The Chicken Man Cometh

The Talented Allen Ripley

holden
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Oct 2, 2003
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Wade Boggs was the purest hitter in a Sox uniform that I’ve ever seen, and I started watching around 1980. He had a beautiful inside-out Fenway swing built to pepper endless doubles off the Wall, but he could also hit on the road. Could hit anywhere, anytime, really. Could fall out of bed and hit. For almost the entire decade of the ‘80s, whenever he came to up to bat and I said to myself, “He’s gonna get a hit here,” not because I was some predictive genius, but because it had simply happened so often it was normal to expect it again.

He could hit in between willing himself invisible while being robbed with a gun. Could hit despite tumbling out of the passenger front door of a car when it took a sharp turn, him somersaulting onto the road and springing some ribs. Could hit even when his mistress aired his dirty laundry for all to see, could hit while atoning before Barbara Walters as part of the messy public cleanup, his wife by his side as he openly discussed his transgressions on national TV. Could hit in between coast-to-coast flights where he crushed entire cases of Miller Lite on his own; twenty-four cans of beer in five hours while sitting in a metal tube hurtling across the country at 30,000 feet in the air. If someone was going to throw a ball towards him, he was going to hit it, and hit it where nobody could get him out.

And when he didn’t hit it, he walked. Because he let bad pitches go. Because he could wait. He always waited. He’d either wait for you to make a mistake in the strike zone and then hit it, or he’d wait for you to make a mistake out of the strike zone and let it go by. And if you made four of those mistakes, he’d take his base, presuming you hadn’t made a mistake he could hit in the meantime.

He was so incredibly underrated for his time. He was drafted out of high school in 1976, and all he ever did the minors was hit and get on base, hit over .300 and get on base more than 40 percent of time every year, every goddamn year. Yet he spent two full seasons at Double-A Bristol, and two full seasons at Triple-A Pawtucket. His Sox debut should’ve been in 1980, not 1982. True, he displayed no power in the minors, and his fielding was always a work in progress, but he never had an iron glove, and he was hard worker. And he had a wondrous hit tool, one that was obvious from the jump. Wade Boggs’s bat didn’t mature and shakily unfold itself like a delicate butterfly over time, it showed up fully formed. Dude could rake, and he could always rake. And he always did rake.

And then he got to the majors and did nothing but win batting titles and lead the league in hits and OBP year after year, scoring over a hundred runs for seven years straight despite not being the fleetest fellow out there, scoring runs because HE WAS ALWAYS ON BASE TO BE DRIVEN IN. How do you win baseball games? By scoring more runs than the other team. Wade Boggs was an absolutely devastating baseball weapon, one of the purest the sport has ever seen, but he was dismissed in his time as a stats-obsessed table-setter. Because he was weird. Because he had superstitions. Because he ate chicken all the time, he didn’t always swing away with men on base, he wasn’t necessarily endearing or quick with a locker-room quip, trouble seemed to follow him around like the dirt cloud around Pig Pen, you got the sense his life was like a Dear Penthouse Forum Letter personified. And therefore he was easy to dismiss as a one-trick player.

As if that one trick wasn’t the most important thing a hitter can do: not make an out.

 
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Marciano490

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Nov 4, 2007
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You’re a great writer and a great painter - do you ever wed the two? That painting with the writing on the back or something?

I’ve been fascinated with Boggs since that Always Sunny episode. How can anyone function drinking that much? And the juxtaposition with his superstitiousness and what always seemed like super meticulousness with that overindulgence. Maybe one was to make up for the other.
 
Jul 5, 2018
430
I just checked his stats and I'm curious as to whether there's a story behind his outlier 24 homers in 1987. In terms of BA and OBP, his 86 and 87 seasons were virtually identical. It's also interesting that in 85, he had 107 runs scored despite being on base a whopping 336 times.
 

