Boston’s Last .400 Hitter Isn’t Who You Think

No, this isn’t an article about Ted Williams hitting .406 in 1941. It’s not about his batting .400 and .407 in his war-shortened 1952 and 1953 seasons. Wade Boggs is the last .400 hitter since Ted Williams retired in 1960. But wasn’t Boggs’ highest single season batting average “just” .368? Aren’t the closest approaches to .400 George Brett’s .390 in 1980 and Tony Gwynn’s .394* from 1994?

Boggs never recorded a .400 average within a single calendar year. However, from June 9, 1985 to June 6, 1986 there was a 162 game stretch where he batted .401. Purists and pedants (not mutually exclusive terms) may say this doesn’t count. Perhaps, but then again the difference between a .400 hitter and .394 hitter is just a a few singles over the course of a full season. Some may argue that giving Boggs the advantage of not wearing down at the end of the ’86 season makes the feat easier to accomplish. This argument ignores the huge improvement that he logged in the most tiresome stretch of the 1985 season, a period making up a large portion of this .400 run. They may argue that Williams accomplished his feat in a full season. Perhaps, but Williams played in 19 fewer games in 1941 than Boggs’ 85-86 stretch and burnished his .406 mark through an unsustainable 6 for 8 performance on the final day of the season. Any advantages conferred on Boggs by Fenway park are negated by the exact 50/50 split between home and away games during the 85-86 run. The feat is even more impressive given Williams’ home run hitting ability against Boggs’ habit of legging out hits within the confines of the field. Boggs is a legit .400 hitter.

One of the Best Players in ’93 Finest

When using my favorite metrics to rate players it becomes apparent that Boggs outplayed almost every player in the 1993 Finest set. His weighted on base percentage and wins above replacement are both very strong. He batted .352 in the 1980s, a rate just behind Shoeless Joe Jackson’s lifetime .356. The back half of Boggs’ career is seen by many as a statistical disappointment, thought that is more a testament to the overpowering nature of the first half rather than age-induced mediocrity. Boggs played for 18 years and batted .304 across his final nine seasons, years that outperformed the career performances of noted contact hitters Roberto Alomar, Will Clark, and Mark Grace while coming within a point of George Brett’s lifetime .305 mark.

Somehow Boggs never won an MVP award despite generating an average of 5.9 wins above replacement per season over the course of his career.

All of this came from a player the Red Sox didn’t seem to want on their team. Boston signed Boggs directly from high school in 1976 but kept him in the minor leagues for an incredible six years before giving him a major league at-bat. Boggs certainly did his part to get noticed, winning multiple minor league batting titles despite being told he was too slow, lacked power, and was a defensive liability. As a result, he made his debut at a later age than most players. Boggs did not waste time and promptly won the 1983 AL batting title. It would be amazing to see what his totals could have been with a few more prime seasons in the majors.

“Boggs” Has The Same Number of Letters as “Beers”

The first time I heard Boggs’ voice was when he appeared in the 1992 Simpsons episode titled “Homer at the Bat.” The animated comedy focuses on a local businessman’s attempt to rig a local softball league by stacking his roster with professional baseball players. All but one ends up missing the championship game due to a series of unlikely calamities. Boggs misses the game when he is knocked unconscious in a bar fight with the town drunk.

The choice of a bar fight to eliminate Boggs was not a coincidence. He had a reputation as a heavy beer drinker, complete with an urban legend that he somehow drank survived imbibing 60-100 beers during a cross country flight, depending on how far the teller wants to stretch the number. While this is almost certainly a tall tale, Boggs did have standing arrangements with air crews to supply him with full cases that he would gulp down in a single sitting.

A Really Odd Boggs Card

Take a good look at the card above. For starters, it shows Boggs holding a baseball bat across his left shoulder and a rubber chicken across his right. Boggs famously ate a rotisserie chicken before every game and several card manufacturers snuck chicken references into their photo selections. The back of the card provides a space for his amateur baseball stats, going as far as to list where he went to school (Hillsborough Community College and Plant High School) but then following that information with the unhelpful phrase “Records Not Available.” There is an empty rectangle at the bottom for a player to provide an autograph. I’ve never seen one used in this manner.

The card is part of the 1987 Classic set, a baseball card issue that isn’t a typical bubble gum card but rather part of a board game. The game was issued as a full set and players would take turns playing a game of baseball by answering trivia questions on the back of cards. As a form of entertainment it was terrible. The questions were generally too easy and bore no relationship between the ease of answering and how potent each participant’s offense was. The Boggs card grants players a triple if they can name who set a record 56 game hitting streak and credits a team with a run if the player can identify what defensive position is known as a backstop.

Getting a Boggs Refractor Into the Collection

This was the first graded refractor I purchased. For some reason this card always seems to be available without the scary high price tags of less effective players. Maybe it’s the fact that Boggs shows up in a Yankees uniform instead of his familiar Boston colors. I purchased from a Red Sox themed seller on eBay and messaged him asking about the story of how he came to own the card. The seller responded that he had purchased as an investment for his kid’s education and was trying to sell it at a profit. I hope the kid gets some scholarships, as a check of the slab’s serial number shows the card had been sold just two months earlier to the same seller for $15 more than I paid.

One of the first cards showing Boggs as a Yankee.

Fun Trivia:

  • He is part owner of a youth baseball facility at the site of the the ballfield used in Field of Dreams
  • Never known for the long ball, Boggs’ 3,000th hit was a home run
  • Boggs famously ate enormous amounts of chicken throughout his career and helped with a cookbook titled Fowl Tips
  • Boggs was once rescued from a hunting accident by WWF wrestler Mr. Perfect
  • His wife accidentally ran over his arm after he fell from their vehicle
  • He was bit by a horse as a child, leading to a running joke that he was afraid of the animals and culminating with Boggs riding a mounted NYPD officer’s horse in the 1996 World Series parade
  • Boggs played against Cal Ripken in the longest professional baseball game in history, a 33-inning minor league monster that spilled across two days in 1981.