Hall of Famer Wade Boggs Says It's 'Impossible' for Players to Stay Game Ready Amid Coronavirus Shutdown

Yankees great Wade Boggs explains the challenges of uncertainty during a shortened season, comparing 2020 to his experiences off the field during the players strike in 1994.
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Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is all too familiar with shortened seasons. 

In 1994, Boggs and the Yankees got off to a scorching hot start. Through 113 games, New York had the best record in the American League and a 6 1/2 game lead in the AL East.

That was as far as the Yankees—or any team for that matter—would go in 1994, however, as a players strike suspended the season and eradicated the Bombers' pursuit of a World Series title.

Looking back on that fateful day in the summer of '94, when the season came to a screeching halt, Boggs has absolutely no doubts about what his club would have accomplished had the season continued. In fact, he called that Yankees unit, "the best team I've ever played on."

"It was probably a given that we were going to the World Series," Boggs said this week in a phone interview with SI's Inside the Pinstripes. "Barring any unforeseen bad luck, we would have probably won the World Series that year."

Save for the dominant start to the season, the same situation is presently in play for the Bombers. These Yankees have a World Series-caliber roster, but their shot at a 28th championship this October could be lost due to unforeseen circumstances off the field.

The glaring difference between the two situations is, of course, the source of the truncated campaigns. The novel coronavirus pandemic has kept Major League Baseball dormant for two-plus months while it was an impasse at the negotiation table that uprooted Boggs' championship run in '94.

"They've been pretty lucky," the 12-time All-Star said, comparing present day conversations between MLB and the MLBPA to what went on during his career. "They've had collective bargaining agreements and figured it out and not really had any nasty negotiations. Basically that's all we had back in the 80s and mid-90s. That's all we had were bad, ugly negotiations between the Players Association and the ownership."

Negotiations have heated up recently between the league, owners and the players, perhaps reaching a boiling point earlier this week with comments made by Tampa Bay Rays' ace Blake Snell. 

"He's getting buried here in Tampa with that," said Boggs, who lives in Tampa with his family. "That comment with people being out of work and furloughed and that kind of thing and he's talking about a pay cut."

He paused. 

"You know, God forbid, they go on strike or get locked out. I've been through work stoppages and strikes and they're not fun. They're not pretty, and it's a lot of uncertainty, so just be thankful for what you have."

When the season was cut short in '94, Boggs was in the middle of his own tremendous year. The third baseman was hitting .342 while leading the Yankees in WAR (4.5). In 97 games, he played his way to MVP votes and was awarded a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger—the only time he earned both pieces of hardware in the same season.

Boggs recalled staying in New York for a month after the last game of the season, Aug. 11, waiting and wondering when he and his fellow big leaguers would regain access to stadiums and facilities to work out. As it turns out, that delay would last through the spring.

Asked how players across the nation are staying in game shape, biding their time before baseball's return amid the coronavirus, Boggs said, unequivocally, "it's impossible." 

"Can't. It's impossible because you don't know when you're coming back," he said. "Right now there's so much uncertainty that the players have no idea when they're coming back. They say July, but you know, do you scrap the whole season and then come back fresh in next February and say okay let's go get 'em and just write off 2020 to something bad?

"Then when you come back and play 82 games, how are you going to deal with that? No fans in the stands, and so it's sort of like sitting on your couch playing a Nintendo game."

READ: Looking Back at Four Shortened Seasons in Yankees' Franchise History

Throughout his career, sometimes it felt like Boggs himself was playing a video game. A seventh-round draft pick out of high school, Boggs ascended to stardom in a Red Sox uniform, spending 11 years in Boston. After a five-year stint in the Bronx, Boggs finished out his career at home in Tampa, headlining the Devil Rays' roster in the franchise's inaugural season in 1998.

Boggs was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. He ranks 30th all-time with 3,010 hits.

Wade Boggs at Hall of Fame induction ceremony

After two decades of baseball, Boggs considers his Yankees years among the best in his career because of the success they had upon returning to the field after the '94 strike. Now, with no baseball during the coronavirus-induced shutdown, Boggs is giving fans a chance to look back at his time in pinstripes virtually by his side.

He and his former teammate from the '96 championship team Dwight Gooden will participate in a free live video chat on Sunday, May 17 at 1 p.m. ET. Through Wizard World Virtual Experiences, you can join in on the question-and-answer event, or participate via an individual personal video chat, autograph and recorded video sessions later in the afternoon.

READ: Yankees Greats Wade Boggs and 'Doc' Gooden to 'Meet' With Fans in Virtual Question and Answer Session

In the meantime, Boggs can't help but reminisce about winning his lone World Series ring in '96, proudly playing for the team that catalyzed what he referred to as "the Jeter Run."

"When you have a nucleus together for that long with Bernie [Williams] and [Jorge] Posada and Jeter and [Andy] Pettitte and [Mariano Rivera]," Boggs said, "then have a supporting cast around them—[Paul] O'Neill and Tino [Martinez]—and you know you're gonna do well. It was a young core of really good talent and coincidentally they wound up winning four World Series during that stretch."

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees