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 them. 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.