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Williams tips cap to Boggs

Wade Boggs gives a big hug to one of his heroes, former Red Sox great Ted Williams. [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 1999


Photos of the Big Hit, a quiz, stories and more at Wade Watch.
ST. PETERSBURG -- On a batman Sunday, Wade Boggs was the second-greatest stick at Tropicana Field. "You don't get 3,000 hits in this game, buddy, without being one hell of a hitter," said 80-year-old Ted Williams, baseball's king of swing. "I am really happy to be here. Boggs earned my applause."

There's a big link.

Williams and Boggs, yesterday's immortal No. 9 and today's celebrated No. 12, flourished in Boston. But, for Wade, there's a personal tie Ted doesn't know about.

"Seeing old photos of my father, when he played fast-pitch softball," Boggs said, "there was amazing resemblance to Williams. It went deeper than the look, the stance and the way they swung a bat.

"Dad was stern, tough, cantankerous and militaristic. A lot like Ted. He kicked my tail many, many times. Win Boggs had the Ted Williams drive and discipline. Attitudes that helped mold me. Pushing for excellence."

Win Boggs was there Sunday. Sitting on the ballfield with Teddy Ballgame. Williams hardly can be categorized as a father figure to Wade, but parallels are intriguing between Ted and the real papa of the Devil Rays icon.

Williams and the elder Boggs joined a Trop audience of 27,864 in an emotional salute to Wade, celebrating his 3,000th hit, a milestone Ted would not attain due to hitches as a U.S. Marine combat pilot in World War II and Korea.

Wade hugged Ted. Nice emotion. But not at the choked-up level of Boggs, standing at a Trop microphone, surrounded by gift-givers and tribute-bearers, hearing roars from the crowd, when Wade gave thanks to his wife and children and then turned to his father.

"Due to his love and persistence, tossing me tennis balls to knock around our back yard," Wade said, "my fundamentals were properly developed. Dad taught me baseball. He was my inspiration."

On a video board, grand moments in Boggs' career flashed artistically. There came recorded tributes from George Brett, Tony Gwynn and Reggie Jackson.

"George and I had a wonderful chat last week in Kansas City," Boggs said. "He welcomed me to the 3,000-hit club. Said he'd see me in Cooperstown. How much do I think of him? Well, we named our son Brett. His godfather is George."

Wade was honored by the scout who discovered him and by his first minor-league manager. Plus, from the Boggs period in Boston, there came a hitting coach, a manager, a pitching coach and a teammate.

Politicians from St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa presented mementos. American League president Gene Budig delivered the Joe Cronin Award. Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey dropped by to collect Wade's jersey, shoes and cap from his Aug. 7 arrival at 3,000.

It was a Boggsfest.

Wade looked again to the heavens, thanking his late mother. That heroic night, after homering for 3,000, Boggs kissed home plate. Groundskeepers dug it up and presented it to Wade.

Rays commercial sponsors gave him lots of stuff, including several $3,000 contributions to area charities to be made in Wade's name. Then, from Rays ownership, came a $50,000 fishing boat.

But did anything mean more than Williams tipping his cap? "That's something Ted used to be slow to do," Wade said. "Through all his fabulous seasons ... there was never a tip of his cap. No matter how loudly Fenway cheered.

"I was there, back in the '80s, when the Red Sox had Ted Williams Day. He had a cap stashed in a pocket. Once again, Ted was cheered. Then, as a surprise, he said, "I'm going to do something I should've done 28 years ago,' putting the Red Sox cap on his head and then tipping it to the crowd."

Last month, Williams did it again. Returning to Fenway for the All-Star Game. Tipping his cap to a cheering Boston. Sunday, he was in St. Petersburg, tipping it to an appreciative Wade Boggs.

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