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A QUIET .300 FORMER BOSTON HEADLINER WADE BOGGS KEEPS A HIGH AVERAGE BUT A LOW PROFILE AS HE PREPARES FOR A FOURTH NEW YORK SEASON

Jan. 15, 1996
Jan. 15, 1996

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Jan. 15, 1996

A QUIET .300 FORMER BOSTON HEADLINER WADE BOGGS KEEPS A HIGH AVERAGE BUT A LOW PROFILE AS HE PREPARES FOR A FOURTH NEW YORK SEASON

Beneath a morning sky as dense and mottled as marble, Wade
Anthony Boggs cocks his bat into the ready position for the
first time since October. The image is familiar: feet slightly
closed in a stance as stiff as an artist's easel, but for one
exception. The barrel of the bat wiggles quickly in the tight,
concentric circles of a thirsty man's swizzle stick.

This is an article from the Jan. 15, 1996 issue Original Layout

This third day of the new year is the dawn of Boggs's 21st
season in professional baseball. Having climbed down from tree
stands for hunting bear in upstate New York, and finished his
pursuit of deer in Florida and Michigan, and rolled out of bed
this winter morning in Tampa, Boggs begins by hammering almost
nothing but line drives. They are made all the more vicious by
the aluminum bat he is using. Often the blasts ricochet off the
frame of the pitcher's protective screen, the sounds from the
metal bat and frame combining to mimic the ding-dong of a
doorbell, only faster.

The netting atop the long batting cage at the New York Yankees'
minor league complex seems superfluous, given that Boggs rarely
lifts the ball more than 10 feet off the ground. He could hit
all afternoon inside New York's Lincoln Tunnel and never
endanger a lightbulb. "Well,'' he says matter-of-factly, "that's
the way you're supposed to do it.''

Nothing about Boggs changes, not at 37 and not with more than
two months off. After all, this is a man who every day during
the season completes a checklist of 60 to 70 superstitions. "The
influence of military regimen, I guess,'' says Boggs, the son of
an Air Force master sergeant.

This devotion to habit makes what has happened to Boggs in the
three seasons since he joined the Yankees all the more
remarkable. He has become almost undetectable. The face is the
one that became so familiar during Boggs's 11 seasons with the
Boston Red Sox--that weathered look of a daguerreotype,
reminiscent of times when players preferred their mustaches and
pants droopy. But this is where Boggs has changed: Boston's most
fascinating media subject outside the Kennedy family has become
the invisible man in New York City, a slick trick given the Big
Apple's appetite for the kind of bizarre headlines he cranked
out along with his annual 200 hits in Boston.

Boggs has found such peace and quiet in New York that his three
straight seasons of hitting better than .300 for the Yankees
have drawn little more than passing interest. Only seven other
players, all of them younger than Boggs, have surpassed .300 in
each of the past three years (Carlos Baerga, Dante Bichette,
Tony Gwynn, Gregg Jefferies, Kenny Lofton, Mike Piazza and Frank
Thomas). Boggs, a third baseman, also has won the Gold Glove
Award in the past two seasons, including 1994, when at 36 he
became the oldest nonpitcher ever to win the award for the first
time.

Whereas after the 1992 season the Red Sox chose to dump Boggs to
make room for a 25-year-old prospect, Scott Cooper, after the
'95 season the Yankees chose to re-sign Boggs for two more years
(a $4.1 million package) and trade a 26-year-old prospect, Russ
Davis. Cooper was traded right before last season to the St.
Louis Cardinals. "Oh, how sweet it is to make them eat crow,''
gushes Boggs about his disbelievers in Boston.

He has been a model Yankee while hitting, in order, .302, .342
and .324 the last three seasons. If he maintains that .320 pace,
late next season he could become one of the top five batters in
the franchise's history (minimum 500 games), trailing only Hall
of Famers Babe Ruth (.349), Lou Gehrig (.340), Earle Combs
(.325) and Joe DiMaggio (.325). Moreover, if he appears in 134
games in 1996, he will become the first player to play 500 games
each with the Red Sox and the Yankees.

That he is leaving footprints on hallowed Yankee turf is
extraordinary considering that neither New York's manager nor
general manager in 1992, Buck Showalter and Gene Michael,
respectively, wanted to sign him. Boggs had batted only .259
that year with Boston--the first time he had failed to hit .300
since he was 18--and there had been rumors that his back and
eyesight were failing and that he was a malignancy in the
clubhouse. "I don't think anybody wanted him more than I did,''
boasts Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, apparently forgetting
that he was supposedly banned from baseball at the time and that
his son-in-law, Joe Molloy, cut the three-year, $11 million deal
with the free agent Boggs.

Boggs and New York? The Boston Globe fairly laughed aloud at the
marriage. "Boggs's stories will become back-page news almost
daily,'' predicted the newspaper, which also called him "a
headline waiting to happen.'' It was as if the Yankees had
signed Joey Buttafuoco to play third.

Alas, Boggs has sold nary a newspaper in New York. He has not
beefed about official scorer's calls or about having to bat
leadoff at times (he prefers to hit third). He has neither
consulted a psychiatrist about a stiff back nor toppled out the
door of a vehicle driven by his wife, Debbie (the door didn't
latch, and he went flying when she made a turn). He has not
thought about willing himself invisible when a man held a knife
to his throat, as he said he did when accosted in the parking
lot of a Florida bar. He has not told reporters unsolved
mysteries better than Robert Stack's, like the one about a
twister in Omaha that supposedly swept up one of his grammar
school teachers and set her down two miles away, or the one
about the time his mother, two weeks after she was killed in an
auto accident, appeared at the foot of his bed. He has not
willingly taken questions, including some in prime time from
Barbara Walters, about his four-year affair with mistress Margo
Adams, or told reporters that while watching a Geraldo segment
on sex addiction, he suddenly realized his affair was the result
of that "disease." All of these things he did in Boston.

