Monday, June 16, 2014

Card #61: Tommy Boggs

Who Can It Be Now?
Thomas Winton Boggs was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on October 25, 1955.  He moved around a bit as a child, though -- the Kentucky Baseball blog noted a couple of years ago that Tommy grew up playing little league in Lexington (their source was Boggs's wife, apparently, so all I can do to fact check this is ask her to e-mail me to confirm that same information!).  At the age of 11, though, Boggs's family moved to Austin, Texas, where he attended high school and (spoiler alert!) still lives today.

Boggs was a highly touted fireballing right-handed pitcher coming out of Lanier High School in Austin, Texas.  He was so highly regarded that he was drafted second overall in the 1974 June Draft by the Texas Rangers.  He was selected ahead of such baseball luminaries as Lonnie Smith, Dale Murphy, Garry Templeton, Lance Parrish, Willie Wilson, Rich Dauer, and Rick Sutcliffe -- all of whom also were selected in the first round that year.  He signed immediately though he did not follow his fellow Texas schoolboy phenom David Clyde, whom the Rangers had drafted the previous season, by debuting in the major leagues.

Instead, the Rangers sent Boggs to their Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League.  He started ten games there, completing four, and gave up just 50 hits in 64 innings pitched.  As a result, the Rangers pushed Boggs up to Double-A Pittsfield in the Eastern League for 1975. Since Boggs's arm did not fall off, Texas promoted Boggs again for the 1976 season to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League.  

Apparently, going through 18 Triple-A starts with a 6.89 ERA in 115 innings pitched -- 153 hits, 60 BB, 77 Ks, 23 HR allowed -- was enough in those days for the Rangers to say to themselves, "I think this Boggs kid should be in the major leagues!" So, on July 19, Boggs made his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox and pitched reasonably well though he did not record a decision.  Boggs stayed with the Rangers through the rest of the season and did not pitch terribly even though he had a bad win-loss record: 1-7, 3.49 ERA, 8.7 H/9, 3.4 BB/9.  He wasn't striking people out -- 3.6 K/9 against a league total of 4.7 K/9 -- but he did okay.

As a result, he broke camp with the major league team in 1977.  Outside of one game against expansion Seattle in which he held the Mariners to 4 hits and 2 walks in 7-2/3 innings on April 19, though, 1977 was a disaster.  In his first start of the year, he was tagged for 3 earned runs on 8 hits and 2 walks in 4-1/3 innings against Cleveland.  After the start against Seattle 5 days later, Boggs had four more starts for the Rangers and was tagged regularly -- 15-1/3 innings, 28 hits, 15 runs (all earned -- ERA of 8.80), and 8 walks.  In those games, he was touched up for an OPS of 1.011.  That's pretty bad -- even if he was just 21 years old.  

So, the Rangers sent Boggs back to Triple-A for the remainder of 1977.  As bad as those last four starts were for the Rangers, well, that is how badly he pitched in Triple-A at Tucson. Certainly, the Arizona air and the PCL were not conducive to good pitching (League ERA: 5.22, Team ERA: 6.45...and that was not the worst in the league--Albuquerque finished with a Team ERA of 6.93), but Boggs was horrible.  He sported the worst ERA for qualifiers in the league at 8.54.  In 97 innings, he gave up 131 hits, 107 runs (92 earned), walked 83, struck out 70, and gave up 11 HR.  Ouch.

It should be no surprise, then, that the Rangers did not mind trading Boggs away after the 1977 season.  What was surprising was that Boggs was included in a crazy four-team, eleven-player deal.  In that trade, here's how the tote board worked out:

Atlanta Braves: received Boggs, Adrian Devine, and Eddie Miller; gave up Willie Montanez

Texas Rangers: received Nelson Norman, Al Oliver, and Jon Matlack; gave up Boggs, Devine, Miller, Bert Blyleven, Ken Henderson, and Tom Grieve

Pittsburgh Pirates: received Blyleven and John Milner; gave up Norman and Oliver

New York Mets: received Montanez, Henderson, and Grieve; gave up Matlack and Milner.

As the news story linked to above points out, this trade was set up by the Rangers then-owner Brad Corbett, who got assistance from Ted Turner wanting to dump Montanez's $300,000 salary, which led Ted Turner to give this quote: "we got some young players more interested in baseball than money."

Boggs yo-yoed between Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta in 1978 and 1979.  His Triple-A results were far better than his major league totals from those years, but those Triple-A results make it look like he figured out how to pitch, finally.  His 1980 season made that appear to be true as well.  At the age of 24 and in his fifth big-league season, Boggs had his best year -- 12-9 record, 3.42 ERA, 192-1/3 innings, 180 hits allowed, 46 walks against 84 Ks.  Not bad at all for Boggs, and at his age it appeared to be a step in the right direction.

