RIP to Tommy Boggs, the head baseball coach at Concordia University Texas and a former major-league pitcher. He died of cancer on October 5 at the age of 66. Boggs pitched for the Texas Rangers (1976-77, 1985) and Atlanta Braves (1978-83). He had been the coach at Concordia since 2009.
Thomas Winton Boggs was born on October 25, 1955, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y — though he never thought of himself as a New Yorker. He grew up in Austin, Texas, and he became one of the top players in the local Pony League as a teenager. He was both a feared slugger and a standout pitcher. In 1970, the 14-year-old threw a no-hitter and struck out 16, leading Continental Car to a 12-0 win over Serta Mattress. When he began attending Lanier High School in Austin, he showed off his skills in basketball and football as well. He was named to the All-City Ninth Grade Basketball team in 1971 and was voted the Sophomore Baseball Player of the Year in 1972 as a pitcher/first baseman. He also played quarterback and safety on the football team and was the district’s top punter, too.
Boggs closed out his high school career by being named the All-District Baseball Player of the Year as a junior in 1973 and a senior in ’74. He was 6-2 with a 0.73 ERA as a pitcher that year. He caught the eye of many major-league teams, including Texas Rangers, which had the second overall pick in the 1974 Amateur Draft and had a habit of picking highly touted local phenoms. The team had picked Houston high schooler David Clyde with the #1 pick in the 1973 draft. Boggs was notified by Rangers president Dr. Bobby Brown that the team would make him their first pick in 1974. After the San Diego Padres took Bill Almon with the first overall pick, the Rangers nabbed Boggs, and he signed with scout Harry Strong. Back in 1973, the Rangers had brought Clyde directly to the majors before starting him on his minor-league development. The team had a more realistic approach to Boggs, telling him he might take two or three years before joining the Rangers. “I hope I can make it sooner,” Boggs said. “I’m anxious to start playing. I’m just going to do my best.”
The Rangers may not have rushed Boggs like they had done with their earlier draft pick, but they didn’t baby him, either. The prospect made 10 starts for the Rangers’ Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team to wrap up the 1974 season, and then he bypassed A-ball entirely and moved to Pittsfield of the Double-A Eastern League in 1975. The 19-year-old righthander made 24 starts and threw 162 innings, finishing with a 10-11 record and 3.50 ERA. He worked on improving his command, which was a weakness in his game. “He had a major-league arm, and the other things are starting to come along with it now,” said Joe Klein, Rangers assistant director of personnel. “It’s a big jump to Class AA ball from the rookie league, but he’s adjusting to it now.”
Boggs had a fastball that could reach the upper 90s and a promising curveball. He was part of a group of prized Rangers pitching prospects that included Clyde, Jim Gideon and Len Barker. After working out with the Rangers in spring training in 1976, he was assigned to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. He didn’t pitch well there — 11 losses and an ERA near 7 — but the Rangers brought him to the majors in July anyway. He debuted on July 19, 1976, at the age of 20. He worked into the seventh inning of a start against the Boston Red Sox and allowed 3 runs on homers to Cecil Cooper and Dwight Evans. He left with a no-decision as the Rangers won 4-3
Boggs’ first win proved to be elusive, because the Rangers offense just didn’t pack much of a punch. He tossed back-to-back complete games against New York and Cleveland in August and lost them both. The Yankees’ Graig Nettles broke a 4-4 tie with a walkoff home run in a particularly heartbreaking loss. Boggs finally earned his first career victory on September 3 against Kansas City. He threw a 7-hit complete game and allowed 1 run in a 4-1 victory. It was a scoreless game until the sixth inning when Roy Howell drove in the first run. The Rangers then scored 3 runs off Royals reliever Mark Littell in the eighth inning for some breathing room.
It was Boggs’ only win on the season. He finished with a 1-7 record and 3.49 ERA. He struck out 36 batters and walked 34 in 90-1/3 innings. He went into the offseason secure of his place with the organization, as management had told him that he would be protected from any offseason moves. He worked with pitching coach Sid Hudson to develop a changeup in the Florida instructional league. “I feel good about all the confidence they’ve shown me,” he said in the spring of 1977. “They say I’m gonna be a starter, but I still have to prove myself.”
