The Chicken Man Cometh

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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