Remembering Wade Boggs’ Dominance

I am a relatively young baseball fan. As a consequence, there are a lot of players that I missed out watching first hand. Lucky for me that baseball is a sport steeped in numbers. People are biased in their recollections, but past numbers are static and simply awaiting for us to come along and figure out ways to interpret and compare them.

Sure there are the enduring numbers stuck forever on the backs of old baseball cards, but one of the revelations that comes from diving into the rabbit hole of sabermetrics is the realization of how little those oft-quoted numbers actually tell. It’s not just the standard RBI and pitcher Wins are overrated stats mantra, but the importance of era-context that’s left to the individual consumer to internalize and adjust for, if he or she is even aware of it.

It is less a problem these days I feel. For one, advanced analysis is being disseminated more widely, but even the general public has a pretty good intuitive grasp that the “steroid” era provoked numbers that are hard to compare directly across the board and that humidor-free Coors Field was a figurative launching pad that couldn’t be taken seriously. We are getting good at putting present players in proper contexts. Sometimes though, I forget about the past and how our methods today work for those static numbers back then too. That is when I go digging around databases looking for surprises.

That Wade Boggs was an excellent player is not a surprising statement. Perhaps the magnitude of his dominance, as measured by our current metrics, is however. And given that it was before my time, the swiftness of his rise caught me off guard. Breaking into the Majors at 24-years-old, Boggs batted almost .350 with an on base rate over .400 in roughly half a season. Instead of that being one of those stories about a flash in the pan rookie though, Boggs would only get better.

The 1983 season saw Boggs hit .361/.444/.486. It was the first of what would be five times leading the American League in hitting and six times leading in getting on base. We only have Sean Smith’s fielding numbers to tide us over during those years, but combined with playing third base and his tremendous hitting, Boggs finished second in WAR (to Cal Ripken) that season among all hitters in baseball.

Boggs would drop to 12th in WAR in George Orwell’s dystopian year, but he rebounded over the next five seasons to finish second, first, first, first and second. From 1986 through 1988, Boggs lead baseball in WAR each season and combined finished a whopping seven wins ahead of the next best hitter. He was prevented from grabbing the title of best overall player according to WAR by his teammate Roger Clemens.

Only Barry Bonds (2001-4) has grabbed the MLB WAR pole position in three consecutive seasons since Boggs did it. Now, Wade Boggs was no Barry Bonds, but he sure was more impressive than I had been giving him credit for and in fact, if not for the three years of age difference, Boggs is a very similar player to Albert Pujols.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


75 Responses to “Remembering Wade Boggs’ Dominance”

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  1. I remember ’83 very clearly, and growing up in a Red Sox farm town (Elmira, NY), Boggs was talked about a lot. I remember having my first Boggs baseball card and thinking “Wow, this is cool” even though it was a Fleer card and I never cared for Fleer really. For a while, people would talk about who the better hitter was – Boggs or Gwynn? I remember a time when there was some Boggs backlash though… people talked about how he was only a singles hitter. I used to say “So.”, ’cause I’d rather have him hitting singles more often than most people get hits period.

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  2. hecubot says:

    Boggs was terribly underrated as a fielder – look at his double-play numbers. He was usually at or near the top of the list of double plays started for a third baseman.

    Also, he was a contact hitter with exceptional strike zone discipline. We know about the discipline, but he had that Suzuki/Gwynn/Carew ability to just stroke it to the opposite field or foul off pitches.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      discipline / scared umps. He played before pitch FX, so we can’t quantify it, but that man had a 8×10 piece of paper for a strike zone.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    Wade Boggs? Isn’t he that dude that used to call his own balls and strikes? *grin* Similar to TSW, if he didn’t swing it couldn’t have been a strike. Except for the first pitch, which he always took regardless.

    My memories of Boggs are batting average, fried chicken, nasty divorce, moutache with a great chin, toothpick legs, and single-handedly being evidence for a juiced ball by hitting 20 bombs in 87.

    It is now mandatory for all broadcasters to state that Ichiro hits a bunch of homers in BP. They said the same thing about Boggs.

