For the first seven seasons of his career, Wade Boggs hit for average like Rogers Hornsby and got on base like Ted Williams. He won five batting titles in those seven seasons and had a .356 career average at that point. In the ensuing 11 years he hit only .307, but still solidified himself as one of the best third basemen in the history of the game and only the second to become a member of the 3,000-hit club.
Boggs had seven consecutive 200-hit seasons from 1983-1989, and in six of those years he reached base at least 300 times. He was a patient hitter, and despite not having speed he served as a leadoff batter for much of his career. As a result, he scored more than 100 runs seven times and crossed the plate more than 1,500 times in his Hall of Fame career.
After 11 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Boggs signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees after the ’92 campaign. Later, former Boston stars Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon would do the same, but at the time it was unusual for a Red Sox player of Boggs’ stature to ink a deal with the hated Yankees. In New York, Boggs continued to hit over .300, and in 1996 he won a World Series title as a member of the Yankees.
His career on-base percentage of .415 ranks him 25th all-time in baseball history.
Fundamentally the job of a batter is to get on base. Boggs did that as well as just about anyone in the game in the last 40 years. Only Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, and Edgar Martinez posted higher career on-base percentages than Boggs for players who completed their careers since 1970. Boggs was not a power hitter, but that didn’t stop him from being the best player in baseball (according to WAR) from 1986-1988.
Sportswriter Bill Simmons mentioned in an interview with author Bill James that when he was a kid growing up as a Red Sox fan, he would yell at the TV when Boggs would take a walk rather than swing at a pitch out of the strike zone. It shows how far we’ve come that most fans realize that a walk is a wonderful thing, especially from a batter positioned in the lineup directly in front of the middle of the order. Boston fans saw Boggs winning batting titles early in his career and they wanted him to be Teddy Ballgame or Yaz or Fred Lynn or Jim Rice. They wanted him to hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs and get the clutch double every time it was needed. But Boggs, who played the game within the confines of an offensive approach that he never strayed from, wouldn’t do it. He couldn’t swing at a pitch that he felt was not in the strike zone. Could he have hit for more power? Probably, but he wouldn’t have been the disciplined on-base machine that he was. He was like a scientist who knew how the system worked while many of those around him were still doing it the way it had always been done.
It’s funny that there were observers who accused Boggs of being a selfish player. If you saw him play you would have to admit he was one of the hardest competitors in the game. He hustled all the time. He put the work in to become a better defensive third baseman. He ran out ground balls. “When I retired in 1999,” Boggs said, “I grounded out to second and gave it everything I had running down to first base in my last at-bat. I always felt that if I disrespected the game by not hustling and giving everything I had, that I was cheating the fans, cheating my teammates and disrespecting the name that’s on the front of the jersey.”
A few words about hitting streaks
If you look closely at the lists of the longest hitting streaks in history you’ll start to see a pattern. The batters are often leadoff hitters, or batters who hit very high in the lineup. They have speed and they might also be good bunters. They don’t strike out a lot. Most of the players on the lists don’t walk a lot either. They are free swinging, high-average batters who get 4-5 plate appearances almost every day.
Players who walk a lot almost never put together long hitting streaks, which is why Babe Ruth never hit in 30 straight games. Same with Ted Williams. Ruth and Williams might be the two greatest hitters in baseball history, but the Babe’s longest streak was 26 games and Williams never hit in as many as 20 consecutive games. He didn’t swing at bad pitches, and the best hitters in baseball are often given nothing to hit.
Boggs was the best pure hitter in baseball for a long time, but he was stubborn like Williams and he refused to expand the strike zone. As a result he had a number of “0-for-3 with two walks” sprinkled among his two, three, and four-hit games. Had he expanded his strike zone and approached hitting like Yogi Berra or Tony Oliva or Ichiro Suzuki, Boggs might have hit in 40 straight games or more.
Each of these Hall of Famers rank among the greatest third basemen in baseball history.
Longest Hitting Streaks by a Red Sox Player
1. Dom DiMaggio … 34 games (1949)
2. Tris Speaker … 30 games (1912)
3. Nomar Garciaparra … 30 games (1997)
4. Johnny Damon … 29 games (2005)
5. Wade Boggs … 28 games (1985)
6. Dom DiMaggio … 27 games (1951)
7. Manny Ramirez … 27 games (2006)
8. Nomar Garciaparra … 26 games (2003)
9. Buck Freeman … 26 games (1902)
10. Johnny Pesky … 26 games (1947)