We'd only just begun our conversation when Wade Boggs reveals the scoop of scoops: The man affectionately known as "Chicken Man," whose fame for eating chicken before every game may rival what he accomplished during his Hall of Fame career, did it all because he wanted to write a chicken cookbook.
"A buddy of mine that owned a restaurant here in Tampa, Brad Gray, said, 'Hey, why don't you write a chicken cookbook with your grandmother's and mother's and wife's recipes and we'll go in and sell it,'" Boggs remembered in a recent phone call.
So, after Boggs offered up the genius name -- Fowl Tips -- they jumped into the project. The only catch?
"Well, the only sticking point is you're gonna have to eat chicken every day to sell it," Gray said. So, Boggs did.
"Basically, in 1983, we ate chicken every day and I wound up winning a batting title in '83," Boggs said. "So, the chicken worked."
Surely I hadn't heard right. There was no way that the man everyone knows for his chicken consumption; the one who earned the nickname from Jim Rice and who got Frank Perdue to supply a semi-truck filled with chicken did it just for the book ... right?
"No, I ate the chicken for the book," Boggs said. "And then once the chicken just kept going, I just continued the superstition with the chicken. They sort of worked hand in hand."
"My dad did the illustrations for the book and we put in some humorous sides," Boggs said. "One of the recipes is chicken and rice and there's a picture of Jim Rice and myself on the page, but it's just a conglomeration of my grandmother, mother and wife's chicken recipes over the years. We put it together and it was a novelty item."
The book was printed in 1984 -- after Boggs' first batting title -- by Narragansett Graphics, a small printing company located in Wakefield, R.I. Because it's been nearly 40 years since its publication, a likely small print run, and the fact that most copies of the book are likely buried in the attic or tucked away on a pantry shelf, it's a piece of ephemera that's almost impossible to find. Not even the internet, the place where you can find seemingly anything, is much help. "Fowl Tips" is currently unavailable from eBay or Amazon (however, if you go to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, know that your school library has a copy), and when it does pop up, it usually goes for close to $100.
So, after years of searching and digging through boxes at New England swap meets and coming up empty, Jay Tuohey, who works for Bally Sports Detroit, stumbled on an old copy and sent it over. (According to him, he either found it in a "pile of goodies, stuck between some old Sports Illustrated and Sporting News issues, wrapped in a plastic bag with cardboard on either side," ... or he ordered it off eBay after having a bit too much to drink the day that Homer Simpson was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It's up to you to choose which you believe.)
Getting the book meant I'd finally get a chance to cook some of these recipes and eat the way a Hall of Famer ate, following along with some of his favorite recipes.
Knowing that my skills in the cooking department are even worse than my skills as a food photographer, I opted for the recipes that called for few ingredients and which didn't require me to do much more than take some pimentos out of a jar or add some sauce before cooking. So, I made Herb Chicken Casserole, Chicken Wine Casserole and a "Hot Chicken Salad," which combined chicken, pineapple and mayonnaise before being cooked in the oven.
"I wouldn't put mayonnaise -- I'd probably switch it out with cream," Hughes said. "I don't know why it's called a salad, either. Because it's not really very salad-y, but it could be nice without the pineapple and the pineapple syrup. It's just like a nice creamy chicken, but, like, what the bloody hell is pineapple doing in that? I mean, I like the fact there's some tarragon going on, but I can't imagine what tarragon and pineapple tastes like together."
For the record, it was actually quite tasty, but even Wade himself didn't remember this one well.
"Pineapple's never been in the rotation," Boggs said. "I don't like pineapple on my pizza and I don't like pineapple and chicken."
Chef Sam Harden, who co-owns Better Bagels in Boston's Seaport (a second location is coming to Downtown Crossing soon), doesn't think there's anything at fault with the recipes -- they're just of the time.
"This reminds me of something my mom would have in our closet," Harden said.
"When talking about [food from] the 80s, it was just bad. People were eating a bunch of bad food, that sums it up," Harden jokes. Pointing to Chicken Wine Casserole, he laughs and says, "At least, they're saying fresh mushrooms. When you get recipes from this time period, they love to put cream of mushroom soup and cream of chicken soup with everything else."
While we may wonder how Boggs could have eaten chicken every day for his career and never gotten tired of it, celebrity chef Graham Elliot -- himself a huge baseball fan with an impressive card collection -- doesn't find it that odd.
"People say the chicken is like the culinary blank canvas," Elliot said. "You can do so much with it. For me, if I was going to have chicken every day, I would do just a perfectly beautiful grilled chicken breast. Like, literally a boneless, skinless [chicken breast]. Most chefs will tell you, they like the dark meat, the thigh. And, you know, fried chicken is one of the greatest American things in the world. But again, if you're looking to have it every day, you're not going to do that. A grilled chicken breast can be hot, cold, it can be rubbed with Cajun seasoning, it could be with herbs, it could be marinated, it could be just sliced over a salad. There's a million different things that you can do with that."
Though Boggs is no longer playing -- and therefore doesn't need a meal that will inspire him to get multiple base hits in a game -- he does still rely mostly on the bird for his dinner.
"Yeah, it's still in the diet," Boggs admitted. "The other couple days are probably fish -- don't eat too much red meat. Just mostly chicken and fish."
So, if these chefs had a chance to serve up a dish to the five-time batting champ, what would they cook?
Hughes, despite hailing from the UK, goes simple and traditionally American.
"It sounds like a bit of a cop out, but I do a banging fried chicken," Hughes said. Admitting that his go-to style is different than the one he did for "Home Plate," he has a bit of a trick to get his fried chicken perfect every time.
"Because I couldn't find buttermilk once, I worked out that if you put loads of lemon juice in Greek yogurt, mix that all up -- I don't know what it is, maybe because it's thicker when you do the fried chicken at the end -- you end up having this [chicken that's] really soft on the inside, but really, really crispy on the outside. So yeah, I'd probably just do a fried chicken sandwich with pickles. I mean, it's quite an American thing, but fried chicken sandwiches with some bread and butter pickles, you can't really beat it."
Harden, paying homage to the infamous cross-country flight that got Boggs on an episode of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," would opt to do a beer can chicken on the grill.
Elliot would do the same, but he'd make it part of a giant feast.
"I'd do a five course chicken menu," Elliot said. "All different preferences, different styles based on his upbringing, his travels, whatever. I'd have to definitely do a beer can chicken because I've heard the stories of the flights with how much beer he can get into. I have to do some kind of dish where I garnish the plate with something that looks like a huge moustache."
As for Boggs -- who calls beer can chicken "phenomenal" -- his favorite recipes in the book are easy to pick out.
"The Italian chicken -- that's probably one of my favorites, though it's hard to beat my wife's fried chicken. That's one of the clutch staples," Boggs said. "It was kind of weird that my wife would pick one recipe out of the book and run with it each and every year. And it seemed like that was the recipe that had the most success."
Here, with permission from Boggs, are those recipes, so you can have your own chance to eat like he does:
As for the nickname, the one that led to a phone call about a 40-year-old recipe book -- does Boggs ever get tired of it?
"No, not at all," Boggs said. "I embrace it. I mean, that's basically my Twitter handle now: @ChickenMan3010. But no, it took on a life of its own and it's still moving forward."