"I'd heard the same things everybody else had about him,'' says
catcher Mike Stanley, who had a locker next to Boggs's the past
three years. (Stanley signed with Boston last month.) "I never
once saw anything remotely close to him being selfish or
concerned about his own statistics or anything else like that.
He was always focused on what was best for the team.''

Says Showalter, "I don't know what happened in Boston. All I
know is that he was the consummate pro the past three years. I
think what happened in New York was he just tried to do his job
and fit in. I think he had had his fill of the other stuff in
Boston.''

Boggs, who went to high school in Tampa and still makes his home
there, with Debbie and their children, Meagann, 17, and Brett,
9, does not admit to intentionally lowering his profile, though
he is not nearly as glib as he was in Boston. "I was too
cooperative,'' he says of those days. "I wasn't like Steve
Carlton or Mike Greenwell or Roger Clemens. I didn't decide not
to talk to the media for a month or two.'' But he credits his
tranquillity in New York more to improved luck than to reduced
cooperation.

Speaking of the knife incident, in which, Boggs maintains, some
crazed stranger jumped into his backseat simply because his car
had Tampa plates, he says, "It was no different than Charles
Manson showing up at Sharon Tate's house. Wrong place, wrong
time. It's happened to me.

"The main thing is we had reporters in Boston who looked for
something to stir up. They thrived on that. If something
happened off the field, it was bigger than what happened on the
field. I could go 3 for 4 and slip on an ice cube in the hotel
lobby after the game, and they'd write about the ice cube. They
all said, 'You'll fit in with the Bronx Zoo. You'll be on the
back page.' It never happened. And it wasn't because I changed.''

The presence of Don Mattingly, New York's own object of
fascination, allowed Boggs to slip into this camouflaged life.
Until 1993 the two All-Stars had been respectful rivals but
never friends. In '89, for instance, Mattingly laughed wickedly
when he heard that Boggs had played through injuries late in
that season to reach 200 hits. Mattingly recalled how Boggs had
edged him for the '86 batting title by sitting out the final
four games to rest a leg muscle. "He did the same thing with
Paul Molitor the next year,'' Mattingly said at the time. "He
had minor knee surgery before the end of the season that
everybody else would've waited to have after the season.''

But Mattingly immediately welcomed Boggs as a teammate. "And
when Donnie steps forward to accept somebody,'' Showalter says,
"he's immediately accepted by the whole clubhouse.'' The two
veterans developed a smooth professional relationship, built
mostly on their frequent conversations about hitting.

"When I came over,'' Boggs says, "Donnie's walk totals shot up.
From watching me in the past, he said he didn't understand why
I'd take those 2-and-0 and 2-and-1 pitches and eventually walk.
I said, 'A lot of times at 2-and-0 a pitcher gets you to swing
at his pitch. You get so anxious, you swing at a ball.' And he
said, 'Yeah, I'd look for a fastball and wind up swinging at a
forkball.'''

Says Mattingly, "Boggsy is the best hitter I've ever seen, day
in and day out. I've seen Gwynn a little bit, but this guy is
amazing.''

When Boggs won his first Gold Glove, it was Mattingly who broke
the news to him with a telephone call at 10 minutes to midnight.
Mattingly had milked the information from a representative of
Rawlings, which sponsors the award, and then asked to deliver
the news himself because, says Mattingly, "I knew how much it
meant to him.''

With Mattingly in semiretirement--and almost certainly not
returning to the Yankees if he does play in 1996--much of Boggs's
cover is blown. The reporters obligated to keep watch on
Mattingly's corner locker will need some other place to go. The
younger players and those without New York know-how will need to
find another source of leadership. Boggs, the most experienced
major leaguer on the team and now a Yankee fixture, will inherit
much of that responsibility. What he chooses to do with it is
another matter. "If we're in a three-game losing streak and
reporters want to know what's wrong with the team,'' Boggs says,
"they shouldn't go to me. Go to [manager] Joe Torre for that. If
they want to ask me about something within the game, fine. My
locker is always open. But go to the manager for
state-of-the-world quotes.''

Boggs is only 459 hits short of 3,000, his sacred goal, which at
his current pace he would reach during the 1998 season, when he
will turn 40. Though he once planned to retire at that age, now
he says, "I can go beyond 40.'' He has 3,500 hits in mind. His
swing, a heaven-sent gift, hasn't changed. Nobody keeps the bat
flat through the hitting zone longer than he does.

And when each workday ends, when he has deposited one or two
more hits into his account, he will peel off his sanitary
socks--made by a different company than those worn by his
teammates--and tie them just so in his usual way, so that the
clubhouse man knows not to mix them up with the others. Such is
the pleasure he has found in New York that his soiled socks are
among the greatest of his worries. He has found his comfort
zone.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK [Wade Boggs]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER With the Yanks, Boggs has won over a former rival, Mattingly (below, left), and earned two Gold Gloves. [Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs]COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN [See caption above--Wade Boggs lunging for baseball] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOKIn the family den, Boggs, with Meagann and Brett, is surrounded by trophies from another sport. [Wade Boggs, Meagann Boggs, and Brett Boggs playing game in room decorated with animal trophies]