Gold Gloves—Part V: MLB 3B in Puerto Rico Winter Ball :Wade Boggs

Wade Boggs

This is Part V in a series on Gold Gloves (GG) earned by MLB players who played winter ball in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Six MLB 3B who played or managed in Puerto Rico have 21 Rawlings Gold Gloves (GG) between them: five American League (AL) and 16 National League (NL). This covers 1957-to-2018. In 1957, GG were awarded to nine total MLB players by position. From 1958-on, separate AL-NL recipients received this award. Frank Malzone—1957 Boston Red Sox—won the first GG at 3B.

The most GG won by a 3B is 16 by Brooks Robinson (1960-to-1975), followed by Mike Schmidt (10), Scott Rolen (eight) and four players with six apiece—Nolan Arenado, Buddy Bell, Eric Chavez and Robin Ventura. Ken Boyer, with five NL GG at 3B, managed the 1975-76 Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico. Other GG 3B with a Puerto Rico League connection were: Frank Malzone (1957-59 Boston Red Sox), Mike Schmidt (1976-1984 and 1986 Philadelphia Phillies), Terry Pendleton (1987 and 1989 Cardinals, plus 1992 Atlanta Braves), Wade Boggs (1994-95 New York Yankees) and Ken Caminiti (1996-98 San Diego Padres). Mike Lowell—with a 2005 GG for the Florida Marlins—was born in Puerto Rico, but never played winter ball there.  

Wade Anthony Boggs was born in Omaha, Nebraska, June 15, 1958. His SABR bio by Steve West is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e083ea50. This blog will mainly focus on Boggs’s 1981-82 season with the Bayamón Cowboys in Puerto Rico’s Winter League. Boggs is one of 54 ex-MLB and Negro Leagues players, plus managers, broadcasters and umpires inducted in Cooperstown with a connection to the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, the official name of Puerto Rico’s Winter League since 2012.

I was working for a consulting firm in Puerto Rico, when Wade Boggs reinforced Bayamón as one of its imported players. At the time, Puerto Rico League teams were allowed 10 imports, normally Stateside players, but at times, players from other countries, including Chili Davis—a native of Jamaica—who reinforced the 1981-82 Ponce Lions. The 1981-82 winter season featured five teams, since the Arecibo Wolves franchise were out of the league that season. One of Boggs’s Bayamón teammates was shortstop Dickie Thon, five days younger than the 23-year old Boggs. Thon recalled that Boggs was “constantly working on perfecting his swing in Puerto Rico,” and “fit in well on the Bayamón baseball club.” Bayamón would finish the league season in fourth-place (27-34) after besting Mayagüez, in a tie-breaker to determine the fourth and final playoff slot. But Boggs did not play the entire winter season; he was in 41 of his team’s 61 games and returned home a few weeks before the 1981-82 Puerto Rico regular season concluded.

When I interviewed Boggs midway through a March 1992 spring training game in Florida, he had played a few innings and changed into his clothes. Jerome Holtzman, the renowned baseball sports writer, completed his interview with Boggs, and then Boggs spoke with me. He seemed interested in my questions, noting his father had been stationed at the Ramey Air Force Base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico when he (Boggs) was a toddler. Puerto Rico was special to Wade Boggs—his first childhood memories go back to Ramey Air Force Base (western side of Puerto Rico), a base where his dad was stationed for about three years, in the early 1960s. The elder Boggs (Winfield Boggs) was a World War II Marine and Air Force pilot in the Korean War.

“It (Puerto Rico) was a stepping stone that I used, with Bayamón,” said Boggs. “I went ahead and got more playing time and experience and used it to improve my ability. I was on the verge of playing in the major leagues when I got out of there. I had just come of AAA, so I think when you raise your standards in terms of quality of play, it’s got to help.” Boggs mentioned the friendliness and baseball savvy of Puerto Rico’s fans, noting, “I would get out of my

[rental]

car, and someone would yell, ‘Hey, Boggs, how are you doing…’”

The five-team Puerto Rico Winter League in 1981-82 was above class AAA, and just below MLB quality. Cal Ripken Jr. was the league’s All-Star 3B, hitting .314 for Caguas with 10 HR and 50 RBIs. Brett Butler, CF for the Mayagüez Indians, hit .327, and was second in the league in BA and hits (67) to Dickie Thon (.333 and 68, respectively). Chili Davis tied for the lead in triples (3) with three other players—Thon, Iván de Jesús of Santurce and John Shelby (Caguas). Caguas’s José “Cheo” Cruz (12 HR) and Bayamón’s Candy Maldonado (11 HR) were one-two in that category. Wade Boggs fell 32 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title.

