If you were to correlate 1980s hitters to retail outlets of the day, you’d have to start with Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn at the top, as the Tiffany’s of baseball’s batsmen.
After all, from 1983 through the end of the decade, the two lefties captured nine batting crowns between them.
From there, you’d step down the ladder …
George Brett, who was maybe the best hitter in the game as the decade dawned, was still good but no match for primetime Boggs and Gwynn as the years rolled by — so, Macy’s maybe?
Then you had guys like Willie McGee, who could bust into Boggs/Gwynn territory on occasion but mostly lived among the more common folk — so, maybe Kohl’s.
At the bottom of the batter’s box hierarchy were players who would just pop up from the minors briefly, or bargain-bin acquisitions who might be near the end of their careers or glove-only, but whom teams grabbed on the cheap and sent up for some ABs.
You know, the flea market guys.
In between the McGees and the tag sale dudes, though, you had the vast pool of average Major Leaguers who could get the job done at a steady pace at a decent price — dependable, solid guys … the ones who ended up in commons bins … the five-and-dimers — the Woolworth brigade.
Ah, but fortunes change, in baseball, as in life, and no one’s lot in cardboard is cast for an eternity.
And so it was, that in the summer of 1989, the year after he copped his fifth American League batting title, and while Gwynn was busy knocking down his fourth National League crown, Wade Boggs found himself struggling.
Now, “struggling” for Boggs looked different than it did for most mere mortals, but after hitting an amazing .366 the year before, Boggs saw his average dip below .300 by the end of April in 1989.
Folks around the game began to whisper — what was wrong with Wade Boggs?
Actually, the whispers were a *bit* more pernicious than that, as the Margo Adams affair had come to a head, again, in March. Could those personal-life woes be affecting Boggs’ performance on the field?
As the weather warmed, so did Boggs’ bat, and he entered the final weekend of the season with an outside shot at another batting title, but two hits in his final 12 at-bats over three games left him at .330 and in third place (behind Kirby Puckett and Carney Lansford).
To his credit Boggs stayed on the field all season, starting 152 games at third base as the Red Sox fell from first to third in the AL East.
Still, the whispers continued, and there were some who wondered if Boggs’ best days were behind him at age 31.
As if to punctuate those conversations, Topps issued a 33-card set of “Baseball Highlights” that summer, and wouldn’t you know who appeared there on card #8?
Yeah, it was none other than Wade Boggs:
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Now, to be fair, there were plenty of other superstars who found a home in the Woolworth’s set, from Jose Canseco (twice!) to Orel Hershiser (four times!) to Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
For the most part, though, those other guys at least got actual baseball shots on their cards — batting, pitching, running … baseball-ing.
Wade Boggs? Sure, he’s wearing a batting helmet, but he looks pretty perturbed/perplexed by the whole situation.
Maybe he’s asking some questions …
How did I get in Woolworth’s? (You reached 200 hits for the sixth season in a row.)
Where is Tony Gwynn? (Nowhere in this set.)
Will I ever win another batting title? (No.)
Of course, with the hindsight of years, we can see now that Boggs was actually more valuable overall in 1989 than he had been in 1988, at least by one measure, and thanks to superb showing in the field.
But, while Gwynn would ratchet his high-average was to another level late in his career, Boggs topped .330 just once more in a full season (1991) and saw his stats fall through the general sort of decline you might expect from a Hall of Famer.
You know, from superhuman down to merely star-ish by the end.
Did that mean Wade Boggs ended up in the Woolworth’s closeout bin of baseball?
Only if you were looking for a cheap card of one of baseball’s great hitters, issued at a critical moment in his long MLB tenure.
Otherwise, Wade Boggs — and his sterling bat — are Tiffany all the way.
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1989 Topps Baseball Cards
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