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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The Tampa resident tours the Hall of Fame and is overwhelmed to realize that on July 31, he'll be a part of it.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 4, 2005
The gallery where the 258 plaques are on display "is probably the most moving; when you walk in there it's just mindblowing," Wade Boggs says.
[National Baseball Hall of Fame Library]
Wade Boggs slips on a glove worn by another great who played with the Red Sox and Yankees, Babe Ruth, during his first Hall visit as an inductee.
Among the Hall's mementos is the bat Boggs used to hit the first homer in Rays history. As a Ray, Boggs also homered for his 3,000th hit.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - He was genuinely thrilled to slip on Babe Ruth's and Lou Gehrig's gloves. Gripping Ty Cobb's and Ted Williams' bats was obviously special. And when Wade Boggs walked into the grand gallery where the 258 bronze plaques are displayed, and when he walked by the space on the wall where his will soon hang, he was overwhelmed, tingly and nearly breathless.
Boggs earned two Gold Gloves, won five batting titles and was selected an All-Star 12 times in an 18-season major-league career. He played in 39 postseason games, winning a World Series with the Yankees. He came home to Tampa Bay to finish up in historic fashion, making his 3,000th hit a home run.
But he said nothing he did on the field gave him the feeling, the excitement, the goose bumps up and down his body that he had Tuesday when he toured the baseball Hall of Fame he will officially join July 31.
"Way beyond all that," Boggs said. "Way beyond all that. I'm not visiting the Hall of Fame as a fan. I'm actually in it. In 1976, I was a fan. In 1985, I was a fan. In 1989, I was a fan. Now I'm in it.
"That's where the mystique sort of overwhelms you about the whole place. I have a part in it now, rather than, "I'm just a fan and all of this is neat.' But now, I'm in it."
Boggs' three previous trips to Cooperstown had been brief, and he'd spent maybe an hour-and-a-half total inside the building. Tuesday's visit was officially an orientation, a chance for Boggs and his wife, Debbie, to come up from Tampa to meet the staff that is organizing the induction, learn their way around the grounds and the village and to get a guided, behind-the-scenes tour of the hallowed hall.
In reality, it was an emotional, nearly spiritual experience, with a memory or a moment lurking around every corner.
"The goose bumps are remarkable," he said. "The wall of plaques is probably the most moving; when you walk in there it's just mindblowing. ... This is the pinnacle of greatness. This is what the Hall of Fame is all about. All the great players that have pioneered and lifted this game from when time began, it's just a collage of all the great players. And I'm just fortunate and happy to be a part of it."
On the main floors, Boggs marveled at some of the historical relics, such as Ruth's contract that was sold to the Yankees in 1919, Willie Mays' glove from the 1954 World Series and Williams' color-coded statistical breakdown of the strike zone. "So neat," Boggs said. "Amazing."
Among the more modern exhibits, Boggs noted the accomplishments of contemporaries and former teammates, recalled the four no-hitters he played in and showed some of his trademark wit, especially at the showcase commemorating Boston's 2004 championship. "Is that (Curt) Schilling's glove?" Boggs asked. "It has pine tar on it."
He lingered in front of the Devil Rays locker that includes his jersey and hat from the Aug. 7, 1999, game when he got his 3,000th hit, along with a Fred McGriff bat, a Jose Canseco helmet, the lineup card and ball from the team's inaugural game and a photo of Rocco Baldelli.
When someone pointed out that Boggs, of all people, had hit two of the biggest home runs in Rays history, he chuckled. "The first and my 3,000th," he said. "Who'd have thunk it?"
A visit downstairs to the private archives room was especially rewarding. Donning white gloves like the staffers, Boggs was able to view, touch and feel some of the hall's prized possessions - and see some of the dozen-plus items he has donated. Next to come is what he termed his "pride and joy," the beat-up glove he used for 15 seasons and calls "the elephant ear."
"Gosh, it's just electricity through your whole body," he said. "It just comes full circle to where you go, "My stuff is really next to Babe Ruth's bat. The elephant ear is going to be next to Lou Gehrig's glove.' It's just mindblowing. It really is. And now you get to see it first hand. ... You're part of history."
He was very animated when examining a Nellie Fox glove like the one he borrowed from his father to first play catch at age 5, and he was touched watching a nifty tribute video.
Boggs said the excitement has been building steadily since his Jan. 5 election, and with less than three months until the induction, he is counting the days.
"The snowball is starting to build as it rolls down the hill," he said. "July 31 it hits the bottom."
He has been working on his induction speech almost daily, though has yet to commit it to paper, and he jokes that he'll probably finish it in the shower the morning of the induction.
His official traveling party is approaching 100, including his father, Win; his wife, son Brett and daughter Meagann; and all their relatives. He said he has heard from hundreds of bay area fans who plan on coming up.
"Tampa might be shut down that day with the amount of people that say they are going," he said.
Until then, he'll keep busy fishing, coaching Brett (whose Wharton team is in district play), making appearances and enjoying the buildup to the big day.
"It's a warm feeling," Boggs said. "Now you don't have to carry around that "future' word. He's a "future' Hall of Famer. Now it's just Hall of Famer. And I like the sound of it. It's got a good ring to it."