BOSTON (AP) — The ‘chicken man’ has lost a little of the shimmer from his trademark mustache over the years, but every pilgrimage Wade Boggs makes to Fenway Park still feels like old times for the Red Sox legend.
“I’ve come back home,” Boggs said.
On Thursday night Boggs added to his cache of memories when the Red Sox retired his No. 26.
“Today is the final piece of my baseball puzzle,” he said during the pregame ceremony.
Boggs became the 10th former player to have his number affixed to Fenway’s right field facade. He joined Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez and Jackie Robinson, whose No. 42 is retired throughout baseball.
It was the culmination of a weeklong celebration of the Red Sox’s 1986 American League championship team, which came within a strike of winning the World Series title before falling to the New York Mets. It is infamously remembered for Bill Buckner allowing a routine ground ball to go through his legs at first in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Mets the win in Game 6. They went on to take Game 7.
Members of that team were on hand for Thursday’s ceremony along with a few special guests, including Yastrzemski and Ryne Sandberg, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Boggs in 2005.
“I never in my wildest dreams ever thought that any day could top July 31, 2005. Today just did,” Boggs said.
When Boggs’ number was officially revealed, he trembled with tears in eyes and clutched his face, pausing briefly to point toward the sky.
While it was Boggs’ night, he caused a stir across social media Wednesday when wore his 1996 New York Yankees ring to the ’86 team ceremony on Wednesday.
“When I put my hand over my heart and the center field camera zoomed in on it, you guys had a field day with it,” Boggs said of the ring he says he wears every day.
He wore his Hall of Fame ring on Thursday.
“I’m proud of it,” Boggs said of the ’96 Yankees’ ring. “But I didn’t feel like it was appropriate today being that it’s my day, it’s my number and everything like that. So I left it off.”
The images that have stayed with Boggs during 11-year career in Boston are many.
What Boggs meant to the Red Sox during the 1980s was certainly borne out in his eight All-Star appearances and five batting titles.
Still, most of his fondest remembrances hover around their memorable run in ’86.
There was the game early that season in Cleveland that was called prior to the sixth inning because of an ominous and dense fog that hung over Lake Erie.
“So many things where you think, ‘Wow, did that really go on?'” Boggs recalled Wednesday before the ’86 team was honored.
But even more searing for him was the most painful day of not only that season, and possibly of his major league career. That was June 17, 1986, when his mother, Sue, was killed in a car accident by a drunken driver.
“And then all of a sudden June 17 crops up and then we have to deal with that,” Boggs said. “I dealt with that in my own nature. The guys were very supportive when I came back. It was my darkest day in my life. And it was something we had to get back to business as usual.
“I had to eventually put my mother to rest. But we had unfinished business.”
He said the 10-minute ovation he got from Fenway Park fans when he returned to action following his mother’s death still resonates with him to this day.
“I looked at the umpire and said ‘Are we going to start the game?’ and he says ‘No, I’m enjoying this,'” Boggs recalled. “The fans were so supportive, so wonderful. It was just a piece of the puzzle that fit in in ’86.”
That support for Boggs remains 30 years later.
“My number may live up there forever with the greatest to ever put on a Red Sox uniform,” he told the Fenway crowd. “But you, the great fans of Boston will forever live in my heart…God bless the Boston Red Sox. And Boston Strong!”
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