    Good Lord just how many opposite field singles can one man hit? He seemingly could do it at will. Making a great pitch to Boggs seemed to be playing right into his hands.

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    • Black Swan says:

      Don’t forget going on the DL because of an injury from pulling on his cowboy boots!

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  4. JoeDaddy says:

    Maybe Wade Boggs was Barry Bonds…118 career HRs in 18 seasons w/ the majority of his prime played in Fenway, but he hits 24 HRs in 1987 alone? That’s triple his 162 gm avg w/ said outlier included.

    I’m being facetious of course, but still- those 24 Taters absolutely jump off the page when looking at this stats.

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    • AA says:

      AFAIK, Boggs made an effort to hit for power that year in the way Gwynn did in 1997/1998.

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  5. DJG says:

    On the field, great player. Off the field we all know his issues. Particularly, he favored Pitt the Elder over Lord Palmerston.

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  6. philkid3 says:

    Wade Boggs has been my choice as the second, MAYBE third, best third baseman ever for a while. Thanks for this post, Matthew.

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    • Daniel says:

      The best case I could see would be 3rd place, well behind Schmidt and Brett.

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    • Jerome S. says:

      Depends, what is Alex Rodriguez?

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    • Tracy says:

      Eddie Mathews says hello as well.

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    • DCN says:

      Boggs was great, but definitely not better than Mathews. The guy hit 512 homers with a .376 OBP and was by reputation an excellent fielder. I’d put him Boggs over Brett (much better OBP) and Chipper Jones (Boggs was a better fielder).

      If he’s a SS, I can’t see putting A-Rod over Honus Wagner, who is on the very short list for best player of all time. But A-Rod vs Schmidt would be an interesting discussion.

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      • Jason B says:

        I think players from relatively close eras can be compared readily enough if you put them in the context of their times, but Wagner from the 1900s and 1910s versus A-Rod of the 1990s and 2000s is an incredibly tough comparison to make, to me. Eras are so, so different – radical changes in player size and strength, nutrition and training, bat/ball/other technologies, color barrier and lack thereof, diversification into Latin America and Asia, strength…enhancers, etc etc etc.

        Not that it can’t be done of course; just takes some work to try and account for all the variables n’ shiz.

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  7. bSpittle says:

    I love that season with 125 walks and only 34 strikeouts.

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  8. Phantom Stranger says:

    Look at his career home/road splits. He had incredible bat control, as most of the great average hitters in history have had in their prime. He exploited the Monster in Fenway as much as he could, basically designing his swing to maximize line drives off the short LF wall for doubles. Incredible hitter, but I am not sure he puts up such amazing numbers playing in another stadium. Still, his command of the strike zone was unparalleled until a guy named Bonds started using some performance enhancers.

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    • fredsbank says:

      you just contradicted your own point… he played to the strengths of fenway, you really dont think if he was in candlestick, busch, yankee, turner, whatever, he would have found some way to exploit his home ball park?

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      • Daniel says:

        No other stadium has dimensions like Fenway to exploit. No doubt, he was a product of the Monstah.

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      • Nat Haniel says:

        No, he would have succeeded in any park. What Fenway gave him (mostly doubles), it also took away because LF is so tight. I bet he’d had hit .400 in Coors or any similar park with humongous alleys.

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    • Anon says:

      PEDs (lol) give you better command of the strike zone?

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      • bSpittle says:

        I would argue definitely, though not from a scientific standpoint.

        Look at any of the big home run hitters – Sosa went from a free-swinger to walking 100 times in a season, and I doubt that much of that was a result of pitchers throwing around him.

        He was seeing the ball better or reacting faster, I suspect.

        The improvement in his plate discipline (and later complete collapse) are unusual.

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      • DCN says:

        I doubt it. It’s more reasonable to suggest that they can help you get better strike-zone related results. Could be via pitchers pitching around people, could be through having more confidence that you can hit your pitch if you get it (and thus less need to chase or swing defensively).

