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A destiny becomes a shared legacy

Published Aug. 24, 2005

Fathers and sons. Moments and memories. Stories and legends.

A patriarch hands down the game of baseball. He cradles it like an heirloom, and he wills it to his offspring. He tells its stories and unfolds its mysteries until the value is apparent to the following generation.

A lifetime races past. Millions of hours, thousands of afternoons, hundreds of games later, a man is sitting on a stage and watches as the world bestows greatness upon his son. A legend, they are calling him. A Hall of Famer.

Yep, Tuesday was a nice day for Wade Boggs, wasn't it?

It was a pretty good day for Win, too.

Win Boggs, father of the immortal, glanced toward his son with a bemused look. On the other side of the stage, the words and emotions tumbled out of Wade. The Hall of Fame granted membership to Wade on Tuesday, validating a career the way numbers, trophies and tributes never quite manage.

To the rest of the world, to Boggs, it was quite the news. Win? He predicted this a long time ago.

"I knew this when he was 10 years old," Win said. "I just didn't want to make a fuss. I knew what was in his heart and mind. He had a fire burning in him that most people don't know anything about."

Win is almost 80, and he is entitled to his crust. He still talks with a pound of gravel in his voice, and his laugh still comes loud and abrupt. His mind is sharp, his opinions are strong and, as always, his faith in his son is justified.

For Boggs, it was a blessing that his father was here for his moment. Last summer, when his father was diagnosed with lung cancer, there were fears he might not be.

"At the time, it was scary, very scary," Wade said. "It was tough for all of us. We were just worried about making it day to day. By the grace of God, he made it through."

The doctors cut out half of Win's right lung in June. The arthritis pains him when he walks. He has an aneurysm on his aorta that doctors tell him "could bust any time."

Still, he made it to Tuesday's announcement. How terrible it would have been if he had not. If anyone made a difference in Wade Boggs' career, it was his father.

"He's always been my hitting coach, and he still is," Wade said. "This bust is 90-95 percent him. I was really a small part of it."

Fathers and sons. Hits and errors. Blood and tears.

How does a player make it to the Hall of Fame? Start with the image of a kid gripping a bat and glove, sitting on the steps waiting for his father to come home.

"Every day," Win said. "He was there every day. Kids that age don't have that kind of attention span. Baseball was all he ever wanted to do."

They were always close, father and son. Wade had been a sickly child, going into convulsions whenever his temperature rose above 100 degrees. His father feared losing him so badly that, for years, Wade slept between his parents.

When Boggs was 10, doctors finally ruled out epilepsy. That was also the year Win turned to his wife, Sue, and said, "The least thing Wade will get out of baseball will be a college education."

Stories? You want stories?

There is the one about Boggs' temper. There was a telephone pole in the front yard, and when a game hadn't gone well, Boggs would whack at it with a bat as if he were a lumberjack trying to fell a tree.

When Boggs was 15, playing on a youth league team coached by his father, he was called out on strikes. He told off the umpire and, in anger, threw his bat against the fence. Win jerked him out of the game and pointed him toward the bench.

The bat-throwing never happened again. It would have been too embarrassing, after all, for his father to come out of the stands and bench him while he was playing for the Red Sox.

There is the story about Boggs' impatience. Boggs had a huge junior season in high school, but as his senior season started, opponents were pitching around him. Boggs began to swing at balls over his head and in the dirt, and for the first time, Win was concerned he might quit the game.

Win bought a book, Ted Williams' The Science of Hitting, and gave it to Wade. Sure enough, teams eventually had to pitch to him. "He was so good after that," Win said, "that if you tell people his numbers, they don't believe them."

There are the stories of Boggs' maturation. In the minors, where Boggs was less than can't-miss, he would call his father every night to talk about his frustrations, his failures, his doubters.

Boggs still remembers calling his father on Easter morning of 1981. His team had played an extra-inning game that didn't end until almost 5 a.m.

"I was 4-for-12," Boggs said.

"So what happened on the other eight?" Win said.

With the Boggs boys, it went that way. Win always wanted to talk about the outs, not the hits. He wanted to know what the pitch was, what the flight of the ball was, what direction it was hit. That way, he knew how Boggs was swinging.

"It didn't bother me," Wade said. "He was trying to make me better."

Fathers and sons. Balls and strikes. Family and fame.

For Win, Tuesday was not an emotional day. Not compared with Aug. 7, 1999, the day Wade reached the 3,000-hit plateau.

Because of Win, the moment was complete. When the coaches told Boggs he wouldn't amount to much, when the critics harped on Boggs for not hitting enough home runs, it was his father who believed in him.

"He was there every step of the way," Boggs said.

For those in the Hall of Fame, things change. Even autographs come with a protocol. Once in, players sign their name, then the initials of the Hall of Fame, then the year of their induction.

As for Boggs, he knew exactly what to do with his new signature. He was going to sign a photo this way:

I love you, Dad

We made it

Wade Boggs, HOF '05