Boggs made 6 starts with the Rangers to open the ’77 season. He lost three of them and had an ERA of 5.93 when he was sent back to the minor leagues. He remained with Triple-A Tucson for the rest of the season. That December, he was included in a massive four-team trade that involved the Rangers, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates. The biggest names in the deal were Bert Blyleven (sent from Texas to Pittsburgh) and Al Oliver (Pittsburgh to Texas). Boggs, pitcher Adrian Devine and outfielder Eddie Miller were all shipped from the Rangers to the Braves. Atlanta owner Ted Turner got the young and affordable pitching arms he wanted, and he also shipped Willie Montanez and his hefty salary the Mets. “Those other clubs can have the millionaires,” Turner said. “I don’t think the fans want to see players who arrive in chauffer-driven limousines, wear spats with a mink-drenched woman on each arm, carrying a cane and wearing Gucci loafers.”
Boggs may have come at the right price, but that didn’t mean that the Braves were ready to use him. He bounced between Atlanta and Triple-A Richmond in 1978, initially as a starter and then as a reliever. He had a 2-8 record and 6.71 ERA. He saw even less major-league action in 1979, making 3 starts in September and losing two of them. The best game he pitched during that two-season stretch was a shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25, 1978. He held the Phillies to 4 hits and a walk and fanned 7 batters. Catcher Biff Pocoroba hit a 3-run homer on his 25th birthday to provide Boggs with all the offense he needed. The 22-year-old pitcher was unfazed about facing the team that went on to win the NL East Division. “When I was in the American League, I faced the Yankees and Boston the first few times out. I knew right then if you get awed by the opponents, they are going to hurt you,” he said.
After the 1979 season, Boggs had a 3-20 record in the majors with an ERA just over 5. “I guess I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said of his baseball journey after the ’79 season. On the upside, he was still just 23 years old. And, he had been spending his time in Richmond learning a slider from renowned pitching coach Johnny Sain. “He taught me all sorts of little things — how to use my stuff, what to do when I get behind. Those are the kind of things you can only learn from someone who’s been there… The difference between high school is just learning to pitch. I’ve proven to myself that I can pitch. Now I’ve got to prove it to everyone else.”
Boggs made the Braves pitching staff in 1980, initially as a reliever. It took him a while to work his way into the rotation, but when he won back-to-back starts in late May, he was a starter for the rest of the year. He turned in the best season of his career, winning 12 games against 9 losses and producing an ERA of 3.42 and a WHIP of 1.175. Batters hit .249 against him. He threw 3 shutouts, which was fourth best in the NL. Boggs also didn’t commit a single error in 192-1/3 innings, and his 1.000 fielding percentage led the NL with the likes of Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton. The Braves, after being a doormat in the NL West Division, finished with an 81-80 record.
Boggs noted the change that winning brought to the Atlanta clubhouse. “There’s been a losing attitude over there for three years, and this is the first positive attitude I’ve seen.”
Both the Braves and Boggs took a big step backwards in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Atlanta finished the year with a 50-56-1 record between the first and second halves. Boggs dropped 10 of 11 decisions before the strike occurred. He won a couple of games in August when play resumed after more than a month but finished the year with a 3-13 record and 4.10 ERA. Despite the poor stats, Boggs was victimized by poor offense. In his 3 wins, the Braves scored 24 runs. In the 12 losses he suffered as a starting pitcher, the team scored 17 runs. On April 15, he threw 6 no-hit innings against Houston before allowing a single to Craig Reynolds in the top of the 7th. Boggs then committed a three-base throwing error on a Cesar Cedeno sacrifice bunt attempt, allowing Reynolds to score. Cedeno scored on a wild pitch. Meanwhile, Boggs’ mound opponent, Nolan Ryan, struck out 9 batters in 7 innings. He fanned Boggs for career strikeout 3,118, moving him past Bob Gibson and into third place in the all-time strikeouts list.
