By Paul Post
Wade Boggs has all the memorabilia expected of a baseball Hall of Famer and 3,000 hit club member.
His gaudy list of collectibles includes the bat and ball from hits No. 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000, plus all seven times he reached the 200-hit plateau, and his game-worn jersey from hit number 3,000, a home run he blasted against the Indians on Aug. 7, 1999.
Boggs was the first player ever to join the 3,000 hit club with a home run, a feat later duplicated by Derek Jeter.
“Quite a bit of milestone stuff,” Boggs said of his collection.
Having played for two of baseball’s most storied franchises, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, he also has memorabilia from some of their all-time greats, including autographed balls and a Ted Williams bat.
But one of his favorite items is the jersey he wore while helping the Yankees win the 1996 World Series. During the on-field celebration that followed, Boggs hopped on the back of a mounted police horse and rode around the outfield, signaling “Number 1” to fans, an iconic image in Fall Classic history.
For someone whose greatest moments came at the plate, it’s still one of the most popular photos people ask him to sign at shows and appearances such as the All-Star Sports Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York, held Sept. 23.
“To this day I don’t know how it happened,” Boggs said about the horseback ride. “I know it was a rather large animal, so I might have had help, or I just jumped up. All I know is that it was a special night. I finally won a World Series. It was the Yankees’ first in 18 years.”
Ten years earlier, with the Red Sox, Boggs watched in disbelief as his World Series dreams vanished a few miles away at Shea Stadium, when the Mets made one of the most dramatic comebacks the game has ever seen.
Boggs came to The Bronx in 1993 after 11 seasons in Boston where he won five American League batting titles.
“The transition was kind of a rocky road, but Mr. Steinbrenner gave me an opportunity to keep playing and offered me a three-year deal,” he said. “When you go to a rivalry team, the place you left, they don’t like you and it takes time for the new place to warm up to you.”
Before long, however, Yankees fans embraced him. After hitting a career-low .259 with the Red Sox in 1992, Boggs found his old form in New York where he produced four straight .300 seasons, gaining All-Star honors in each of those campaigns.
Retiring after 18 years with 3,010 hits and a career .328 batting average, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2005, elected in his first year of eligibility with 91.9 percent of the vote.
“That was the last piece of the puzzle in my baseball career,” Boggs said. “When I got the call it was very special. It’s a great fraternity. Less than one percent of the players since 1890 are in the Hall of Fame.”
Fellow Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Goose Gossage joined him at the Saratoga Casino Hotel for an autograph session and charity softball game to benefit The Ronald McDonald House of the Capital Region. The event generated $15,000 for this worthwhile cause, which gives families of critically-ill children a place to stay while kids undergo medical treatment.
The Sports Festival lineup of celebrity athletes also featured 1977 World Champion Yankees Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers, 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner Dwight Gooden, former Oakland A’s slugger Jose Canseco, New York Giants football greats Lawrence Taylor and Otis Anderson, and four thoroughbred racing Hall of Famers – Angel Cordero Jr., plus all three living Triple Crown winning jockeys. They are Ron Turcotte (Secretariat, 1973), Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew, 1977) and Steve Cauthen (Affirmed, 1978).
Cauthen was the first jockey ever to win $6 million in one year, and he is still the only jockey ever named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year,” after becoming the youngest rider to win the Triple Crown.
He, too, has an extensive memorabilia collection.
“I’ve got my Triple Crown saddle and whip, the first saddle I ever had and the whip I used to practice with on a bale of hay up in the hayloft,” Cauthen said. “I’ve got all my trophies, the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, and I was in Europe for 14 years so I’ve got a lot of trophies from over there. I think I won 15 Classics.”
He is the only jockey ever to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby, Britain’s richest horse race and the most prestigious of the five Classics.
“I’ve got a bunch of stuff including horseshoes from Classic winners I rode, and trophies that winning owners gave me personally, which is cool,” Cauthen said.
Having grown up in northern Kentucky, he was always a big fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and ’76, and all-time greats such as Joe Morgan and Pete Rose.
The 1976 Reds swept the Yankees four games to none in the Fall Classic.
But a year later, 40 years ago this autumn, the Bronx Bombers won the first of two straight World Championships against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1977 title, the Yankees’ first in 15 years, was capped off by Reggie Jackson’s dramatic three home runs off three different pitchers in the Series’ sixth and final game.
“We were just a bunch of veteran players who knew how to play the game,” said Graig Nettles, the Yankees’ All-Star third baseman.
One of his prized collectibles is a Roger Maris autograph. While playing, he didn’t realize how big the memorabilia industry would become.
“I probably have a couple of gloves and maybe a uniform, but not very much,” Nettles said.
His career started out in Minnesota, where skipper Billy Martin guided the Twins to an A.L. West Division crown in his first year as a big league manager, and then was promptly fired. After the season, Nettles was traded to Cleveland, but he and Martin were reunited when Martin took over the Yankees in 1975.
“As far as I’m concerned he was the best manager I ever played for,” Nettles said. “He just knew how to win. He knew how to get an extra run here and there. He knew how to keep guys on the bench loose. I just know when he took over a team they always won.”
Martin led the 1972 Tigers to a division title, and the 1981 A’s to a postseason berth by winning the first-half championship during an unusual strike-interrupted season. He also turned a languishing Texas Rangers team into a winning ball club, which finished a close second to the defending World Champion Oakland A’s in 1974.
“I got along great with Billy,” Nettles said. “I loved the guy. I played for him in Minnesota and then back in New York. I was considered one of his boys. I was having a good year in Minnesota. Then he got fired and I got traded because I was one of his boys. We kind of went along with each other, a package deal, getting fired and traded.”
Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith electrified fans with his dazzling plays as the greatest defensive shortstop the game has ever seen. His memorabilia includes 13 Gold Gloves – he won the award 13 straight years from 1980-92 – a Silver Slugger Award, a 1982 World Series ring, the 1995 Roberto Clemente Award and, of course, a Hall of Fame ring from his 2002 induction to baseball’s shrine in Cooperstown.
Smith signed numerous autographs at the recent Sports Festival, and accommodates fans whenever possible. However, he sometimes politely refuses requests. If he’s traveling to a city for a show, Ozzie won’t sign outside the venue, especially if it’s a fundraiser, which would undermine the event’s purpose.
“When I go into a town now where people are waiting at the airport, I say, ‘Well, I’ve got a show to do. It goes against what we’re trying to do,’” he explained.
During the Sports Festival, Ozzie enjoyed meeting and joking around with players he hadn’t seen in several years. At one time, they might have been fierce rivals. Now they share a common bond, as some of the game’s greatest players, who provided some of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
Smith didn’t hesitate when asked what he misses most about the game. “Camaraderie, the guys,” he said. “To a man, they would probably all say the same thing.”
Paul Post is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.