Full Name: Wade Anthony Boggs
Position: Third baseman
Born: June 15, 1958 (Omaha, NE)
Yankee Years: 1993-97
Primary number: 12
Yankee statistics: 601 games, 2,600 PA, .313/.396/.407, 24 HR, 355 R, 246 RBI, 132 wRC+, 18.3 rWAR, 16.5 fWAR
In a sport that was increasingly beginning to favor power hitters, Wade Boggs represented a throwback to a more contract-driven time. He was the AL’s answer to Tony Gwynn, capturing four straight batting titles while leading a Red Sox squad that fell short of a championship year after year. He was well on track to joining the list of Hall of Famers never to win the ultimate prize, that is, until the Yankees came calling.
Mired in the mediocrity of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, George Steinbrenner grew sick of overseeing a perennial non-contender. Therefore, when Boggs became a free agent following the 1992 season, New York seized the opportunity to poach the best position player from their longtime rivals. His steady bat and veteran presence in the clubhouse eased the transition to a youth-led movement, helping capture the team’s first title in 18 years and ushering in the last dynasty to grace the Bronx.
Moving around before settling in Tampa
Wade Anthony Boggs was the third of three children born to Winfield “Win” Boggs, a World War II marine veteran and later Air Force pilot in the Korean War, and Susan Graham, a mail-plane pilot. As a military family, the Boggs’ never put down roots for long until Win retired from the Air Force and settled with the family in Tampa in 1969.
Boggs was a standout athlete in both football and baseball while attending Henry B. Plant High School, earning All-State honors as a quarterback. His prowess as a hitter in baseball — he hit .522 as a junior — led pitchers to throw him fewer and fewer strikes, resulting in a chase-induced slump to start his senior year. On the advice of his father, Boggs read Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting and wound up finishing his senior year with a .485 average. In order to reduce injury risk, Boggs switched from quarterback to placekicker, even earning a scholarship offer from the University of South Carolina in that position. However, at that point Boggs had made up his mind that he wanted to be a professional ballplayer as soon as possible.
Beating the odds in the minors
Unfortunately for Boggs, and despite his success in junior and senior year, the Major League Scouting Bureau was less-than-impressed with the third baseman coming out of high school. This didn’t keep Red Sox scout George Digby from pursuing the 18-year-old:
“There were a lot of people who liked him because he was a great hitter, but the Scouting Bureau representative came down, watched him for one game and graded him a 25, which on their scale of 20 to 80 is about 13 points below the minimal level for a player to be drafted. The Dodgers and Reds liked him, but they backed off because they said he couldn’t run. I just kept telling [then Boston scouting director] Haywood Sullivan, ‘Draft Boggs somewhere. Hitters like him don’t come along often.’ “ Sullivan selected Boggs in the seventh round.
Digby managed to persuade Sullivan to draft Boggs in the seventh round of the 1976 amateur draft, the $7,500 signing bonus enough to tempt Boggs away from considering college baseball.
Evaluators continued to harbor their doubts about Boggs, particularly when it came to his lack of power, speed and fielding ability, and so he experienced a rather slow progression through the system:
“I was told in the minor leagues that I’ll never play third in the big leagues. That I don’t hit for power so I’m not going to play in the big leagues. I’m not fast enough. I was told so many different things. The only thing I ever wanted to do was play professional baseball and in the minors I was getting paid to play so I didn’t get discouraged.”
During his time in the minors, Boggs got to participate in the longest game in professional baseball history — a 33-inning, eight hour and 25 minute affair played out over two days between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Cal Ripken Jr.-led Rochester Red Wings (the marathon ended 3-2, Pawtucket).
Breaking into the Boston squad
Boggs finally got his chance to prove himself in the majors in 1982, a strong spring convincing manager Ralph Houk (late of the Yankees) to roster the 24-year-old as a utility player. He made his big league debut April 10, 1982 in the second game of a doubleheader vs. the Orioles, finishing 0-for-4 with “four dribblers in the infield, all off changeups.” His first big league hit came two weeks later — an eighth inning single off White Sox reliever Richard Dotson in the first game of a doubleheader in Chicago. He would even come around to score the winning run on a Jim Rice single.
Still, Boggs was a distant consideration to start at third, blocked behind reigning American League batting champion Carney Lansford. That remained the case until Lansford suffered a severe ankle sprain colliding with the catcher while attempting to leg out an inside-the-park home run June 23rd against the Tigers. Boggs grabbed the opportunity with both hands, playing in 89 of the remaining 96 games and finishing with a .349 average in 381 plate appearances. Boston was convinced and handed Boggs the starting third base job in 1983, trading Lansford to Oakland to make space for the youngster. Boggs may have finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting at the end of 1982, but he Wally Pipp’d his way to being named starter and never looked back.
The AL’s premier contact hitter
Boggs entered a new stratosphere his first season as a full-time starter. He won his first batting title in 1983, his .361 average 22 points higher than second-place finisher Rod Carew. After a relative down year in 1984 in which he “only” batted .325, Boggs would then capture the next four AL batting crowns by batting .368, .357, .363 and .366 in 1985-88, giving him five in his first seven big league seasons. In 1985, he set a Red Sox franchise record with 240 hits en route to a career-best fourth place finish in MVP balloting.
