ST. PETERSBURG — Wade Boggs signed with the Devil Rays in 1998 for a specific reason.
He was within 200 hits of 3,000 and wanted the chance to reach the milestone playing for the new team in his adopted home town.
He did that in his second year — on Aug. 7, 1999, to be exact — then retired as a player and served briefly in several other roles (coaching, front office, broadcasting) before being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
Though his No. 12 was retired by the Rays in April 2000, Boggs said he never imagined the honor he received on Sunday, being inducted into the Rays Hall of Fame, which was launched this year as part of their 25th anniversary celebration.
“It’s awesome,” Boggs said after the pregame ceremony, sporting his new Rays Hall blazer. “Naturally, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of greatness, where you put your flag in and everything along those lines.
“I would never ever think that in a million years I would have been in the Tampa Bay Rays Hall of Fame because of my body of work. I wasn’t here long enough. Like I said in my speech, I wore a lot of hats — I was assistant GM, I was a hitting coach and a player for two years. People don’t get inducted in the Hall of Fames when you play for a team for two years.
“I understand (after) ‘99 that they retired my No. 12, which was a tremendous honor,” Boggs continued. “But that’s what makes this mean that much more to me is because of the lack of body of work that I had here. I didn’t win batting titles. I didn’t win Gold Gloves. I didn’t make All-Star teams or anything along those lines.”
But Boggs brought experience (which he could share with their younger players), credibility and star power. On early Devil Rays teams where the goal was to not lose 100 games — “the most embarrassing thing ever,” he said — his pursuit of hit No. 3,000 added some needed excitement.
In return, the Devil Rays gave Boggs the opportunity to “make my dream come true” by signing him after the Yankees declined his option for 1998.
“I’m from here,” said Boggs, who moved to Tampa with his family as a kid and attended Plant High School. “I wanted to come back to play here. I wanted my family, my friends, everybody to see me.”
In thanking original Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli and general manager Chuck LaMar for bringing him home, Boggs said Sunday there may have been an arrangement — “a back(room) chat” with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, where Naimoli said, “Give me your dude, because we want him to get 3,000 in Tampa Bay.”
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In introducing Boggs, Rays president Brian Auld noted “one word comes to mind — first.” He then listed many of the firsts Boggs accomplished, from hitting the first home run in franchise history (in the first game), to being the first major-leaguer to reach 3,000 hits with a homer, to being the first Ray to have his number retired.
And Sunday, being the first player inducted into the team Hall of Fame (following senior adviser Don Zimmer, and ahead of outfielder Carl Crawford). “Was there any doubt?” Auld said.
Boggs, who is also in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, enjoyed Sunday’s occasion. In recalling the 3,000-hit homer during the ceremony, Boggs did a spot-on take of the radio call by Dewayne Staats, who was Sunday’s emcee. Talking later in the press box, he mentioned all the old friends he saw in the stands.
“It’s great to be back home,” Boggs said at the podium. “I stand before you today deeply humbled and truly honored.”
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