Another Boggs first: Rays Hall of Fame inaugural class

July 9th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- When thinking about  and his legendary career as a Tampa Bay baseball icon, Rays president Brian Auld kept coming back to one word.


Boggs hit the first home run in Tampa Bay franchise history during the club’s first game on March 31, 1998. He became the first Devil Rays player to reach 3,000 hits, and the first Major League player to ever reach that historic mark with a home run. In 2005, he became the first player from the Tampa Bay area to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame -- as a first-ballot selection, no less.

In 2000, Boggs became the first member of the franchise to have his number retired by the team. And on Sunday, he became the first former player to be inducted into the first class of the new Rays Hall of Fame as part of the club’s 25th anniversary season.

“Was there any doubt?” Auld said during Boggs’ pregame induction ceremony at Tropicana Field.

Indeed, Boggs is a foundational figure not just for the fledgling Tampa Bay franchise, but for baseball in the region. His family moved to Tampa, Fla., when he was young, then he made his mark from the Bayshore Little League to Plant High School before embarking on a Hall of Fame Major League career in which he hit .328 over 18 seasons.

“I’m from here. I wanted to come back to play here,” Boggs said after the ceremony. “I’m not winning batting titles or Gold Gloves at the end of my career. But I was going for something that was very special, and I wanted my family and friends to be a part of it. … Having been here on the ground floor and seeing what Tampa Bay has grown and become, it has a special place in my heart.”

On stage alongside Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats, Auld and Boggs' wife, Debbie, with his children and their families seated on the field in front of him, Boggs received a Rays Hall of Fame jacket -- “The only thing that fits better than that jacket is a bat in his hands,” Staats quipped -- along with a pair of custom fishing rods with his name and No. 12 on them, and a glass trophy.

“We are forever grateful to Wade for coming home to help launch his hometown franchise. We will forever remember the magical night when he made history on that 2-2 pitch he put in the right-field seats for his 3,000th hit,” Auld said. “We will forever honor Wade’s contributions to baseball, to the Rays and to all of Tampa Bay.”

A 12-time All-Star, eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner, two-time Gold Glove Award winner at third base, five-time American League batting champion and 1996 World Series champion, Boggs spent most of his seasons with the Red Sox (11 years) and Yankees (five). 

But he finished his playing days with the then-Devil Rays, a two-year stint during which he proudly brought credibility and veteran experience to a young Tampa Bay team and ultimately recorded the crowning achievement of his splendid career. 

Facing Cleveland pitcher Chris Haney in the sixth inning on Aug. 7, 1999, Boggs hit a 2-2 pitch out to right field for his 3,000th career hit and took an emotional trip around the bases. There is still a yellow seat in Section 144 marking where his historic home run landed.

“It was the light at the end of the tunnel,” Boggs said. “I knew that 3,000 meant so much.”

When he stood to address the crowd Sunday afternoon, Boggs smiled as he said, “Wow. It’s great to be back home,” adding that he was “deeply humbled and truly honored” to be part of the club’s inaugural Hall of Fame class.

Boggs offered his congratulations and respect to the late Don Zimmer, the first Rays Hall of Fame inductee, and Carl Crawford, who will join them in August, as well as their families. He thanked former Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli, former GM Chuck LaMar and former manager Larry Rothschild for making his dream come true: “To come back home and play in front of family and friends and be a member of that inaugural team in 1998.”

“I was very fortunate to wear many hats -- that of a player, assistant general manager, a hitting coach and even, with my partner, a broadcaster with Dewayne Staats,” Boggs added during the ceremony. “But the hat that I will wear now that I’m most proud of, that will be the hat of a Tampa Bay Rays Hall of Famer.”