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Not just any hit

Wade Boggs reaches 3,000 in grand fashion, becoming the first to make the milestone a home run.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- The knock on Wade Boggs has always been that he couldn't hit with power. He proved the critics wrong when he got to the majors, then over and over during an 18-year career as one of the game's most successful hitters.

Boggs showed them again Saturday night, and it was an unforgettable scene as he recorded the 3,000th hit of his career with a home run to rightfield. He is the first of the 22 players in the club who homered to get in.

For a man who kept saying how getting 3,000 hits was a lifetime achievement award,
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Boggs is the first of the 3,000 club to homer to get in. [Times photo: Jonathan Newton]
Boggs got there in a hurry, rapping three hits in the 15-10 loss to Cleveland.

Coming to bat with the bases loaded in the third, he drilled a 1-and-0 pitch from Charles Nagy between first and second for a run-scoring single.

He struck again off Nagy in the fifth, slapping a 1-and-1 pitch to right for another run-scoring single.

The crowning blow came in the sixth, with Tropicana Field pulsating with excitement and the clock reading 9:08, as he drove a 2-and-2 pitch from left-hander Chris Haney into the rightfield seats for a two-run homer, drawing the Rays to within 11-9.

"When it left the bat, I said, "Oh, my God, that's a home run, and I'll never get that ball back,' " Boggs said.

Boggs pumped his fist as he rounded the bases, then pointed several times to the sky, undoubtedly a signal to his mother, Sue, who was killed in a 1986 car accident. He dropped to his knees and kissed home plate, then was mobbed by his teammates and hugged his 12-year-old, Brett, who was the Devil Rays' batboy.

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"Something just ran through my mind to say, "Go ahead and kiss that thing. You've stepped on it enough,' " Boggs said. [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Next was a bear hug for his 75-year-old father, Win, and then a hug and kisses for his wife, Debbie, who came out of the stands to greet him.

"Running around the bases, I got to first and (first-base coach) Billy Hatcher had said all along he wanted to kiss me, so I just ran by him," Boggs said.

"I got halfway to second and blew my mother a kiss and pointed up. That was a special moment. I blew her another one before I touched home plate. Then something just ran through my mind to say go ahead and kiss that thing. You stepped on it enough."

With the crowd of 39,512 wild in celebration, Boggs pointed and blew kisses to the crowd and went into the dugout. But the crowd wanted more, and he came back out a moment later to another thunderous ovation.

Boggs said he planned to keep the bat and the ball from the momentous occasion, with baseball's Hall of Fame likely to get his shoes, cap and batting gloves.

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Mike Hogan received a signed jersey and bat in exchange for the historic ball. [Times photo: Jonathan Newton]
The fan who caught the ball, 32-year-old Mike Hogan of Tampa, planned to present it to Boggs. "He deserves the ball and I'm going to give it back to him," said Hogan, who bought a $14 ticket and was sitting in section 144, row V, seat 7. "I watched it straight into my hands. I didn't want anyone to grab it so I looked for someone with a Tropicana Field name tag."

Boggs gained membership into the 3,000-hit club one day after San Diego's Tony Gywnn.

Boggs and Gwynn become the sixth pair to reach the milestone in the same season and the first to do so within such a short span. George Brett followed Robin Yount into the club 21 days later in September 1992.

With Mark McGwire hitting his 500th homer Thursday and Gwynn recording his 3,000th hit Friday, Boggs said he felt he was fully in the public eye for the first time in his storied career.

"I finally have meaning in my career," he said before Saturday's game. "I'm doing something that sort of means something. Not to take away the 200-hit seasons and the 100 walks that I had consecutively and all of that, this is finally something that they can write on the final resting place. ...

"I think it gives it substance. Oh, yeah, he made some All-Star teams. Oh, yeah, he's got some batting titles. And, aw, he's got a couple Gold Gloves. Wow, this guy's got 3,000 damn hits."

What does this mean for Boggs? It secures his place in history as one of the game's best and most consistent hitters. It further destroys the myth that singles hitters can't cut it. And it should guarantee his induction into the Hall of Fame, five years after he retires. Every eligible member of the 3,000-hit club has been voted in. Pete Rose is banned for life; Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor and Gwynn are not eligible.

The Tropicana Field fans not only got to witness history but went home with a piece of it. The Rays distributed 4x6 full-color collectible cards commemorating the event and say only those people at the stadium Saturday received them, with all extras said to be destroyed.

The team also put on sale special 3,000-hit T-shirts, balls and lapel pins, and it announced that a special tribute to Boggs will be held before the Aug. 22 game.

Boggs moved to Tampa when he was 11, going to school there and playing in the Bayshore Little League. He has made the bay area his home for 30 years and said it was very special to reach the milestone in his hometown.

Amazingly, he is not the first to do so. Not even close. Three others also got to 3,000 playing at home for their hometown club: Rose with the Reds and Winfield and Molitor with the Twins.

Two did it on the road but in their hometowns, Detroit's Al Kaline in Baltimore and Kansas City's George Brett in Anaheim.

Boggs was a seventh-round draft pick out of Tampa's Plant High, a skinny, scrawny kid who just seemed blessed with the natural ability to hit. Still, it took him 51/2 years to work his way through Boston's minor-league system, proving his worth as a singles hitter and convincing numerous skeptics he could make it as a major-league third baseman.

He played 11 seasons with the Red Sox, his inside-out swing a perfect match for Fenway Park's Green Monster, then five with the Yankees and the past two with the Devil Rays, the new team in his hometown.

Make it? Boggs simply became one of the game's top hitters. He won five American League batting titles, played in 12 All-Star Games and is the only player this century to run off seven straight seasons of 200-plus hits. But what he is most proud of is the 1986 World Series ring he won with the Yankees and the two Gold Gloves, testimony to his much-maligned defensive prowess.

In preparation for the countdown, Boggs had a long talk with Molitor and came away with simple advice: to enjoy the ride.

"I love it; it's a blast," Boggs said Friday. "It's taken 18 years to get here. This is not something that I set out in spring training and said, "Okay, I'm going to get 3,000 hits in one year.' This is something that has taken so long and there's been so much enjoyment and frustration and all the emotions you can have in the game. Just dealing with the things that I have gone through in my career that I had 18 fortunate years to be in this opportunity.

"Some of the guys play this game for a long time and never get to this opportunity, to say you're on the threshold of 3,000 hits, so it means a great deal. This is something that has taken 18 years to get here and I'm loving every minute of it."

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