In 1981, Boggs slotted in behind 42-year-old Gaylord Perry and ahead of 42-year-old Phil Niekro in the Braves rotation (along with 24-year-old Bob Walk and 27-year-old Rick Mahler).  Boggs's record on its face looks uninspiring -- 3-13, 4.10 ERA -- but underneath, his peripheral numbers were better, as he struck out 5.1 per nine innings (league average of 4.9) and a K/BB ratio of 1.5 (league average of 1.54).  That was important progress because those numbers improving are the sign of a pitcher starting to understand how to pitch (allowing homers was never that much of an issue).

As 1982 began, then, Boggs was 26 years old and appeared ready to make a leap forward. And, to an extent, he did -- he again struck out more hitters per nine innings that season. Unfortunately for Boggs, though, the reality was that 1982 was the beginning of the end for his major league career.

He struggled with shoulder problems during the 1982 season.  He was diagnosed with a slightly torn rotator cuff and, to fix it, sat out three months.  He went on a rehabilitation assignment to Richmond, and came back to pitch very well in September.  His desire to get his shoulder right meant that he decided to forego his usual routine of working out with the University of Texas baseball team in that off-season.  But, then, in spring training of 1983, he had to have pieces of cartilage removed from his shoulder.   As the news story quoted Boggs as saying -- with an unfortunate sense of false hope:
"They went in with an arthroscope and and found that the cartilage in the front of the shoulder was frayed," Boggs said. "They trimmed that up and told me to rest it for two weeks.  But the arthroscope showed no tear of the rotator cuff.  That's a great relief.  You get rotator cuff in the back of your mind ... it's ended so many careers.  Now I can get that out of my mind."
What Boggs was describing was that his labrum was frayed -- or at least that is what is my best guess.  The unfortunate false hope I referred to is based on the fact that Boggs would pitch in just 9 more games over the rest of his career -- 5 with the Braves in 1983 and 4 with the Rangers in 1985.  His shoulder gave out, and that was the end for him.

The Verdict
On March 3, 1984, Tommy Boggs plead guilty to misdemeanor gambling charges in the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia.  DeKalb County is the county due east of Fulton County, where the majority of the City of Atlanta is located. Apparently, Boggs placed bets on football games while he was with the Atlanta Braves.  Initially, he was charged in October of 1983 with felonies of commercial gambling and of communicating gambling information, but those charges were determined to be "inappropriate" and were reduced to the single misdemeanor.  He paid a $1,000 fine and received 12 months probation.

Totally Gnarly
Bobby Cox holds the major league record for most lifetime ejections -- a record he set in 2010.  Boggs's role in the ejection is a weird one.  The Sports Illustrated story about Cox's career mentions that the game story in The Atlanta Constitution the next day reported that Boggs had found a sick blackbird before the May 1, 1978, game between the Braves and Mets.  The bird started feeling better, and Boggs let it go.  After Cox was ejected, though, the bird started attacking the home plate umpire, Nick Colosi, who had ejected Cox.  As the news story is quoted as saying, "Nobody knows for sure if Boggs gave the command to attack."

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Tommy Boggs made no impact whatsoever on me in his time in the major leagues.  I never saw him pitch.  I am not even sure that I could have identified his name as belonging to a major leaguer.  

But he does have a mustache, so there's yet another one.

After his shoulder refused to cooperate with his being a pitcher, Boggs moved back to Austin, Texas.  There, he founded Austin SLAM baseball in 1986, with teams in all age groups from age 7 through age 18.  In the 28 years that organization has been in existence, it has produced a bunch of major leaguers, including Ryan Langerhans, Mario Ramos, Randy Choate, Scott Ruffcorn, Nate Minchey, Robbie Beckett, and, more notably, Matt Belisle, Lance Berkman, and current Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller.

In addition to his work with Austin SLAM, he has been the head baseball coach at Concordia University - Austin since the beginning of the 2009-2010 season.  His team has done reasonably well and, indeed, his team performed very well in 2012 -- leading to he and his staff being named the 2012 American Southwest Conference West Division Coaching Staff of the Year after the Concordia Tornados turned in a 17-4 conference record and a 37-11 overall record.  

And, if you're interested in e-mailing Mr. Boggs, his e-mail address at Concordia is located on that last link.

1 comment:

  1. The Braves were a lot more interesting with Ted Turner as owner.