The Braves rebounded in 1982 by winning their first 13 games of the season, establishing a major-league record. Boggs won game No. 3, defeating Houston 6-2. He picked up a no-decision on April 14 and was pulled from the second inning of a game on April 20. The diagnosis was a slight tear in his rotator cuff. “I was crushed. I was in tears,” Boggs said. “You can’t help but think of the pitchers who had their careers ended. I don’t even like to hear the words ‘rotator cuff.’ I kept referring to it as a ‘slight injury.'”
Boggs was advised to rest his slight injury for several months. Though the team was expecting him to be lost for the season, Boggs rehabbed in Richmond and returned to the majors at the end of August. And he was excellent. throwing 6 shutout inning in each of his first two starts. His comeback hit some rough spots — he was knocked out of his third start in the first inning — but he turned in some very good starts as Atlanta competed for the division title. He ended with a 2-2 record and solid 3.30 ERA in 10 starts. Unfortunately, the Braves were swept from the postseason by St. Louis in the NL Division Series before Boggs could make a postseason start.
Boggs’ shoulder continued to be a problem going into 1983. He didn’t pitch for the Braves until September, after a series of short and ineffective starts in Richmond. His first four bullpen outings with the Braves resulted in 6 scoreless innings with 5 strikeouts. The last appearance lasted just 1/3 of an inning, as the Dodgers pounded him for 4 runs on September 23. Dusty Baker’s 3-run homer accounted for most of the damage and raised his ERA to 5.68 on the season.
The Braves released Boggs after the season. General manager John Mullen rubbed salt in the wound when he insinuated that the problems were in Boggs’ head and not his shoulder. To make a bad offseason worse, the pitcher was caught up in a gambling sting in Georgia; Boggs eventually pleaded guilty to betting on football games and was fined $1,000 and sentenced to a year of probation. After all that, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, and Dr. James Andrews found damaged tissue in his rotator cuff — so much for the injuries being psychosomatic. Boggs signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers and spent 1984 recovering and rehabbing in the team’s minor leagues. He had a second shoulder surgery that offseason but recovered well enough to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster in 1985 as a reliever. In four games, he allowed 9 runs on 13 hits and was demoted in May. Boggs pitched fairly well as a starter for Oklahoma City but elected to retire at the end of the season.
In parts of 9 seasons, Boggs had a 20-44 record and 4.22 ERA in 114 games, including 94 starts. He threw 10 complete games and 4 shutouts. Boggs struck out 278 batters and walked 201 in 584 innings and had a WHIP of 1.392 and ERA+ of 89. As a batter for Atlanta, Boggs hit .169 and had 1 home run — a solo shot off Houston’s Joe Niekro on May 5, 1978.
Boggs returned to Austin and opened an indoor batting cage and baseball/softball goods store called Grandslam USA in nearby Pflugerville. He founded the Austin Slam youth baseball program in 1989 as a way to spotlight talented local players through select and travel teams. Several Slam players reached the major leagues, most notably Lance Berkman. Another alumnus, second baseman Rick Trevino never entered pro baseball, but he scored several Top 10 country music hits in the 1990s.
In May of 2009, Boggs accepted the position of head coach at Concordia University. According to the school, Boggs led the Tornados to 325 victories in 12 years (1st all-time in CTX history), five NCAA Regional berths, one NCAA Super Regional appearance, three American Southwest Conference Tournament championships (2011, ’12 and ’13) and three ASC regular season titles in 2014, 2016 and 2018. His 325-182 overall coaching record includes a 185-81 record (.705 winning percentage) in conference play.
“Tommy has built a legacy here at Concordia University,” said Ronda Seagraves, vice president of student experience and athletics. “However, his legacy extends far beyond our campus. He has been an invaluable leader in the Austin baseball community and has touched the lives of many generations of athletes. He will be tremendously missed by all who knew and loved him.”
Boggs is survived by his wife, Suzette, and children Brooke and Austin.
For more information: Legacy.com