Yankees Magazine: Riding high

For Wade Boggs, the chase for a championship ended with a World Series moment for the ages

July 11th, 2016
An impromptu horseback ride delayed Wade Boggs' arrival to the postgame clubhouse mayhem, but he made up for it in a hurry, celebrating the first and only championship of his Hall of Fame career in true Boggs fashion. (New York Yankees)NEW YORK YANKEES

After winning five batting titles in Boston, Wade Boggs traded in his Red Sox for pinstripes, signing with the Yankees prior to the 1993 season. In five campaigns in the Bronx, the third baseman batted .313, won two Gold Glove Awards and was selected to four American League All-Star teams. Boggs' greatest moment came in 1996, when he captured the first and only championship of his career, 10 years after his Red Sox team nearly won it all.
On a sunny day this past May, Boggs hit the links at Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester, N.Y,, where Babe Ruth was once a member. During the round of golf, Boggs reflected on the 1996 season with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III.

After all of the history you had in Boston, what emotions did you feel when you signed with the Yankees?

I know that if I had gone anywhere other than to the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox fans wouldn't have been upset. But there were circumstances that were involved that the public didn't know about. There were players going to the front office about me, and there were other situations that led me to leave the Red Sox. Before Red Sox Owner Jean Yawkey died, she had offered me a seven-year contract to stay with the Red Sox, but the organization didn't honor that. They basically took everything off the table, and I became a free agent.
When I decided to join the Yankees, the first thing that came across my mind was that I would get to play for the two organizations with the richest histories in baseball. As a visiting player, I couldn't believe I was standing in the same batter's box that Babe Ruth stood in. When I was with the Red Sox, I became friends with Ted Williams, and now I would be playing on the same field as Joe DiMaggio. At first, the thought of playing for the Yankees was overwhelming, but I knew that I could stay focused and do well there.

What do you remember about your meeting with then-Yankees managing general partner Joseph Malloy in Tampa, which ultimately led you to New York?

My agent, Alan Nero, told me that Joe Malloy was handling the meeting because Mr. Steinbrenner was suspended at the time and he wasn't allowed to have any interaction with free agents or any other players until his suspension was over. We were at a restaurant, and at the table next to us, there was a gentleman in a suit reading a newspaper. I couldn't see his face because the newspaper was blocking it. Once the contract was agreed upon, the man put the newspaper down and winked at me. Of course, that man was George Steinbrenner. That was his way of welcoming me to the Yankees and saying, "I got you now." When I think back on it, that gesture was so touching.

Did the near misses in the two seasons leading up to 1996 add to your motivation to capture that elusive championship?

Yes. But even before I got to the Yankees, I came as close as you could come to winning the World Series without actually winning it. The 1986 World Series felt like we had the rug pulled out from under us, and that happened a few more times after that. Our 1994 Yankees team was the best club I had played on, and we felt like we could blow the competition away in the postseason. Then we got back into the postseason in 1995, and we had a 2-games-to-none lead against Seattle in the ALDS, but we wound up losing. That left me with a tremendous hunger going into 1996.

There were several new faces in camp when Spring Training began in 1996. What was the climate like around the team?

The Yankees wanted there to be a good mix of young players and experienced veterans, and that team had a wonderful mix. We had young players such as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, and we had older guys like Tim Raines, Paul O'Neill, David Cone and Jimmy Key, who really mentored those younger players. We went into that Spring Training not knowing how things were going to turn out over the course of a 162-game season, and there were even some questions as to whether Derek was ready to handle the shortstop position. But when things started gelling and we started winning, we quickly became a close-knit team. We were together between the lines and off the field. It's rare for things to come together like that.

When did you feel like things were starting to gel for the team?

Right from the start of the regular season, I knew we had enough talent to be a really good team. We had Joe Girardi handling the pitching staff and Cone, Key and a young Pettitte in the rotation. The pitchers felt comfortable with our defense. But we really got going in June. We started putting some winning streaks together, and we felt like we were growing as a team. We just kept plugging along, and we knew that each day was special in and of itself. That's when we started repeating the motto that Mariano Duncan gave us: We play today; we win today. That's it.

How comfortable were you in the leadoff spot?

I was comfortable leading off because I had done it for a long time. We needed someone who could get on base, and by getting a lot of hits and walking a lot, I could set the table. Then we would have Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and O'Neill coming up, and those guys didn't strike out very often. Even if they grounded out, we would score a run.

What were your impressions of Mariano Rivera that season?

With Mariano, we knew that if we could get to the seventh inning with a lead, he was going to get us through the seventh and eighth, and John Wetteland was going to close it out in the ninth. So we were able to cut down the game and make it very small. Mariano gave us the opportunity to play very logical and simple baseball.

What about Derek?

He was very humble and quiet. He kept his mouth shut and went about his business every day. He was constantly trying to learn, and you could tell that he wanted to advance his game. He blossomed so quickly. After that, you knew that there was nothing but great things ahead for Derek. It's neat to watch young players like that. He was a tremendous wingman for me in the field. We complemented each other well, and I'm thankful I got to play alongside him during his rookie year.

