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She's been his closest fan for 30 years

Debbie Boggs' life as the wife of a baseball star has had huge highs and lows. "I went through some funny things," she says.

By EMILY NIPPS
Published July 28, 2005


TAMPA - Debbie Boggs has heard every story told, every play described, every moment relived again for reporters. The time Wade made his major-league debut for Boston. Going to the World Series with the Red Sox. Winning the World Series with the Yankees. Reaching the big 3,000.

As he prepares for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Wade Boggs recalls each tale at yet another chicken lunch.

Debbie sits and listens, jiggling one leg under the table, ready with a FedEx packet of statistics or memorable dates if he needs them. Sometime she smiles.

"Almost everything he talks about, I have my own memories," she said in a rare interview recently. "I went through some funny things." And some serious ones. For 17 years she has lived with the Margo Adams incident: Wade's scandalous four-year affair with another woman, who sued him for millions and did a tell-all interview with Penthouse in 1988.

Debbie, 49, stood by Wade because that's what she does. She has been doing it for more than 30 years.

When Wade was drafted in the seventh round out of high school, Debbie celebrated with him. When he got his first major-league hit six years later, she was proud of him.

When Wade played in the 1986 World Series, a very pregnant Debbie sat glued to the TV. When the Red Sox lost to the Mets and she saw her husband crying in the dugout, her heart broke, too.

The couple experienced so much together - the lean years in the minors, the awkward years as they tried to gain respect from the big leaguers (and their wives), and the golden years after Wade retired. There were wild nights at big parties, phone-number exchanges with Hollywood stars and fancy ceremonies as Wade reached each milestone.

Debbie has heard just about every question asked, every angle probed and every detail nitpicked when reporters have interviewed her husband. They want to know about his eyesight, his superstitions, his hits, his mistakes. They want to know why, and how, and when and with whom.

She smiles because it's kind of funny.

They're only getting half the story.

* * *

Debbie Bertucelli doesn't know what the heck she'd be doing if she hadn't met her soul mate. She grew up in a very poor home in Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood ("when it was the ghetto") and always thought she'd die before she married.

Her childhood dream was to become a nun. One of her friends had this lacy veil she would drape over her head. "I was devastated when I found out you had to be Catholic to become a nun," she said.

Debbie met Wade Boggs when she was 15 and he was 12. She didn't really start noticing him until he attended Plant High.

"He had this whole southern gentleman thing going on," she said. "He would open the door for you, and this was (in the '70s) when that kind of thing wasn't in style."

He didn't smoke pot or pressure Debbie to have sex before marriage, two qualities she valued during a time when that seemed to be all teenagers did.

They were sweethearts by the time she finished high school and began working. Not long after Wade graduated and began his minor-league career in Elmira, N.Y., he proposed.

It was supposed to be a "normal-sized" wedding, Debbie said. But Wade posted an invitation inside Plant's clubhouse before the December ceremony and reception, and every football, basketball and baseball player showed up.

Wearing a $40 dress and her sister's veil, 21-year-old Debbie married 18-year-old Wade at First Baptist Church on Dec. 21, 1976. The two skipped off to live happily ever after, beginning with a two-night honeymoon in Clearwater.

Before they got there, they stopped at a L'il General Store for some microwave cheeseburgers. They both suffered serious food poisoning and threw up all night.

A shaky beginning to a long and interesting life together.

* * *

Players' wives today, Debbie has noticed, are sleek and sophisticated. They're confident and poised, wearing their pretty jewelry and crisp linen suits. "They just have an air about them," Debbie said.

Debbie couldn't have pulled this off if she tried, especially in the earlier years. She and Wade were shy and withdrawn and felt out of place during minor-league formal dinners and parties. They felt like a couple of kids, not knowing which fork to use or when to speak.

When Debbie attended her first major-league game as a player's wife, she put on what she thought were nice jeans with a matching denim jacket. One of the older wives stared her down and snapped, "We do not wear jeans to the games."

But as her husband quickly climbed from rookie to 12-time All-Star, life seemed to get a little easier.

Debbie befriended concession workers and security personnel at Fenway Park, who would tip her off on celebrity sightings. She met Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Al Pacino. She was invited to Sylvester Stallone's party at Planet Hollywood, and she still has Billy Crystal's phone number. She went to the ESPY Awards and spent time in the famous New York disco club Studio 54.

She also enjoyed a comfortable home life. She gave birth to Meagann two years after she married. Brett came eight years later. While Wade spent half the year on the road and the other half preparing for another season, she made sure he didn't have to worry about school issues, home repairs or paying bills.