        But on the Boggs v Bonds – walks, only counting years before 1999 for Bonds
        90+: Boggs 6 times, Bonds 9 times (although Boggs got 89 twice)
        100+: Boggs 4 times, Bonds 7 times.
        110+: Boggs 1, Bonds 6
        120+: Boggs 1, Bonds 6
        130+: Boggs 0, Bonds 3
        140+: Boggs 0, Bonds 2
        150+: Boggs 0, Bonds 1

        Boggs put up better OBP numbers (.434 OBP v .411 for the same ages), but it wasn’t incomparable, and that discrepancy was due to BA. Of course, Boggs didn’t have the fear factor, but he probably got more umpire respect, and Bonds was the more feared baserunner.

        But let’s not forget The Big Hurt. Dude had a .419 career OBP, higher than Boggs, and put up a .487 in 1994. As a righty! Righties seem to have a much harder path to great walk numbers, so I’d say he’s extra-impressive. His OBP against lefties was .448, which is just unreal.

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      • DCN says:

        Also, PEDs do seem to improve bat speed, so in that respect you can wait longer to make your decision.

        But as for seeing the ball better, is there any evidence of that? And wouldn’t greenies be more helpful in that area than steroids?

        I’m not saying they don’t, just that I don’t know.

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      • AA says:

        I’d call them PEBs – Performance Enhancing Beers. Miller Lite only, of course.

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  9. jeff.lewandowski says:

    .415 career OBP puts him #25 on the all-time list

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  10. adohaj says:

    “Boggs is a very similar player to Albert Pujols.”

    With WAR and maybe K/BB as the only ways of comparing them, yes

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    • Nat Haniel says:

      That threw me for a loop as well. He was as similar to Pujols today, as Billy Butler is, which is to say he was never anything like Pujols. Carew is a good comparison though.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I didn’t get that either. There may be 3 or 4 guys that are “similar” to Pujols. Boggs is not one of them.

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  11. Shoeless_Mike says:

    I read somewhere or heard it on TV that Boggs once claimed to have NEVER pulled a ball foul…

    … talk about bat control.

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  12. Resolution says:

    Wade Boggs for president 2012!

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  13. fredsbank says:

    .396 BABIP in 85…wow

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  14. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Don’t forget he loved his Miller Lite! Goes down smooth!

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  15. LeWho says:

    Long live Margo Adams!

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  16. Ralphie says:

    He wasn’t very good at playing with Rosey Palm and her five maidens.

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  17. syoung says:

    I realize this is probably the wrong site to post this but some of the comments in here just beg for it. Boggs was by far the most selfish and self-centered player I’ve seen go through Fenway. Year after year it seemed the day after he got his 200th hit, he essentially quit on the team whether the Sox were in contention or not (which they mostly were in that period). He rarely was willing to turn on a ball and at least try to hit for power – or even a sac fly – when the game situation screamed for it. Off the field he was unusually vocal about his contempt for both fans and management and he held a perennial grudge against the ownership for allegedly keeping him in the minors too long for what they considered his fielding deficiencies. Maybe one reason why he’s somewhat forgotten – at least here in Boston – is that watching him play game after game, year after year was such a joyless experience.

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    • Adam W says:

      He has a point about being kept in the minors too long, though. He clearly had nothing to prove at Pawtucket having already won a AAA batting title by the time they gave him the call, and Carney Lansford wasn’t exactly Eddie Matthews.

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    • Joe D, says:

      Ooh, ooh, go ahead and tell me about what quitters Manny and Clements and Nomar were, too.

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    • Jamie says:

      So you would have preferred a hypothetical Wade Boggs who “was willing to turn on a ball” to the actual Wade Boggs who was routinely worth 8 wins a year to your favorite team?

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    • Nat Haniel says:

      Yet he didn’t display that same attitude once in NY.

      It wasn’t Wade, it was the team. A decade of malcontents who were made to look even worse by local scribes complying to the team’s fanbase tired of losing.

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    • Eric M. Van says:

      It’s amazing and pathetic how the human brain works.