What do you remember about the plane ride to Atlanta after the team lost the first two games of the World Series at home?

The first thing I thought about when we got on the plane was my experience in the 1986 World Series. I stood up in the back of the plane and said, "I've been in the situation that the Braves are in now. I know exactly how the Braves feel. In 1986, we were up by two games going back to Boston, and we wanted to close it out there and not have to go back to New York. The Braves do not want to go back to New York. They think it's over. Well, guess what? We've got different plans for them. Now let's go down there, take names, win all three games and win this thing in New York." We went in there like [General Ulysses S.] Grant took Richmond.

How tense was Game 4 for you, particularly before you were put in as a pinch-hitter?

We didn't want to go down 3 games to 1 in the Series. When the Braves were winning that game 6-0, they were feeling really special about themselves, but we knew that we had the ability to whittle away at the end of the game. We pecked away and got back within striking distance, and then -- all of a sudden -- Jim Leyritz hit the big home run to tie the game.

With the game still tied in the 10th, you came to the plate with the bases loaded. What stands out from the moments before you stepped into the batter's box?

I was the last position player on the bench, but Joe Torre initially asked David Cone to grab a helmet to pinch-hit. Then Don Zimmer said, "You still have Boggs." So Joe said, "Hold on, Coney. Boggsy, get a bat." I was sitting next to Jimmy Key, and he said, "Key-hole him." Those were the last words of wisdom that I got.

What was your approach in that at-bat?

I knew that Steve Avery hadn't thrown a pitch in a while and that fell right into my hands. When I walked up to the plate, Braves catcher Javier Lopez said, "You live for moments like this, don't you?" And I said, "Yes, I do."
But I wasn't going to swing until Avery started throwing strikes. He threw ball one, then he threw two strikes. Then he missed with the next three pitches, and I did the old bat flip and ran to first.

Did you realize how big that at-bat was when you got up there?

Yes. I had a huge hit in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the '86 World Series, but I had never been pressed into an at-bat that had as much significance as this one. I was thinking that if I get a base hit, we score one or two. If I walk, we score one. Either way, we would be ahead, and with Wetteland coming in, I knew the game would be over.

What did you say to the team when you got on the plane to fly back to New York after winning three straight in Atlanta?

I just said, "I told you, guys."

When you took the field for Game 6, did you feel as if you were going to win the World Series that night?

I knew it. I was like Nostradamus. I said, "If we get back to New York, it's over." What I meant by that was it's over in Game 6. Yankee Stadium was our house, and with the fans on our side, we knew we would win that game. When Joe Girardi hit the triple in the third inning, that was the loudest I had ever heard the Stadium. The cups on the watercooler were falling down because of how much the Stadium was shaking. The whole place was rocking.

Knowing the Mets came back in the eighth and 10th innings of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, did the thought of that happening again cross your mind after John Wetteland gave up a ninth-inning run to bring the game within one?

I had a towel over my head during the last half-inning because I couldn't watch. Every few minutes, I would lift my head up a little bit, and then I'd pull it back down. I wanted to be on the field to catch that final out of the '96 World Series, but I understood Joe's process of putting Charlie Hayes out there for defensive purposes late in games. But I was on pins and needles because I had been in this situation before.

What was the first thought you had after the final out was made?

I thought of my mom. That was it. She was killed in a car accident in June 1986, and even if I had won the World Series that year with the Red Sox, it wouldn't have meant anything because of her not being there. But 10 years later, having my dad at the World Series and being able to reflect on her life with him that night was very special.

What's the best part of being a champion?

You've reached the pinnacle. You don't have any more games or innings or at-bats. We're world champions, and no one can ever take that away from us.

What do you remember from the celebration on the field?

When I got on the dogpile, I gave Wetteland a big kiss on the cheek. I just kept saying, "I love you guys," to all of my teammates. It was also amazing that not a single fan ran out onto the field. They just stood up and respected what we were doing.

Yet one of the most memorable moments is your own celebration. What compelled you to jump on the horse for your victory lap?
Video: WS1996 Gm6: Boggs takes victory lap on horseback
I have no idea. Once we decided to do the victory lap, I was going to run with all the guys, and the next thing I know, I'm in left-center field on a horse.
I was deathly afraid of horses because when I was 5 years old, I got bit in the back by a horse, so there was no forethought that possessed me to get on that horse. All I know is that without even thinking about it, I was on the back of a huge horse, and it was the greatest thing I've ever done. It was an iconic moment. When I got off the horse, I kissed home plate. By the time I got into the clubhouse, everyone was well into the champagne toasts, and I was riding around on a horse like it was the Kentucky Derby.

You followed Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees and to the Hall of Fame. Now you're playing a round of golf where he had a longtime presence. What are your thoughts on being here today?

It brings me back to the very first time I stepped into the batter's box at Yankee Stadium. I was stepping into the same batter's box that Babe Ruth stood in. I had the same feelings today. I'm standing on the same tee box that Babe Ruth once stood at. The Babe played golf here, and I feel lucky to be a part of that. I'm very thankful that God blessed me with the chance to be a Yankee, because without that, I wouldn't be here today.  

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.