In 41 games, Boggs had 147 AB; scored 17 runs; cracked 52 hits, including four doubles, two triples, three homers; drove in 22; walked 15 times to just 10 strikeouts; stole one base; had one SF and one SH. He also grounded into seven double plays. Boggs’s .354 BA was the best in the league, at the time he departed. His slash line was .354/.421/.469, with a fine .890 OPS.

Dickie Thon and Brett Butler, in separate interviews, mentioned Boggs’s fine and fluid swing. Butler, playing for the 1981 Richmond Braves, was also involved in that class AAA batting race with Boggs, who played 3B for Pawtucket. Boggs hit .335 to win the 1981 International League batting crown; Butler led the league with 93 runs scored; and Cal Ripken Jr. was voted All-Star 3B for this league. Ironically, Ripken, Jr. and Boggs played against each other at 3B in the longest game in organized baseball history—33 innings, one which began April 18, 1981, and then concluded June 23, 1981. When Boggs doubled in the tying run in the 21st inning, he said: “I didn’t know if guys wanted to hug me or slug me!” This came from Ira Berkow’s June 24, 2006 article in the New York Times titled “33 Innings, 882 Pitches and One Crazy Game.”

Joe M. Morgan, Boggs’s 1981 manager at Pawtucket, suggested that Boggs play 1B in winter ball, per Boggs’s SABR bio. Ismael “Trucutú” Oquendo ended up playing 1B for Bayamón, and assorted injuries to other players gave Boggs a chance to 3B for José Antonio Pagán, the Bayamón manager. Boggs was one of three left-handed hitters in the Bayamón line-up; Oquendo (1B) and veteran DH Henry Cruz—who normally played for Arecibo—were the other left-handed hitters. Luis Aguayo handled 2B for Bayamón; Aguayo had played against Boggs in the minors circa 1977 when Boggs was with Winston-Salem Red Sox (Class A Carolina League) and Aguayo was the Peninsula Pilots 2B. Boggs and Aguayo were league All-Stars that season. Joe M. Morgan once played 3B and the OF, and briefly took over as manager, for the 1964-65 league champion Santurce Crabbers [when Preston Gómez took a short leave of absence]. Morgan knew the value of winter ball. Boston finally placed Boggs on their 40-man roster after his fine hitting with Bayamón. Morgan also managed Boggs with Boston, 1988-to-1991.

Wade Boggs’s AL batting and fielding stats are at: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/boggswa01.shtml. His 3,000th hit, with Tampa Bay, was a HR. Here are some of Boggs’s AL career highlights:

  • 2x Gold Glove Award—1994 and 1995
  • 12x All-Star—1985-96
  • 5x Batting Champion—1983, 1985-88 (4x batting champ Bill Madlock is next for 3B)
  • 1x World Series Champion—1996 New York Yankees
  • 8x Silver Slugger Award—1983, 1986-89, 1991, 1993-94
  • Tampa Bay retired his #12 (April 7, 2000)
  • Inducted in Cooperstown (2005)
  • Boston retired his #26 (May 26, 2016)
  • 2x leader in runs—1988-89
  • 1x leader in hits—1985
  • 2x leader in doubles—1988-89  
  • 2x leader in walks—1986 and 1988
  • 6x leader in OBP—1983 and 1985-89
  • 2x leader in OPS—1987-88
  • 1x leader in OPS+—1987

Boggs played 2,439 AL games with 9,180 AB; scored 1,513 runs; got 3,010 hits, including 578 doubles, 61 triples and 118 HR; drove in 1,014; stole 24 bases with 35 CS; walked 1,412 times to 745 strikeouts; slash line of .328/.415/.443, with .858 OPS. His Puerto Rico slash line, as noted earlier, was .354/.421/.469, with a .890 OPS. Boggs’s minor league stats, in six seasons, were: 662 games, 2,277 AB, 333 runs, 724 hits, 112 doubles, eight triples, nine HR, 248 RBIs, 29 SB, 20 CS, 366 walks to 149 strikeouts; slash line of .318/.412/.386, with .798 OPS.

It is interesting that Frank Malzone and Wade Boggs are the two (and only) AL GG winners at 3B who played in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Also noteworthy is that Ralph Houk managed Malzone with the 1956-57 San Juan Senators in Puerto Rico; and, Houk was Boggs’s first manager with the 1982 Boston Red Sox! The 1981-82 Bayamón Cowboys were formerly the San Juan Senators in Puerto Rico’s Winter League through the 1973-74 season.

Wade Boggs’s 18 AL seasons resulted in joining a select group in Cooperstown, the summer of 2005. Puerto Rico played an important role in this Hall of Fame career, since Boggs proved to the Boston Red Sox management (1981-82) he had the skill set and talent to compete in MLB. With thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado for furnishing Wade Boggs’s Puerto Rico hitting stats and to Dickie Thon and Brett Butler for their insights in playing with-against Boggs in Puerto Rico. Special appreciation to Wade Boggs for taking the time to speak with me in spring training 1992.

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