      In 1985 Boggs hit .392 / .479 / .441 after collecting his 200th hit (the only year it’s a substantial sample).

      In 1986 he went 7 for 12 with 3 2B and 2 BB, then sat out the last 5 games of the season with a hamstring tear (which I believe he was already playing through). He was prepared to go into game 162 to defend his batting title against Mattingly, although McNamara has said he wouldn’t have allowed him to play.

      In 1987, when the Sox were not in contention, he indeed played hurt until he got to 200 hits and then shut it down.

      In 1988, with the Sox in contention, he hit .448 / .568 / .586 after his 200th hit. But at that point you knew what was going on, so why pay attention to reality?

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    • Eric M. Van says:

      “He rarely was willing to turn on a ball and at least try to hit for power – or even a sac fly – when the game situation screamed for it.”

      I looked at the three years the Sox were in contention, ’86, ’88, and ’90.

      Boggs had 17 SF in 103 PA with a runner on 3B and less than 2 outs, a 17% rate. Last year the AL average was 13%.

      Oh, yeah, overall Boggs was .469 / .505 / .734 in these situations, which I believe is somewhat better than MLB average as well.

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      • Joe D, says:

        (Shakes Fist)

        Damn you, Eric M. Van, and your pesky facts!

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      • Jason B says:

        Seconded. I love seeing someone just totally shred these visceral rants with the unrelenting light of cold, hard facts. Well stated.

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  18. Aaron says:

    I was going to make a claim that offensively he performs a lot like Youk, but thank God for the accessibility of information where I discovered that they aren’t remotely comparable.

    Boggs walked WAY more struck out WAY less hit for LESS power and had a WAY better wOBA.

    I was once at a bar-mitzvah with Wade Boggs. I was 12. He was at the end of his career. I vividly remember him standing up from a chair and having 8 Miller Lite bottles in between his fingers… during COCKTAIL HOUR. What a stud.

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  19. Adam W says:

    Pujols is probably a fair comp if you look purely at the numbers – 7+ wins with the bat plus another with the glove. If anything, the comparison underscores just how different the run environments were in the mid-80s.

    It’s funny that he and Cal Ripken Jr were 1-2 in WAR, since both played in the Longest Game: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest_professional_baseball_game

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  20. jb says:

    syoung is on the money about Boggs. Total waste of a human just like the others mentioned, Clemens and Bonds. So happy when he left Boston. Of course I was happy when Nomar left too. Long live Jeter….

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  21. Boggs Lite says:

    the WAR is nice, but far more importantly, Boggs once drank 64 Miller Lites on a cross-country flight.

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  22. Dan G says:

    No question that Boggs had an attitude, I’d suggest that it is part of why he was so successful.

    While he did benefit from Fenway, his road slash numbers of .302 .387 .395 are nothing to sneeze at.

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  23. Choo says:

    Like most 8-year old baseball card collectors in the 80’s, my cards qualified in one of three primary categories: Stud, Common and Hilarious. Each pack, once the preceding pack war had dwindled to a truce, was rigidly separated as such, with the lone exception being the glorious combination of Hilarious Stud. Cheers to you, Wade Boggs, the eternal segue between Stud and Hilarious.

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  24. philkid3 says:

    Anyone remember the All-Century team? Want another reason to make fun of it?

    Wade Boggs wasn’t even on the ballot for third base.

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  25. Jaxx says:

    I always thought he hit 24 homeruns that year to prove to the media that he could hit for power if he wanted to, not a product of a juiced ball or a juiced player.

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    • Dan G says:

      I think proving he could hit for power was part of it but I don’t think he would have done it if the balls weren’t juiced.

      I’d be disappointed but not surprised if he was juicing – he certainly didn’t seem overly concerned about rules and ethics.

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  26. Sox27 says:

    What I love about Wade Boggs (aside from his affinity for fried chicken), was the fact that his career debunks the myth of the “fast, slappy lead-off hitter.” The goal of the leadoff man is to get on base. Ozzie Guillen, please take note.

