June 18, 2019

Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly as Prospects

March 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

One of the major themes of spring training, of course, is the emergence of new stars: in some cases, they’re prospects who’ve been waiting impatiently for a chance to establish themselves in the majors. A while ago I looked up reports on Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly as they were exhibiting that mood of impatience. Here are quick pictures of them on the cusp of emergence as possibly the biggest baseball stars in the Northeast in the early-to-mid-’80s.

In late June 1981, Boggs, who was playing for Pawtucket, gave an extensive interview to the Boston Globe. The article’s title: “Going Nowhere?; The Prospects Turned Suspects Hope it’s not too Late to be Noticed.”

Boggs complained: “I’ve never read or heard once that I’m a prospect. I was one of two players in the league to hit .300 last year, and not only was I not brought up in September, just to sit there and taste what it’s like, but I wasn’t protected and no other club wanted me. So I wrote Mr. Kenney [Edward Kenney, a Red Sox VP in charge of minor leaguers] during the winter and asked him, ‘Am I a prospect or a suspect?’ He told me I’m still a prospect, so I believe him. But even hitting .350, the first time anyone ever said something about me was in Charleston, when (Cleveland manager) Dave Garcia came up to me at the batting cage and said, ‘You’re a helluva ballplayer.’ I can’t tell you how that made me feel.”

Boggs had this response to critics of his fielding: “All I can answer is that the two years I played 115 games at third (in Winston-Salem in ‘77 and Bristol in ‘79), I made the all-star teams. My fielding’s improved 100 percent this year because I’ve played and worked at it. My range has doubled. I’ve learned to make diving plays. And I’ll improve as long as I play. But I can’t improve in the field if I’m sitting on the bench with a bat in my hand.”

Boggs said this about the assertion that he was a singles hitter who couldn’t run: “I guess they only want home run hitters. But do they watch batting practice? I can hit them as far as anyone. My extra base hits are picking up as I get older and stronger. I hit the ball off the center-field fence. They say I can’t run, but I have more infield hits than anyone on the club. Maybe I’ve been typecast. That happens, you know. My brother-in-law is a writer in Tampa and asked Zimmer about me a year ago. Zimmer answered, ‘Who?’ What I have to get is the shot. If I get the shot somewhere, I can put the raps aside if I hit. And I always have.”

And Boggs said this about a high school epiphany: “I went into the library, got Ted Williams’ book, read it, went 27 for 35 the rest of the season and have hit ever since.”

Boggs had just turned 23 in June of ’81; he’d have to wait until the next spring to make his debut in Boston. Once he began starting in late June of ’82, he exhibited some wonderful hitting that gave him a .380 batting average in mid-September before settling down to .349 at season’s end.

On the other hand, Don Mattingly, who was also drafted out of high school, had already played for the Yankees late in 1982, and was competing for the first base job with Ken Griffey, Steve Balboni, and others during spring training 1983.

Donnie Baseball said: “Griffey was one of my idols when I was a kid watching Cincinnati on television. It’s a tough thing watching a guy in the World Series, and four or five years later you’re trying to get his job. But I have to tell myself I want that job. I have to support my family, too.

“That’s one thing you have to forget – you’re a young kid and they’re way up there. You have to bring them down to your level. They’re people, just like anybody else. I have to feel proud of my performance. If I’m a little shaky and think the other guy’s great, it’s not going to help me any.”

Mattingly had hit .349, .358, .314 and .315 in four seasons since being drafted in June 1979. He took over the starting job in June of 1983.

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.

Comments

2 Responses to “Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly as Prospects”
  1. I love hearing about the epiphany moments of major leaguers. Great post, because it makes you appreciate how close some of these guys get to either giving up or having a club give up on them. I’m curious if Boggs ever thought about changing his style out of desperation and going for homers (he apparently had the power), rather than watch his “singles hitting” go unnoticed.

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