By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2005
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Wade Boggs said there will be crying in baseball today.
Or at least during the induction ceremonies at the Hall of Fame.
Boggs was known throughout his stellar 18-year major-league career for his ability to perform under pressure, such as his remarkable success hitting with two strikes.
But today, as he gets what he calls "the last piece of the puzzle" in his journey from Tampa to Cooperstown, he said the pressure of delivering his induction speech will be a slightly more significant challenge.
"Everybody talks about, "Have you been writing your speech? Have you done this? Have you done that?' And that's where the anxiety gets to you. It crushes you, everybody talking about the speech," he said Saturday.
"I just hope I get one word out of my mouth before I start crying."
Boggs, 47, has been working on the speech for months, practicing it on the plane from Tampa on Wednesday and over and over this weekend in his room at the Otesaga Resort Hotel.
But that won't make it any easier when he gets on the stage today outside the Clark Sports Center, standing in front of fellow inductee Ryne Sandberg, 50 current Hall of Famers, hundreds of friends and relatives who came from the Tampa Bay area and around the country to witness the event, and an expected 25,000 to 30,000 fans.
"I'd rather face Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson every day of the week," Boggs said. "It won't even compare. Won't even compare. This is probably the most difficult thing I'll ever have to do in my life."
The content and delivery of the speech is the highlight of the weekend and often can be a defining moment of the ceremony and the celebrant. Boggs said he couldn't even reveal the gist of the text Saturday because "if I start then I start crying."
Boggs will be introduced by commissioner Bud Selig while the 13-by-11-inch, 20-pound bronze plaque that later today will be hung in the Hall gallery rests at the foot of the podium. The inscription, in part, describes Boggs as "a disciplined hitter whose commanding knowledge of the strike zone made him one of baseball's toughest outs."
Despite his remarkable success - a .328 career average, five American League batting titles, two Gold Gloves, a World Series championship and seven consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits, which had not been done since 1901 - Boggs faced many doubters and critics along the way.
It wouldn't be a surprise if he mentions them today, but the most touching passages are likely to involve his parents - his father, Win, whom he credits for his entire career; and his mother, Sue, who was killed in a traffic accident in Tampa during the 1986 season.
"It's going to be emotional for him," his wife, Debbie, said. "He'll show his feelings. But he'll get through it."
Said Hall of Famer George Brett, a close friend: "He might start crying within two minutes."
Boggs spent Saturday morning playing golf with buddies from Tampa, met the media in the afternoon and attended a dinner Saturday night. The more distractions, the less he felt the gnawing in his stomach.
"It's getting worse and worse," he said. "I'm sure (Saturday night) and (this) morning are going to be absolutely miserable. But I wouldn't have it any other way."