As incredible as his bat-to-ball skills were, one element of his game that occasionally gets overlooked was his elite plate discipline. He led MLB in on-base percentage in 1983 and then 1985-1989, the mark never falling below .430 in any year he took the crown. This elite ability to draw walks made Boggs one of the most valuable players of the decade — his 69.2 fWAR from 1982-1991 was tops among all position players and his 146 wRC+ tied with Will Clark for second behind Fred McGriff during that span. In a seven-year span from 1983-1989, Boggs tallied four seasons worth at least eight fWAR and two more worth at least seven, finishing first or second in MLB in that metric six times. By finishing 1989 with 205 hits, Boggs became the first player in MLB history with least seven consecutive 200-hit seasons, a record since broken by Ichiro in 2008.
Boggs got his first and only shot at a World Series with Boston in 1986 and that infamous Bill Buckner series against the Mets. However, only a few months prior, he suffered immense personal tragedy, his mother dying in a car accident when a cement truck driver ran a red light. After falling in seven games to the Queens outfit, Boggs was brought to tears in the dugout, not because they lost, but because “When it was over, I was thinking, ‘Now I’ve got to go home and when I walk in the house, she’s not going to be there.’” He even considered retiring after the season, but his father convinced him to carry on.
“Traitorous” move to the Yankees
After unquestionably Boggs’ worst season in the majors to that point — .259/.353/.358, a 91 wRC+ and only 1.5 fWAR in 1992 — the Red Sox offered the then-free agent a one-year deal, leading to feelings of betrayal after he had been promised a five-year deal by Jean Yawkey, only for her to pass away before the contract was signed. So, he repaid their treachery with a betrayal of his own, signing a three-year, $11 million deal with the rival Yankees. Their GM, Gene Michael, was unconcerned about the blip in production, and “Stick” turned out to be right on the money.
Boggs returned to form, batting .302/.378/.363 to earn All-Star and Silver Slugger nods in his first year in pinstripes. His first signature Yankee moment came in his first return to Fenway Park after his move to the Bronx, going 4-for-4 on the night.
Boggs also continued to prove his early scouters wrong, honing aspects of his game even well into his mid-30s. Never considered a stellar defender with Boston, Boggs captured back-to-back Gold Gloves at third in 1994 and 1995 on account of plays like this one to preserve Jim Abbott’s no-hitter in 1993:
The strike robbed the Yankees of a chance in the playoffs in 1994, and they were bounced by the Mariners in the ALDS a year later. Following 1995, Steinbrenner continued to like what he saw from the veteran, re-upping Boggs for two years and $4 million, which allowed him to deal third-base prospect Russ Davis to Seattle for Tino Martinez.
World champion at last
Although his value was beginning to tail off in the latter stages of his 30s, Boggs nonetheless managed to bat at least .300 in each of his first four seasons with the Bombers, appearing in 132 games in 1996.
It was a magical year in the Bronx, and Boggs also managed to redeem a personally unsuccessful postseason by drawing one of the most famous free passes in Yankees history. With the score knotted at 6-6 in the 10th inning of World Series Game 4 against the Braves, Joe Torre sent Boggs to pinch-hit for Andy Fox. Boggs quickly fell behind 1-2 facing Steve Avery, but laid off two sliders just off the outside edge to draw the a pinch-hit, bases-loaded, two-out, full count walk to plate Tim Raines as the go ahead run.
The Yankees would go on to complete the comeback, roaring all the way back from 6-0 down to win, 8-6, in ten innings before ultimately taking the series in six games.
One of the enduring images of that World Series saw Boggs discard his fear of horses and take a victory lap around Yankee Stadium horseback behind a New York City police officer.
Superstitions, cameos, and an unsavory affair
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the quirks and off the field events that all contributed to the legend of Wade Boggs. In a sport replete with superstition, perhaps no one can stake a more valid claim to crown of ‘most superstitious player’ than Boggs. He was known to wear the same socks before every game, take exactly 150 groundballs during fielding practice, begin batting practice at exactly 5:17 and run sprints at exactly 7:17. He would also write “Chai” — Hebrew for “life” — in the batter’s box dirt before every at-bat despite not practicing Judaism.
However, his most well-known superstition was his insistence on eating chicken for every pregame meal. The habit led Boston teammate Jim Rice to nickname him “Chicken Man” and even resulted in Boggs convincing Frank Perdue to deliver him a tractor-trailer filled with chicken. So how in the world did this particular superstition come about? The answer might surprise you:
“A buddy of mine that owned a restaurant here in Tampa, Brad Gray, said, ‘Hey, why don’t you write a chicken cookbook with your grandmother’s and mother’s and wife’s recipes and we’ll go in and sell it,’” Boggs remembered in a recent phone call. So, after Boggs offered up the genius name — Fowl Tips — they jumped into the project. The only catch? “Well, the only sticking point is you’re gonna have to eat chicken every day to sell it,” Gray said.
