If Wade Boggs played today, how we he be viewed by baseball experts? Boggs’ number 26 will be retired at Fenway Park on May 26th. He’s already in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His accomplishments have been valued and he is viewed as one of the best hitters in the game during the 1980’s. However, is Boggs’ greatness undervalued in historical context? That will be the discussion in today’s post.
Back in the 1980’s, there was a lot less focus on getting on base. The focus, from an offensive standpoint, was on slugging and hitting home runs. On Base Percentage was a term that was in it’s infancy and it was rarely even looked at. Players who hit for average like Boggs and Tony Gwynn were appreciated, but not at the same level as sluggers like Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, George Bell, Kirby Puckett, and Will Clark. Those guys hit home runs and because of that they were usually at the top of MVP votings. The players with the best power numbers were appreciated a lot more than players who got on base. We’ll take a look at some examples as we move forward with this post.
Let’s take a look at some numbers for Wade Boggs. From 1982 – 1991, this was Wade Boggs’ average season.
Batting Average: .345
On Base Percentage: .435
Over a ten-year span, Boggs hit .345 with a .435 OBP. He averaged 100 runs and 40 doubles and was just shy of averaging 200 hits per season. He won five batting titles with averages of .361, .368, ,357, .363, and .366. No, these were not a coincidence. He led the league in OBP in six out of seven seasons from 1983 – 1989 with a high of .476 in 1988. He also had over 200 hits in each of those seven seasons. To put that in perspective, no player in the American League had over 200 hits in 2015.
Simply put, there is no player in MLB today that could even come close to these numbers. Players aren’t hitting over .350 year after year and there’s no one getting on base in close to half of his at bats. With all of the attention on OBP and OPS now, Boggs likely would be considered the top offensive player in the game if he played today despite his lack of power numbers. This is a player who led the league in OPS in 1988 with five home runs. 45 doubles and a .476 OBP certainly contributed to that.
Despite his amazing numbers, Wade Boggs never finished higher than 4th in the AL MVP Voting. Perhaps, part of it was that his numbers were taken for granted because he put them up consistently year after year. Let’s take a look at 1987 and 1988 as examples.
In 1987, George Bell was the AL MVP. Bell certainly had a huge year hitting .308 with 47 home runs and 134 RBI. Wade Boggs finished 9th hitting .363 with 24 home runs and 89 RBI. Boggs led the league in batting average, OBP, and OPS and finished in 9th place. His OPS was 1.045. George Bell’s was .957. Boggs OPS was almost .100 points higher. Perhaps, Bell deserved the award, but Boggs’ finishing 9th was a borderline insult.
In 1988, Boggs led the American League in Plate Appearances, Runs Scored, Doubles, Walks, Batting Average, On Base Percentage, and OPS. Do where he finished in that MVP voting? Sixth. There were five players voted ahead of the player who led the league in seven major offensive categories.
In the 1980’s, there was not a hitter who was more feared than Wade Boggs. This was despite the fact that he didn’t hit a lot of home runs. He was a pitchers and managers nightmare. He was more feared than George Bell. More feared than Don Mattingly. More feared than Jose Canseco. If you disagree, just ask the pitchers and managers who contributed to Boggs leading the league in intentional walks in every season from 1987 – 1992.
Red Sox Nation – On May 26th, stand up and cheer the player who was simply the best hitter in the game during his era. We may not see another player hit for average and get on base more frequently over a ten-year span than Wade Boggs did ever again.