PAWTUCKET — You really have to reach a certain age before taking part in some deep-rooted retrospection. Trying to size up life’s journey along the way is simply too tall an order, not to mention how distracting it can be from the pursuit of reaching what each individual interprets as the zenith.
Mike Tamburro has reached the point in his decorated and rewarding front-office tenure to become nostalgic. Certainly a well-deserved laurel such as entering the International League Hall of Fame helps to unlock the memory bank, hence why Tamburro, the Pawtucket Red Sox’ President, was asked to travel back to a time when he was a young executive learning the ropes.
The Delorean is programmed to 1976. Tamburro was 24 and in his second season as the general manager of the Elmira (N.Y.) Red Sox, at the time the Single-A farm team of the Boston Red Sox.
“You don’t realize it’s a special time because you’re working so darn hard and trying to find your way,” reminisced Tamburro while sitting in his McCoy Stadium office earlier this week. “There’s a lot of trial and error. Some things work, a lot of things fail.
“To have the opportunity I had at 24 served as the formation of my executive ways,” Tamburro continued. “To see what works and what doesn’t really helps manifest the executive you want to become.”
At the same moment of Tamburro’s front-office apprenticeship in Elmira, an unheralded yet determined 19-year-old third baseman named Wade Boggs embarked on a quest to become a top-flight hitter. Elmira holds the distinction as Boggs’ first pro stop after getting drafted by Boston in the seventh round of the ’76 draft.
You have to cut your teeth someplace. For Tamburro and Boggs, they’ll always have Elmira, their intersection in 1976 dovetailing quite nicely with their official enshrinement into the I.L. Hall of Fame; that will take place in a pregame ceremony set for Saturday night at McCoy Stadium.
Given the history Tamburro and Boggs share, it feels right that they stand side by side and share this moment in the sun together.
“I sent Wade an email that said something to the effect that it would be a great honor for a 24-year-old GM to have his 19-year-old third baseman be inducted into the Hall of Fame with him,” shared Tamburro about the course of action he took upon learning he was HOF-bound this past January. “Just the idea of the two of us going into the Hall is very special.”
As if on cue, Tamburro and Boggs outgrew Elmira, both departing upstate New York following the ’76 season, one that culminated in the minor-league Red Sox capturing the New York-Penn League championship and Tamburro winning the first of many Executive of the Year awards.
They reconnected in Pawtucket in 1980, each still aspiring to great heights. Tamburro was performing double duty as the club’s general manager and right-hand man to owner Ben Mondor. Boggs, meanwhile, stood just one level away from reaching the majors, thanks to a sweet hitting stroke that saw him bat no less than .311 between 1977-79.
“Wade was a hitter’s hitter and earned everything that he did,” said Tamburro about a player who would go on to collect over 3,000 major-league hits and win five American League batting titles in a Hall of Fame career that few could have imagined back when he first broke into Boston’s system.
“He made himself a great hitter and – to prove the critics wrong – he made himself a great defensive third baseman that was good enough to win a Gold Glove,” Tamburro went on.
Boggs spent two full seasons in Pawtucket, winning the 1981 batting crown with a robust .335 average after the previous season saw him hit .306 and lose the title by the narrowest of margins on the final day of the season – .0007 of a percentage point. Tamburro provides the narration that led to Boggs settling for second fiddle in 1980.
“Boggs was going to be the fourth hitter up in the last of the ninth. Toledo was winning and our first two hitters got out,” Tamburro begins. “Ray Boyer was next and (Toledo) intentionally walked him. Boyer tried to steal second, no throw. Tried to steal third, no throw. Finally he stole home. Now they had to pitch to Boggs.”
The free shot laid at Boggs’ feet ended in whimpering fashion with a groundout.
“It was a tremendous disappointment, but I think Wade grew in that moment,” Tamburro notes.
Yet further proof that one can look back, point to a specific moment and feel comfortable with associating it along the same lines as a turning point.
“He could have been drafted for $2,500 at the Winter Meetings by any team in baseball for three consecutive winters. Nobody drafted Wade Boggs,” Tamburro later pointed out. “How much did that motivate him?”
Based on the trajectory of his HOF career, it’s fair to assume Boggs ate, drank and slept stimulation.
The affinity between Tamburro, Boggs and the PawSox only grew in 2005, which is when Boggs took his bows as a Hall of Famer in Cooperstown. His inclusion among the game’s very best helped him earn a slice of immortality around these parts, such a distinction due to Boggs becoming the first Pawtucket ballplayer in Mondor’s tenure as team owner to enter the sport’s great Hall.
“Wade was a kid who we watched play for us for two years,” Tamburro affirmed. “That was a special day for us, seeing our first PawSox player go into the Hall of Fame.”
Another one of those “warm thy heart” moments is on the docket for Saturday. From Elmira to Pawtucket to lastly the International League Hall of Fame, it’s a journey that has seen Mike Tamburro and Wade Boggs come full circle.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Wade and to what’s going to be a special day for all of us,” says Tamburro, his tone soft and full of fondness.