18 straight seasons of eating chicken every day for half the year? Just to sell a cookbook? Yup.
“Basically, in 1983, we ate chicken every day and I wound up winning a batting title in ‘83. I ate the chicken for the book,” Boggs said. “And then once the chicken just kept going, I just continued the superstition with the chicken. They sort of worked hand in hand.”
Interestingly, this seems to contradict a previous interview with Boggs, in which he gives a far less intriguing reason for his chicken superstition:
“My stomach always required mild foods, so I was eating chicken three or four times a week in 1977 when I was playing in Winston-Salem. I noticed that I always seemed to hit best after chicken. So I started having Debbie fix it every day.”
I guess we’ll never know the true origin story behind the Chicken Man. (In case you were wondering, Boggs’ favorite recipes are Italian chicken and his wife’s fried chicken.)
Boggs also made a handful of memorable cameos on popular TV shows of the time. He appeared alongside Yankees teammate Don Mattingly in the iconic Simpsons episode “Homer at the Bat,” getting knocked out by Barney Gumble in a bar fight over whether Lord Palmerston or Pitt the Elder was England’s greatest Prime Minister.
The future Hall of Famer also appeared as himself in an episode of Cheers and approved of George Steinbrenner’s insistence on switching to cotton jerseys in an episode of Seinfeld.
An avid wrestling fan, Boggs appeared in a WWF vignette alongside Curt Hennig (Mr. Perfect) in 1992. Hennig would later save Boggs’ life when the latter cut his leg on barbed wire during a hunting trip, and Boggs would go on to honor his late friend, inducting him into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that Boggs should take a page straight out of André the Giant’s book as one of the most prodigious drinkers the sport of baseball has ever seen. Urban legend states that Boggs drank a mind-boggling 107 beers in a single afternoon, starting in the Boston clubhouse postgame, continuing during both legs and the layover of a cross-country flight, and ending with teammates on a night out. There were questions over the veracity of the story and the exact quantity Boggs consumed until he confirmed the figure of 107 during a cameo on an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
How any human could survive consuming that quantity of alcohol is a mystery, though we do have a hint from Boggs’ former teammate Brian Rose:
“I was sitting next to him on a plane and a flight attendant came by and gave him a case of beer. He slid it under the seat, and I was like, ‘What’s up with that? We only have an hour flight.’ He said, ‘That’s mine.’” Rose recalls that he didn’t even see Boggs go to the bathroom during their travels and certainly didn’t see him acting drunk. “Beer doesn’t affect me,” Rose remembers him saying. “I don’t get drunk unless I’ve had at least a case and a half.”
Boggs attracted off-field notoriety for some decidedly less light-hearted reasons as well. In 1988, it was revealed that Boggs had a four-year extramarital affair with Margo Adams, who went on to sue the ballplayer for $12 million while interviewing with everywhere from Penthouse magazine to The Phil Donahue Show (the lawsuit was later dismissed). Later that year, Boggs suffered a cut on his neck during a confrontation outside of a bar and even fell out of and was subsequently run over by his wife’s Jeep but managed to escape serious injury.
Devil Rays days and post-retirement
Boggs lost the starting job to Charlie Hayes in 1997, and despite going 3-for-7 that postseason, the Yankees would get knocked out by Cleveland and Boggs’ tenure in the Bronx came to a close. However, sitting at an even 2,800 career base hits, he was still determined to surpass that hallowed 3,000 threshold, and so he signed a two-year deal with the nascent expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, his hometown team.
With just under two months to go in the 1999 season, a 41-year-old Boggs roped a two-run shot to left off Cleveland reliever Chris Haney to become the first player in MLB history to homer for their 3,000 hit. Only Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have since matched the feat.
Boggs called it quits on an 18-year big league career at the conclusion of that season and was enshrined as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2005.
The man was a remarkable blend of bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, batting over .300 15 times while having only one season in which he struck out more than he walked. Boggs’ 1.9 walk-to-strikeout ratio is the 31st-highest in the modern era. He was an All-Star in 12 consecutive seasons from 1985-1996, an eight-time Silver Slugger, five-time batting champion, and — with an assist from his ‘96 teammates — a World Series winner as well.
Staff rank: 83
Community rank: 81
Stats rank: 78
2013 rank: 72
Peter Gammons, “Pretty fair for a fowl guy,” Sports Illustrated, April 14, 1986.
Christopher L. Gasper, “Fact is, injuries can cost you a job in sports,” Boston Globe, November 25, 2012.
Ryan Murphy, “10 Most Superstitious Athletes,” Men’s Journal, April 23, 2018.
Michael Clair, “Boggs became ‘Chicken Man’ for a cookbook,” August 23, 2021. https://www.mlb.com/news/wade-boggs-nickname-was-because-of-a-chicken-cookbook
Olivia White, “The Urban Legend of Wade Boggs’ 107-Beer Flight,” November 8, 2022. https://vinepair.com/articles/wade-boggs-beer-flight/