"He couldn't tell you how much money we have in the bank," she said. Yet he can tell you, season by season, all his batting averages, ratio swings and misses and lifetime stats vs. any pitcher on request.

"And that speaks volumes on how our marriage has worked," said Wade, 47. "She was the housekeeper, and I was the little kid playing baseball, you know? And we were just playing house."

Debbie soothed Wade's nerves when he had a bad day at work. She kept the children quiet when he needed a chaos-free house to come home to. She understood his intensity, his moods, his sense of humor.

"We were kind of like one person," she said, and that's why she could put up with just about anything.

Even infidelity.

* * *

The Red Sox had just lost to Toronto in June 1988 when reporters began asking tough questions in the Boston locker room:

Who was Margo Adams, and why was she filing a $6-million palimony suit against Wade Boggs?

Before the month was over, Boggs would publicly fess up. He did, in fact, have an affair with the California woman. It lasted for two years, he said, and he had tried to break it off for another two years.

Adams had a slightly different story, which she shared with talk show host Phil Donahue, Penthouse magazine and half the world in an eight-city publicity tour. She said the affair had lasted four years, during which she had traveled with Boggs and the Red Sox on road trips. Everyone - players, coaches, trainers, Boggs' agent - knew about her, she said.

The scandal, updated almost daily for more than a year in the news, tarnished Boggs' image. It led to a scuffle with some of his Boston teammates, prompted trade rumors and drew catcalls and hate mail. A radio station in Kansas City handed out Margo masks.

A year and a half later, Adams' lawsuit (which was later raised to $12-million) was settled for an undisclosed amount. That was almost 16 years ago. Adams still gets a mention almost every time Boggs' career is summarized. His Hall of Fame induction, which takes place on Sunday, has dredged up some old stories.

"Think about it," Debbie said. "That's a hard thing for anyone to go through. You decide it's worth it to stick it out, and then you live through it every time it comes up in the media."

What might have saved the couple's marriage, Debbie said, was that she never learned a thing from the news reports. She said Wade was up front and honest from the very beginning of the ordeal, something she appreciated during a time she felt they were being attacked.

"I think in my case, everything fell into place for me to want to stick it out," she said. "I never had that feeling (of wanting to leave him) because of the way Wade handled it. We had an agreement that he would tell me everything. Even to this day. It's an open subject with us."

The hard part was explaining it to the kids. Meagann was 8 when news of the affair broke, and "we never lied to her," Debbie said. "We told her there was somebody suing dad."

The principal of Meagann's school actually spoke with kids and teachers about the matter, so she rarely, if ever, heard comments from classmates. Brett, however, couldn't catch that kind of break.

When he was 16 and attending Wharton High, one day at school he heard kids talking about his dad, who was a volunteer assistant coach for his baseball team. The night before, a television station had aired a special on Wade Boggs, and the affair had been one of the highlights.

Brett went home devastated, demanding to know how his parents could have kept it from him.

"Brett, you were an infant when it happened," Debbie told him.

Sometimes the affair pops into Debbie's head, for whatever reason. She might ask Wade about it. And he answers whatever questions she has, she said. That kind of openness, plus her firm belief in their vows, has kept them together.

"Not that it didn't break my heart," she said. "It did. I don't think anyone truly knows what that's like unless you've been there."

* * *

Debbie sometimes hears the younger wives complaining about how tough it is, being married to a ballplayer. They're crazy, she says.

"They don't really have rough lives," she said. "It's actually a wonderful life."

Yes, she and the kids missed Wade from April to October for 18 years, but for the other five or six months, he was home all the time. How many husbands and fathers get to spend that much quality time with their families?

Wade's retirement feels like her retirement, too. They live more peaceful, normal lives.

Brett, who just graduated from Wharton and signed a letter-of-intent to play baseball for the University of South Florida, lives in an apartment near the couple's Tampa Palms home. Meagann is 26 and lives nearby. Debbie keeps close tabs on them. She stays busy helping her husband prepare for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. She keeps his calendar, answers his cell phone and organizes his paperwork. She sits in on interviews, listening to Wade describe Game 7 of the 1986 American League playoffs against Anaheim for the millionth time.

Debbie never found herself wishing she had a husband with a normal job. The quirks and drawbacks of being married to a pro athlete were far outweighed by the time she saw her first snow in Baltimore, the time Paul Newman pulled down his sunglasses and winked at her, the time she stood with Yogi Berra's wife.

She never expected any of it. Not even the husband, house or children.

"It's like a dream, really," she said. "Here I was, this poor kid growing up, and now I'm happily married with two kids and enough money to pay the bills when they come in.

"I mean, that's what you want."