The Red Sox employ a rather strict policy related to the retirement of uniform numbers; to be considered, you need first to have played a minimum of ten years with the team and you must also be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
To date, only one person has received this honor who has not met these criteria; Johnny Pesky, whose number 6 was retired in 2008, was recognized for more than 60 years of nearly uninterrupted time with the franchise as a player, a manager, coach, and instructor.
There is also one player who meets these criteria but whose number is absent from the façade in right field: former third baseman Wade Boggs.
Boggs so impressed the Red Sox organization during his rookie season in 1982 that they shipped third baseman Carney Lansford, who had won the American League batting title in 1981, to the Athletics after the season. He then proceeded to win batting titles in four of the next five seasons, amassing a team-record 240 hits in 1985. That year also marked the first of twelve consecutive All-Star selections for the Red Sox third baseman.
In franchise history, Boggs is third in career wins against replacement (WAR) behind only Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and ninth in defensive WAR. His batting average is second behind Williams, his on-base percentage is third, and his OBP is ninth. More than two-thirds of his career 3,010 hits came with Boston. His average OPS+ with the Sox was 142, sixth in franchise history, and only once in 11 seasons with Boston (his last) was his OPS+ below 100.
Boggs went on to play another seven seasons, split between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. After calling it a career after the 1999 season, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 on his first ballot with 91.9% of all eligible voters selecting him for induction.
So why has one of the most prolific players in franchise not received the honor that only seven other players in team history have received? The team did honor Boggs in 2004 with induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame and, for a time, no player wore his number 26 between 2005 and 2011. He has also made appearances for the team as recently as when the Red Sox invited all living former members of the team to take the field in honor of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary in 2012.
According to Boggs, the team has told him explicitly that because he did not finish his career in Boston, he is ineligible. It is true that, at one point, the Red Sox also required a player to finish his career with the Red Sox for his number to be considered for retirement, but that rule was relaxed once Carlton Fisk, who finished his career with the White Sox, was elected to the Hall in 2000.
Some would believe that the Red Sox and Boggs did not part on good terms and that the relationship was further soured when he choose to accept a contract offer from the Yankees, a division rival. Others, including former teammates, would argue that he was more concerned with his personal statistics and less so with the success of the team, though he vehemently denies these allegations. In addition, his extramarital affair with Margo Adams and the resulting palimony suit brought a lot of negative attention to him and the Red Sox.
All that said, there is no denying that Boggs is one of the best players ever to wear a Red Sox uniform and, had he spent his last seven seasons in Boston and put up the same numbers, his number would have unquestionably been retired the same year that he was inducted into Cooperstown. It’s time to let bygones be bygones; Red Sox ownership, one that has done so much to mend fences with former players, should make it their mission this year, as the Red Sox bask in the afterglow of a world championship, to give Boggs the one final honor he deserves that is long overdue.