The Minor League Years - Paying His Dues
By SCOTT CARTER, The Tampa Tribune
As he packed his van for the long drive home to Tampa in late summer 1981, Wade Boggs watched some of his teammates pack their bags for the majors. The routine had been the same for Boggs for six consecutive years.
Boggs was beginning to wonder if he would ever play at Fenway Park, especially after the season he enjoyed at Triple-A Pawtucket in 1981. Boggs set career highs in batting average (.335), hits (167), doubles (41), home runs (5), RBIs (60) and walks (89).
``When I finished the season in Pawtucket, I broke 17 records as a left-handed hitter in the league and I'm going home,'' he said. ``There are guys hitting .230, .240, going to the big leagues. I'm thinking: `Wow, I don't know what else to do.' So then I went to winter ball, played in Puerto Rico and then in December, they finally invited me to the 40-man roster and to spring training in '82.''
Boggs finally made his major-league debut on April 10, 1982, and as they say, the rest is history. But on his way to Cooperstown, Boggs made stops in places like Elmira, Winston-Salem, Bristol and Pawtucket. It was during six full minor-league seasons that Boggs refined not only his batting stroke, but also his appreciation of the opportunity in front of him.
``I was playing baseball,'' Boggs said. ``That was my passion. You just have to wait for a break. That's what a lot of kids don't realize nowadays. They're just too anxious to wait for a break. They're sitting there going, `Well, I should be in the big leagues.' Well, you're hitting .235 in Triple-A, dude. It's just not going to happen.''
Other than a .263 average at Elmira in 1976, his first professional season, Boggs hit .300 or better every year in the minors. Still, he had to climb his way through Boston's farm system until finally breaking into the majors at age 23, considered advanced for the top prospects of the 21st century.
``I was the kid that was always fighting the odds until [Boston third baseman] Carney Lansford broke his ankle in June of '82,'' Boggs said. ``If he doesn't break his ankle, we're not talking. It's kind of crazy how things work out.''
Looking back, Boggs wouldn't change his career path toward the majors. Those six seasons taught him a lot about life and the game. They also drove him to become a better player, something he doesn't always see in top prospects today.
``The thing that I don't see nowadays is that there's no carrot anymore,'' Boggs said. ``There's no carrot in front of the horse. These guys are 18 years old and going to big- league camp. I had to work my [butt] off to get to big-league camp. My carrot was trying to get on the 40-man roster and get to spring training.
``And now I guess the norm is these guys going into the bargaining agreement with their agents and saying, `Well, if he doesn't get an invitation to big-league camp, he's not going to sign.' Well, guess what?
``There is a bunch of UPS trucks out there that these kids could be driving. I just think that these young players have not proven themselves at all.''
No one can say that about Boggs.
Defining Moment, minor- league years;
First Trip To Hall Wouldn't Be Last
The first time Wade Boggs made it to the Hall of Fame, he had never won a batting crown, hit .300, won a Gold Glove or played in Fenway Park. In fact, Boggs was barely 18 and only a couple of months removed from leaving his Tampa home for upstate New York to begin his baseball career.
The year was 1976, Boggs' first season as a professional baseball player. On an off-day while playing for Single-A Elmira of the New York-Penn League, Boggs and a couple of teammates made the drive to Cooperstown.
It was a time to dream and to imagine what might be.
``I remember just looking around the Hall of Fame and saying, `Wow, one day maybe I'll make it to the big leagues,' '' Boggs said. ``But for anyone to fathom they could be in the Hall of Fame, that was like from Mercury to Pluto - light years away.''
Twenty-nine years later, Boggs has a permanent home in Cooperstown.
Struggling To Make Ends Meet
These days, Wade Boggs enjoys a life of luxury in the city where he grew up.
Boggs made millions during his Hall of Fame playing career, which allowed him to spend the past four years as an unpaid assistant coach for his son's Wharton High baseball team. He also takes exotic hunting trips around the globe regularly and spends much of his time at home fishing on Tampa Bay.
But when Boggs first started playing professional baseball in 1976, he could barely afford a globe or a piece of fish.
Boggs made $500 a month playing for Single-A Elmira fresh out of Plant High in '76. By his fourth year in the minors in 1979 at Bristol, Boggs was making a whopping $650 a month.
When he and his wife, Debbie, had their first child that year, he asked for a raise.
``We didn't tell you to have a child,'' Bristol's front office told him.
In the offseason, Boggs attended classes at Hillsborough Community College and picked up odd jobs here and there. One of them was as a warehouse worker at a place where his father, Win, was a security guard.
``I worked in the warehouse for about a month and a half and didn't like the work,'' Boggs said. ``I said, `I better move up the corporate ladder really fast because I don't like to work.' But Deb was a godsend. She worked nights and we lived with my parents for seven years over on [Davis Islands] until we had enough money to afford our own place.''
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