, and a pang of regret. Ultimately, I think the Red Sox have pushed the boundaries a little too far on this issue and, as a result, one of the great hallmarks of Boston tradition has been altered forever, which is more than a little sad.