Saints Rest

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I just checked his stats and I'm curious as to whether there's a story behind his outlier 24 homers in 1987. In terms of BA and OBP, his 86 and 87 seasons were virtually identical. It's also interesting that in 85, he had 107 runs scored despite being on base a whopping 336 times.
My recollection is that he was sick of people complaining that he was a just a singles hitter, so he decided to swing for the fences.
 

Was (Not Wasdin)

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Jul 26, 2007
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For guys who made their MLB debut after 1940 (and there is some meaning to that date, but I can't remember what it is) Boggs has the 3rd highest average of all time, after Gwynn and Musial. He really is an all time great. Just like Rip.
 

Sir Lancelotti

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My recollection is that he was sick of people complaining that he was a just a singles hitter, so he decided to swing for the fences.
This is the oft cited narrative, and there is probably a measure of truth to it, but his contact rates and BA barely budged in 87. He still had a better than 2/1 walk to strikeout ratio and still hit freaking .363. You would have expected a measurable trade off in contact if he fundamentally changed his approach to start hitting more bombs.

I think the 24 HR's are more of a product of the juiced ball in 1987 in which home run rates spiked to their highest levels ever in the pre-steroid era. When HR rates normalized again in 1988, Boggs' power production dropped accordingly to levels more in line with his established levels. If Boggs had been able to maintain his 1987 level power production over the course of his prime he would be banging down Mike Schmidt's door on top of the all time 3rd baseman hierarchy.
 
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Jul 5, 2018
430
This is the oft cited narrative, and there is probably a measure of truth to it, but his contact rates and BA barely budged in 87. He still had a better than 2/1 walk to strikeout ratio and still hit freaking .363. You would have expected a measurable trade off in contact if he fundamentally changed his approach to start hitting more bombs. I think the 24 HR's are more of a product of the juiced ball in 1987 in which home run rates spiked to their highest levels ever in the pre-steroid era. When HR rates normalized again in 1988, Boggs' power production dropped accordingly to levels more in line with his established levels. If Boggs had been able to maintain his 1987 level power production over the course of his prime he would be banging down Mike Schmidt's door on top of the all time 3rd baseman hierarchy.
The story I frequently heard about Boggs was that although he was capable of hitting moon shots during BP, he said every time he tried to load up in a game, he would hit a pop-up. His 86 and 87 stats certainly contradicts his claim.
 

BaseballJones

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Oct 1, 2015
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My recollection is that he was sick of people complaining that he was a just a singles hitter, so he decided to swing for the fences.
1987 was an MLB-wide statistical outlier for home runs.

1985 - 3602 hr
1986 - 3813 hr
1987 - 4458 hr
1988 - 3180 hr
1989 - 3083 hr

So a quantum leap in homers in 1987 across the league. I'm guessing it was a juiced ball of some sort. Boggs may have swung for the fences more, but there was much more going on than that.
 
Jul 5, 2018
430
1987 was an MLB-wide statistical outlier for home runs.

1985 - 3602 hr
1986 - 3813 hr
1987 - 4458 hr
1988 - 3180 hr
1989 - 3083 hr

So a quantum leap in homers in 1987 across the league. I'm guessing it was a juiced ball of some sort. Boggs may have swung for the fences more, but there was much more going on than that.
So, a 17% increase for MLB and 200% for Boggs.
 
Jul 5, 2018
430
Outstanding work Rip. A guy I used to know (MFY fan) always referred to Boggs as a Punch and Judy hitter. When he played for the Yanks he was "one of the best hitters I've ever seen".
Both descriptions are accurate. Tony Gwynn considered himself to be a Punch and Judy hitter and he was one of the best hitters ever seen.
 

LoweTek

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I went to an event once which featured Johnny Pesky. Among the stories he told was Boggs was considered a defensive liability early in his career. Pesky said Boggs came to him for help and Johnny would hit him hundreds of ground balls every day prior to games. Later in his career Boggs was considered a very capable defensive 3B.

Johnny said, "He willed himself to be a better defensive player. I've never seen anyone work so hard to improve."