Snapshots from the 1980s: Wade Boggs

As noted in the introduction to last Friday’s conversation with Chris Chambliss, three years ago I did a series of short interviews that were never published and will appear in this space over the coming weeks. They focus on baseball during the decades of the 1980s, and today’s subject is Wade Boggs, who played for the Red Sox, Yankees and Devil Rays from 1982-1999.

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Boggs, on OBP in the ‘80s: “That was my game. It was how I thrived, but at the point in time that I played, I was criticized for doing something that is now fashionable – Moneyball, or whatever you want to call it. Today, everybody is looking for a guy who can get on base 250 times a year, and at the time I was doing it I was getting 200 hits and 100 walks. Then I would go to arbitration and be criticized for doing something that [front offices] now love.

Billy Beane, the guy in Oakland, is the one who really put it on the map and it’s been fashionable for close to 10 years by now. Like I said, it wasn’t that way when I played, especially earlier in my career. I led off, so I always felt that it was my job to get on base and set the table for Jim Rice, Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, and all the big guys coming up to drive me in. That was a part of the game that I excelled at, but quite frankly, it was a part of the game that I was criticized for.”

On how he developed his approach: “It was something that I was always good at — hitting line drives, working counts, and being satisfied with a walk. A lot of guys weren’t satisfied with walking; they would rather swing and eventually try to get a hit. My approach was that if a pitcher wants to pitch around you and give you a free pass, you should take it. Getting on base is a big part of the game.”

On why he was a great hitter: “It was probably a combination of good eyesight and good eye-hand coordination. With those two things I could recognize a pitch on the way and make an adjustment with my swing to hit various pitches. That’s probably one of the things that set me aside from other hitters.

“I had the same swing in Little League that I did at 41, when I retired. I never really tinkered with my swing, stance, or anything like that. I stood in the same place all the time and never really changed.”

On what he considers his best season: “It’s hard to say, but maybe the year I had 240 hits. I think I hit .368 that year. The year that I hit 24 home runs and drove in 89 was probably the best production year I had.”

On hitting 24 home runs in 1987: “I think that it was an El Nino year where the wind was blowing out a little more. I went back and tried to analyze it and the only thing I did a lot more of that year was hit a lot more fly balls. Consequently, they went out of the ballpark. The next year I tried to duplicate that swing and just couldn’t do it.”

On the best pitchers in the American League in the 1980s: “Oh gosh, I could go on and on. Toronto had Dave Stieb, and Jack Morris was around. Ron Guidry was at the end of his career in the ‘80s, but he was still doing well. Mark Langston is another. I went through a whole era of pitchers and got to face the same guys over and over, and there were a lot of good pitchers. I had success against a lot of them.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Walt in Maryland
Guest
Walt in Maryland

I knew Boggs in 1979, when he was playing at Bristol. Even then, he was being underrated, because people expected third basemen to hit home runs. He spent two years at every stop on the minor league ladder, even though he hit over .300 with a high OBP every year. When he finally made the Sox in 1982, it was only because he was out of options and because no other team was willing to spend $25,000 to sign him as a minor league free agent.

eckmuhl
Member
eckmuhl

Yeah, can you imagine a 20yr old IF in AA today putting up .300 AVG & .400 OBP in a relatively tough hitting environment, and the club deciding they should repeat the level? He may have wasted a year or two in the minors, but it did make him better prepared to hit well over .300 immediately in the majors. If he had been brought up earlier and hit .280, Boston might well have shipped him out. Worked out well for everybody in the end, because that LH inside out swing was tailor made for Fenway Park.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

It also didn’t hurt that he was really solid with the glove, too. A guy with a .420ish OBP, and it’s not like he was a slap hitter, either. Not many home runs, but 40 doubles and a few triples in a year is definitely useful power. It’s not like he’s Juan Pierre, who never had an ISO at .100 or higher.

mettle
Guest
mettle

If I recall, the big sticking point was the depth chart at 3rd base. They had Butch Hobson in the late 70s, and he was a fixture there. Then they had Glenn Hoffman who was a young prospect that was supposed to be good. Then Carney Lansford was at third base and he was hitting .300+.
Once they could trade Lansford to the As, Boggs was brought up.
What was cool was that Lansford was a fixture on the late 80s/early 90s As, who were the Sox’s biggest rivals in that era.

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