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  27. Eric M. Van says:

    My favorite Boggs stat is that he hit .401 / .489 / .542 in 748 PA over the 162 scheduled Sox games from June 10, 1985 to June 6, 1986. I actually noticed that at the time, but no one else did, else it might be as well-known as it should be.

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  28. Max G says:

    As a Bluejays fan through the 80s, 90s, and 00s, I saw Boggs light up the Jays like a Christmas tree many times. Among my circle of friends, and in general it seemed to me that Boggs was perceived as being a dominant, unstoppable hitter at that time; an on-base machine. I haven’t seen a player quite like him since that time, ton of hits, walks, runs, average, doubles, but little to no HRs or SBs–a true professional batsman. He was adept at bat control, patience, possessed and uncanny eye, and played outstanding defense at 3B. There was a good 6 to 7 year stretch there where it seemed nobody could get him out.

    I remember when he had his gazillionth 200-hit season in a row, and I thought to myself, how incredible that a guy that is so selective at the plate can still pile up so many hits each year. You’d think his walk totals would be high enough that even with a robust average, the BBs would cut into his atbats enough that he’d struggle to crack 190. An astonishing player. He seemed like he was always hustling, too, and I admired players that went full throttle like that; probably why he hit so many doubles.

    As for 1987, that was a CRAZY year for hitters across the board. The ball was most definitely juiced that year, it seemed everybody and anybody’s grandma was launching 30 bombs in 1987. Boggs was in his prime then, his physique was the same before and after, and the ball flew off his bat just the same as everyone else that year – with alarming force. He returned back to his powerless single slapping self the next year.

    Personally, I think the most remarkable power-hitting transformation of all time that NEVER gets talked about was Kirby Puckett.

    From 1984 to 1985, in 1387 plate appearances, Kirby Puckett hit a grand total of 4 home runs. Zero as a rookie, and 4 as a sophomore. Then in 1986, he hit 31 home runs. That is astounding. PEDs? I don’t know, he had a weird body-type, was very round, barrell-like with short arms and legs, but you have to wonder where the heck that power came from. He continued to hit for power from that point forward, but it is strange for a guy that saw that many at bats and demonstrated fully that he had no power, then is an overnight fencebuster.

    That is every bit as wacky an 80s power surge (if not more so) as Boggs suddenly hitting 24 jacks in 1987.

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    • Dan G says:

      Great write-up. You are correct to mention his defense as it highlights another aspect to Boggs’ dedication to his profession. He was justly criticized early on for being an average defensive 3B and that all he could do was hit. Through hard work and willpower became a plus defender. He was definitely one of those guys that fed on the negativity that is part of the Red Sox experience (especially back then) and used it to make himself a better player.

      He also had one of the all-time greatest names (or at least parents with a great sense of humor!)

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  29. CircleChange11 says:

    Maybe it’s just me or because I was a youth during Boggs playing days, but I never would have guessed that he had a consecutive string of 8 WAR seasons.

    I do recall him being somewhat of an atypical leadiff hitter in that he did not steal bases. He seems like the perfect #2 hitter, based on philosophies of the 80s. He would have been the perfect batter to hit Behind Rickey, Celeman, or Raines.

    Boggs with sabermetrics, would easily be the mega-zobrist, among saber-fans.

    I recall Tony Gwynn being the more revered hitter but that is likely due to him being more diversified.

    To play on the expression about being “country”, Boggs was “OBP” before OBP was cool.

    I think a lot of BOS players are disgruntled to some degree b/c of the media/fans there. That is not a new phenomenon.

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  30. Preston says:

    Thought this was an interesting stat:
    Wade Boggs, home and road OPS: .934/.781
    Jim Rice, .920/.789

    This is not to say they are in any way the same player – Boggs obviously played a harder position, was good for longer, and OPS underrates OBP, but if you’re going to argue that Rice was overrated because he was a product of Fenway Park (as many have done), don’t you have to acknowledge that the same argument could be made for Boggs (and please note that this doesn’t necessarily mean he was overrated to the point that he’s not a deserving Hall of Famer)?

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