Let’s take a moment to honor one of the more underappreciated, one the most outrageous (bordering on fiction), and one of the most technically skilled hitters of the half-century. If moustaches could kill, Wade Boggs would be serving the first of three life sentences. Boggs was so manly on the baseball field that, in an era of steroid-riddled mashers, he made hitting singles and doubles cool. If a character accurately modeled on Boggs’ bizarre personal habits had been incorporated into the movie Major League, viewers would’ve dismissed him as, “too unbelievable.” Where does the man end and the legend begin? Perhaps we’ll never know, but we
can begin by looking at the facts (and then the barroom tales, in that order).
Here are the facts. When Wade Boggs wielded a baseball bat as a year-and-a-half old toddler, none other than Ted Williams called his swing, “perfect.” Williams later praised adult Wade’s eye-hand coordination as, “the best I’ve ever seen.” Mr. Boggs ranks in the top 25 all-time in Singles, Doubles, On-Base Percentage, Hits, and 3B Assists. He won 5 batting titles in 6 years, had 7 straight 200-hit seasons, and played in 12 consecutive All Star games. He managed to play for both the Red Sox and Yankees without incurring lasting ire from either fan base. He played in the longest game in professional baseball history – an eight-and-a-half hour marathon. He pitched a shutout inning using predominantly knuckleballs at the age of 39. Boggs even managed to snag two Gold Gloves in order to provide trophy case company to his 8 Silver Slugger awards. In 2 separate full seasons, he batted .410 or better at home, and finished with a career .354 home average. He’s the only player to slug a homer for his 3,000th hit and was a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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On a baseball diamond, Wade was a man with few peers. Yet he was even more dominant off the field.
Now the barroom tales. We’ve all heard the legend of Boggs’ famous superstitions. The precise 5:17 batting cage arrival. The precise 7:17 sprints. Precisely 150 grounders at third to warm up. And the chicken. Oh, the chicken. Wade first noticed a correlation between the poultry on his dinner plate and his hits at home plate as a 20-year old minor leaguer. And he never looked back. Crispy, moist, fried, grilled or baked, Wade consumed chicken every remaining day of his baseball career. His wife Debbie claims to have hundreds of chicken recipes (including lemon chicken – his favorite) and together they authored a cookbook in 1984 titled, Fowl Tips: My Favorite Chicken Recipes. See, Boggs even excels at puns. Wade’s elaborately obsessive-compulsive pre-game routine – he once revealed that he has 86 superstitions in total – culminated after five-and-a-half hours in the drawing of a Hebrew symbol for life and good luck in the batter’s box (although he himself is not Jewish). Good luck he has never needed. Life he has in surplus, and he doles out death at his whim. Wade was not just a big game guy when it came to the playoffs, he’s also bagged leopards, buffalos, bears and zebras. During visits to Mozambique and Tanzania, he became a real-life modern day Allan Quatermain (or perhaps Hercules), killing a hippo, a crocodile, and a lion that were terrorizing innocent villagers and their livestock. Befitting his hero status, Boggs led the Yankees 1996 AL Championship victory lap – on horseback.
Wade is not entirely superhuman. He’s made mistakes. There was the Rays’ HOF cap controversy. Not entirely unjustifiable, as W.B. did grow up in Tampa. There was the Margo Adams lawsuit in the late ‘80’s and Boggs allegedly filming teammates’ extramarital endeavors so they wouldn’t reveal his own. Some might call that blackmail, I suppose. Some might call it curiosity, in part – after all Wade was a self-admitted, “sex addict.” But frankly there are few among us who, if we were being completely honest, would not categorize ourselves as such. Shame on the media for making it sound like a bad thing. Enough of Boggs’ slip-ups. On to his beer consumption.
The Miller Lite legend is one that has been propagated in recent years, primarily via blogs. But it deserves a place in the TTF archives as well. It stems from whispers, rumors, and a specific interview with ex-Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson. In it, the pitcher says of Boggs, “I’ve never seen anyone drink as much beer as he did in my life.” Nelson estimates that during an average coast-to-coast plane trip, Wade would crush 50 to 60 Miller Lites (and nothing but Miller Lites). Yeah, you’re not the only one who thinks it sounds crazy and impossible. When questioned about it, Wade himself impishly refused to confirm or deny, saying simply that it was, “a lot.” Nelson knows his estimate sounds mad, and in his interview he called up former teammate and Boggs beholder, Paul Sorrento, for corroboration. When asked how many beers Wade would down on a coast-to-coast, Sorrento improved upon Nelson’s estimate as follows: “oh, jeez,” (exhales deeply) “I don’t know, like 70.” Since then, a movement has sprung up to rename every Miller Lite in existence a “Boggs.” I, for one, am onboard.
Wade Boggs, with new auburn locks sprouting from his shiny dome – a result of the men’s hair re-growth system he markets (after all, excess reserves of testosterone are linked to baldness) – has only this platitude to offer: “Life’s too short. You have to enjoy it.” From anyone else’s mouth it would sound trite. From the goatee-rimmed mouth of one of baseball’s greatest, it is a serious mantra for which he is the poster child. All hail Wade the perfect swinger, in every sense. Let us down a Boggs in his honor.