Originally created 08/09/99

Baseball plays hit parade



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Wade Boggs was still glowing.

The newest member of the 3,000-hit club strolled into the Tampa Bay Devil Rays clubhouse Sunday morning, eager to get on with the rest of a career he has no plans to end soon.

He's 41 and no longer contending for batting titles, however the home run he hit Saturday night for his greatest individual accomplishment raised his average to .297.

Boggs doubled for No. 3,001 in his only at-bat Sunday before taking the rest of the day off against the Cleveland Indians.

"I've always said 3,000 hits is not a termination point in my career," he said, adding that he hasn't given a lot of thought to how much longer he'd like to play.

"You're going to have to rip the shirt off of me. If I'm hitting .300 and still performing, and the game's still fun, I'll continue to play if they'll have me."

The historic hit, on a 2-2 pitch from Chris Haney in the sixth inning of a 15-10 loss to the Indians, capped a remarkable three-day run of baseball history. And it was perhaps fitting that hit No. 3,000 was a home run, only the second of the season for Boggs.

Mark McGwire began the three-day stretch Thursday night in St. Louis by becoming only the 16th player to hit 500 career home runs. McGwire, who set the single-season mark of 70 last year, added No. 501 later in the game.

Friday night, Tony Gwynn, who broke into the major leagues three months after Boggs, got his 3,000th hit, lining a single in the first inning in Montreal.

Then came Saturday and Boggs.

"Three milestones in three nights, that's pretty amazing," Gwynn said.

In baseball history, the closest two hitters have reached such milestones was in 1970 when Ernie Banks slugged his 500th home run on May 12 and Hank Aaron got his 3,000th hit five days later.

In 1925, Eddie Collins got his 3,000th hit 17 days after Tris Speaker had passed the milestone, until now the closest two players had reached that plateau.

Cal Ripken could become the third player to reach 3,000 this season. The Baltimore star, currently on the disabled list, needs 32 hits to make it.

And, just as McGwire added homer No. 501 before his game ended, Gwynn used his 3,000th hit as the beginning of another multi-hit contest. The San Diego right fielder collected four hits and left the game in the eighth inning with a career total of 3,003.

McGwire's big home run came against the Padres. And before Gwynn left St. Louis, McGwire made sure to collect a souvenir for his son, Matt.

"Tony Gwynn and I swapped jerseys," he said. "I don't get anything for myself. I do everything for Matt. So I had him sign it, `To Matt."'

Boggs put a special stamp on his moment, too, becoming the first player to homer for No. 3,000. He capped an emotional trip around the bases by getting down on his knees and kissing home plate.

A lot of people got caught up in the moment as Boggs stood in for the big at-bat. While the fans gave him a huge ovation, the public-address announcer forgot to call Boggs' name.

"I had always said this is not a race. That if it was a race, then it would have meant something more special," Boggs said, alluding to the attention he and Gwynn received pursuing the milestone at the same time.

"But now to do something no one else has ever done, that's special. If I had just gotten a little bloop hit or something like that, I would have just been Wade Boggs, the singles hitter."

Boggs spent the first 11 seasons of his career with the Boston Red Sox and the next five with the New York Yankees. The opportunity to chase 3,000 before family and lifelong friends is one of the reasons he signed with the expansion Devil Rays last year.

Tropicana Field is about 20 miles from where he grew up and played Little League ball in Tampa, and the crowd of 39,512 that witnessed history included his father, wife and 12-year-old son, Brett.

Boggs said the moment was more than the realization of a dream.

"It was a thousand times more. You couldn't imagine. When you're running around the bases, you're not even touching the ground. You're just floating around," he said.

"To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to sit down there and start crying like a baby. I shed a couple of tears when I hugged my father, but I was happy more than anything ... It was just a fantastic moment. It really was."

Boggs went home to celebrate and watch highlights of the game with 50 to 60 close friends and family members. Tampa mayor Dick Greco, a neighbor, showed up at 3:30 a.m.

"He had tickets for (Sunday)," Boggs said. "I said: `Sorry, mayor. I did it last night."

The 12-time All-Star walked into the clubhouse seven hours later, carrying a bat and a new pair of shoes to replace the ones he used on the most memorable night of an 18-year career.

"It's been a blast. Just the amount of adrenaline that's still in my body. I couldn't wait to wake up this morning and come to the ball park," Boggs said, conceding a tremendous burden had been lifted off his shoulders.

A superstitious person who joked that he may now change a well-known pregame routine that includes a meal with chicken, Boggs had worried that an injury or accident might prevent him from reaching 3,000.

He kept thinking about Roberto Clemente, who reached the milestone on the last day of the 1972 season and died in a plane crash that winter.

"Until you get there," Boggs said, "until you really seize the moment, everything is a panic attack."

The Devil Rays hold an option on his contract for 2000 and have yet to talk to him about next year. One thing Boggs knows is he's not ready to quit.

"I've got some great names to pass," he said. "You look at the list and it's phenomenal. They are some of the greatest players to ever play this game, and I'm so fortunate to be in the same breath with those guys."