We carried you
in our arms
on Independence Day.
And now you throw us all aside
and put us all away.
– “Tears of Rage,” Richard Manual and Bob Dylan
I’ve had this propensity to weep for aging male athletes waving to crowds since I was ten years old. That year I got choked up watching the long ovation for John Havlicek during his last game, even though to that point I hadn’t really followed basketball very closely. It didn’t matter, I guess. I was still moved by all the gratitude and sadness of the roaring mob’s goodbye. As the years went by I began to anticipate these moments—last games, retirement ceremonies, the hanging in the rafters of numbers, limping arthritic reunions—the way some other person might anticipate going to a sappy movie to “have a good cry.”
And so I was looking forward to last night, when dozens of Hall of Famers would be introduced prior to the All-Star Game. And things were looking good. I was taking it slow, working myself up to a nice happy wet-eyed moment in which I would stand there in my living room alone, clapping and croaking hoarsely “Yeah! Yeah!” In fact, I had already risen from the sofa and was pacing around the room by the time they got to the third basemen, so I think I looked away from the screen before getting a good look at all four Former Greats standing there. All I saw, besides the unmistakable figures of Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and George Brett, was some bearded guy in a Yankees cap.
“Graig Nettles?” I wondered. That didn’t seem right, but who else could it be?
Turned out it was the guy pictured here.
I’m pretty sure he was the only Former Great on the field who chose not to wear the cap that is on his head in his Hall of Fame plaque. Shortly after Boggs’s introduction, Dave Winfield was introduced wearing a Padres cap, but he acknowledged his bond to the Yankees by producing a second cap and holding the two caps up together. Gary Carter did something similar a bit later. This seemed the classy thing to do, the only way to pay tribute to both fan bases that had supported those players for many years.
Of course, it would have taken a bit more courage to stand there in Yankee Stadium in a Red Sox cap than in a Padres or Expos cap. Before I describe a few of my immediate reactions to Boggs’ failure to display such courage, let me just say that I hate it when the ritualistic sentimental fugues I lapse into during Former Great moments get marred by baser emotions. Spite. Hurt. Anger.
Gutless, I said. You’re dead to me, I said. You’re a nauseatingly sycophantic ass-kisser, I said. Nobody thinks you’re cool, I said, tears of rage starting to form.
We carried you in our arms, Wade Boggs. It was on Independence Day, as a matter of fact, right there in Yankee Stadium, and a real Yankee, Dave Righetti, struck your ass out to clinch a no-hitter. It was humiliating for this Red Sox fan to see, salt in deep wounds, but I stuck with you. I stuck with you when they started to write that you weren’t a team player. I stuck with you despite your robotic lack of flair, despite your abundantly obvious self-absorption, despite your embarrassing involvement in the Margo Adams mess, despite the hints of cowardice in your “pulling a hamstring” to protect your batting title lead over a real Yankee, Don Mattingly. When you wept in the dugout in 1986, I wept too. And if you’d had the guts to wear the cap that is on your plaque in the Hall of Fame, I’m sure I would have wept again, but happily, joyfully.
It took a while, but I had finally become able to accept the existence of the harrowing image of you up on a goddamn horse in pinstripes. You got yours, I could finally say (though it took a World Series win or two for me to be able to say it; I don’t deny that I’m a small man). After all, you deserve it. You were a fantastic hitter, a scientist so devoted and pure that you turned science into art. You came along during a rough stretch in my life and the life of my team, my awkward adolescence coinciding with the dreary, lonely Last Days of Yaz, an era that would have been devoid of hope and light without your yearly assault on the summit of the Sunday batting averages. I want to see you in my mind in a Red Sox uniform, peppering doubles off the Monster. But now all I see is you in pinstripes, up on that horse. So Wade Boggs, here’s my response to your appearance last night: Fuck you and that horse you rode off on.