Ever-patient Boggs looks back on birth of a dynasty
Posted: Friday October 6, 2006 10:32AM; Updated: Friday October 6, 2006 4:19PM
It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since the Yankees won their first championship of the Joe Torre Era. One of the most memorable moments of the 1996 World Series run came when Wade Boggs rode on the back of a policeman's horse and did a victory lap around the park. Boggs has been teaming up all season long with Johnnie Walker on their Keep Walking 90 Feet at a Time campaign, which has donated $100 to RADD (Recording Artists, Athletes, and Actors Against Drunk Driving) every time a Yankees player has drawn a walk at Yankee Stadium this year. To conclude this initiative, Boggs rode the subway up to 161st St. last Sunday morning and handed out New York City subway MetroCards to fans, encouraging them to enjoy the game but to do so responsibly and get home safely. I caught up with Boggs earlier this week for this conversation.
Playing for the Yankees from 1993 to '97, Wade Boggs helped usher in a new, grind-it-out style of hitting for the Bronx Bombers.
SI.com: In Sports Illustrated's 1986 Baseball Preview Issue, you sat down for a lengthy chat with Don Mattingly and Ted Williams. Do you have any memories of the conversation you had that day?
Wade Boggs: Every bit of it. Donnie and I didn't really talk too much. Ted sort of held court. It was one of the first times that Donnie had been around Ted. I had been around Ted in spring training when I was with the Red Sox. One of the things Ted was saying was how he'd foul off a ball and smell wood burning. "You know, you foul a ball off and it creates friction, and has that burning wood smell." I looked at him like he had two heads. And Donnie says, "Oh, I've done that." And I said, "You've got to be kidding me. I've never had that happen." So after the interview, the next day in a spring training game, my first time up I fouled off a ball and smelt it. And I was like, I can't believe this. In all the time I've played I've never done it and then the very next day, after Ted was talking about it, I recognized it. So maybe it was there all the time and I didn't know what it was. But it was one of my favorite interviews of all time to just sit there and listen to the greatest hitter of all time talk about hitting.
SI.com:When you came to New York in 1993, the Yankees were Mattingly's team, but it was your high-on-base-percentage style, which differed from Mattingly's aggressive approach, that ended up as the model for the patient style the Yankees offense developed in the '90s, and even to this day.
Boggs:Rick Down was the hitting instructor at the time, and his style was a lot like Walk Hriniak [a Charlie Lau disciple who was a longtime hitting coach with the Red Sox], so it was very easy for me to change hitting instructors. Down had said [to me], "You've been a godsend because you're the type of hitter that I want my hitters to look at." Donnie asked me, "How do you walk 100 times a year?" I said, "Very simple. Take 2-0." His walks went from 39 to 61 [from 1992 to '93]. They almost doubled in one year and all he did was take 2-0 on certain at-bats. The one thing that we tried to do [as a team] was get [the opposing pitcher] to the 100-pitch count by the fifth inning. We knew that if we got to the 100-pitch count by the fifth inning we were going to win the game. That was the philosophy we went by and since then, the team has adopted that whole mentality that everyone in the lineup just wears down a pitcher, and extends the at-bat by pitch, by pitch, by pitch. Bobby Abreu falls right in those lines. These are the types of hitters that just wear down a pitching staff.
That's why when we came up with this campaign, it was a no-brainer to have the Yankees do it, because I knew we were able to write a large check by the end of the season. If we had Houston or a team that doesn't really walk a lot, the campaign wouldn't have been nearly as successful. When we got the Yankees, I was doing backflips because it was a perfect marriage.
SI.com:You talk about taking the 2-0 pitch. Some hitters, like Nomar Garciaparra,believe that the first pitch they'll see will be the best one they get, so they swing early in the count. Did you ever have a preconceived notion of when you were likely to see the best pitch to hit in an at-bat, or did you think that the longer you waited, the greater chance the pitcher had to make a mistake?
Boggs: I was told by Ted Williams, "The more pitches you see in an at-bat, the more opportunity a pitcher has to make a mistake." The thing about swinging at the first pitch, along the lines of a Garciaparra, the pitchers know he's going to swing at the first pitch, so why not start him off with a breaking ball? So now you look silly swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt because you are too anxious. And then you get yourself out. Then the next time you go up there and take, it's a fastball down the middle. So how do you play that cat-and-mouse game? That's why my philosophy was always, See ball, hit ball. I didn't guess, I didn't look for a certain pitch, I didn't look for a certain area; I just saw it and hit it. I mean, I might take two fastballs right down the middle and be down 0-2. Then foul off some balls, get to seven, eight, nine pitches and then he spins a breaking ball up there and you get a base hit off it. There was no rhyme or reason on how I attacked people.
SI.com:So hitting with two strikes never made you feel like you were at a disadvantage?
Boggs: Oh, no, I had the advantage. 'Cause he still had to throw the ball over the plate to get me out. I knew that he had to throw the ball over the plate. And I could tell whether it was off the plate or not. So he would nibble, nibble, nibble, and now the count is 2-2, 3-2. Then he makes a mistake.
SI.com:When you came to New York from Fenway Park, did you find that you had to alter your approach to hitting?
Boggs: Oh, sure. It took me one offseason to do that [between '92 and '93]. Because in Yankee Stadium I had to go low to left and high to right, which is the complete opposite of Fenway Park, where I'd go high to left and low to right. I tried to stay away from right field at Fenway. But at Yankee Stadium, if you try to play the ball high to left, you're out, unless you hit it right down the line. But normally, if you hit the ball to left center, you're out. At Fenway if you play it low to left, the left fielder plays so shallow that he's going to catch a low line drive, but at Yankee Stadium he can't because he has to play so deep. Then, if you get out in front of a ball and pull it to right, the short porch in right helps you. So I worked in the offseason to hit everything low to left and then high to right and completely changing my philosophy around.