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Obsession carried Boggs

Wade Boggs, who won a World Series title with the Yankees, was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Wade Boggs, who won a World Series title with the Yankees, was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Fred Goodall Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Wade Boggs rattled off the information without hesitation.

“April 26, 1982, off Rich Dotson. A base hit in the hole against Chicago in the first game of a doubleheader,” Boggs said, recalling the first hit of an 18-year major league career that led to his first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday. “Need anything else?”

A career .328 hitter who won five American League batting titles and finished with 3,010 hits, the 12-time All-Star also was known for an array of superstitious pregame and postgame rituals, as well as a near obsessive passion for detail.

He never considered himself a great player, merely a good one with an insatiable hunger for success.

“One of my biggest attributes is I love to prove people wrong. When they told me I couldn’t do something, it made me go out and work twice as hard as I thought I had to,” Boggs said. “If I thought 125 ground balls was enough, I took 175. If I thought 75 swings was enough, I went out and took 100.”

Although Boggs has gradually weaned himself from some of the superstitions that drove him during his playing days with the Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he reverted to a couple of them Tuesday — waking up at 8:47 a.m. and eating his traditional game-day meal of chicken.

He even found meaning in the time he received the call – 12:26 p.m. – notifying him that had been elected by 91.86 percent of the ballots. He wore No. 12 with Boston and No. 26 with New York and Tampa Bay.

“This is the day every Little Leaguer dreams of. That if he has a great major league career that one day maybe he’ll get into the Hall of Fame,” he said.

Boggs’ biggest supporter for Cooperstown didn’t have a vote.

His father, Win, recalled how his son – then just 4 or 5 years old – would sit on the steps of their Tampa home with his bat and glove waiting for Win to come home from work. By the time Wade was 10, dad had a hunch he would be special.

“I knew it then. I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” Win Boggs said. “It was in his heart and in his mind. He had a fire burning in him, as far as baseball was concerned, that most people never even imagine.”

Boggs credits his father, who coached him in Little League and later took countless phone calls from him while he was in the minors, with making him the player he was.

He also thanked he wife Debbie for “cooking all that chicken” and son Brett, a high school center fielder, for accepting such a limited diet as a youngster.

“Probably the best batting tip that I ever got was how my father described my hitting ability. It’s wait, weight. … You wait on the ball and then transfer your weight, which has a lot of principles of the Charley Lau theory,” Boggs said.

“It doesn’t really sit well with the Ted Williams theory. I had to go head-to-head with Ted being in the Red Sox organization. Ted was always a hips-to-hand man. But the thing about it is, you have to stick with something that works and not try to deviate too far from it to be successful. I knew how I could be successful and contribute the most that I could and that was the direction I went.”

Boggs was with the Red Sox for 11 seasons, winning batting titles in 1983 and from 1985-88. He spent five years in New York, helping the Yankees win the 1996 World Series and finished his career with a two-year stint with his hometown Devil Rays, becoming the first player to homer for a 3,000th hit in 1999.

He left baseball after briefly serving as a special assistant and hitting instructor for Tampa Bay to spend more time with his family and work as a volunteer coach for his son’s high school team.

Boggs said he has no preference for whether he enters the Hall as a Red Sox, Yankee or Devil Ray. Boston would appear to be the front-runner.

“Whichever one they pick,” he said.

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