Meagann Boggs, the 6-year-old daughter of Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs, had it figured right. When filling out her 1985 All-Star ballot, she punched out both the name of her father and that of his good friend, fellow lefthanded batter and occasional houseguest, Kansas City's George Brett, as her selection for the American League's starting third baseman. "You can't do that, dear. They won't count your ballot if you vote for two," said Boggs's wife, Debbie.
"But I love Daddy and I love George. I can't vote for just one," said Meagann.
Apparently neither could American League All-Star manager Sparky Anderson. Though Brett beat Boggs by nearly a million votes, Anderson named Boggs to the team and later said of his two third basemen, "It's a shame they can't both play at once." Well, last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Brett and Boggs were at least on the field at the same time as Kansas City played host to Boston in a three-game series featuring a mano a mano batting showdown. Boggs (eight for 15) overtook Brett (two for 12), the man he unabashedly calls Idol, and moved into first place in the three-way race for the AL batting crown among Boggs (.354), Yankee centerfielder Rickey Henderson (.349), and Brett (.347).
Though both claim respect for Henderson, Brett and Boggs—friends since the day three years ago when Boggs, a rookie, introduced himself to Brett, already a two-time batting champion, "My name's Wade Boggs and you're my idol. Would you mind if I have my picture taken with you?"—seem eager for some friendly competition.
"I hope it comes down to us," Boggs was saying last week. "Naw, it wouldn't threaten the friendship."
"I don't think I could beat Wade if it got close [at the end]," says Brett. "He can get two or three hits a day for a week. I can't do that the way Wade can."
While the batting title was the most obvious prize Brett and Boggs were striving for, they were also using their bats to crunch out some other impressive numbers. At week's end, Boggs led the AL in hits (145), in multihit games (42), was third in on-base percentage (.443), third in doubles (30) and led Boston in hitting with men in scoring position (.400). He had also hit safely in 35 of his last 37 games (including this season's major league high of 28 straight, the third-longest streak in Sox history).
Meanwhile, despite a poor series against Boston, Brett was leading the AL in slugging percentage (.566) and was second in on-base percentage (.450). He was the AL's Player of the Month for July; he hit .432, and on the last day of the month got the 1,900th hit of his career.
Brett, whose .390 in 1980 was the major leagues' highest average in 40 years, is, at 32, the heir to Rod Carew as the league's preeminent hitter. Boggs, whose career batting average is .346, at 27 is Brett's heir apparent. Yet their rivalry is one without jealousy. When Brett treated Boggs to lunch Friday at Nabil's, a restaurant in Kansas City's chic Country Club Plaza, the conversation focused on Boggs's new home in Tampa and the golf they plan to play when Brett visits Boggs in January. (The competition will be close there, too, since both shoot in the mid-80s.) "We just like to horse around like buddies," says Brett.
"We talk about anything but baseball," says Boggs.
But they will talk freely, even admiringly, about each other's hitting. "We swing a lot alike," says Boggs, "same rhythm, weight shift, head down. The main difference is that George lets go of the bat with his top hand and gets a little more extension on his swing. I don't. George has the ideal swing." That extension, and the resultant extra power it provides, is perhaps the main reason that the image persists of Brett as the power hitter and Boggs as a Punch-and-Judy, singles-and-doubles guy, albeit a Judy who can punch your lights out. Their home run and RBI totals (Brett has 15 and 67, while Boggs has four and 44) seem to support that view. But here Brett springs to Boggs's defense.
"He plays pepper with that wall in Fenway," says Brett. "He bats second, so his basic program is to set the table for Jim Rice and Tony Armas, who hit behind him. I bat third. I'm supposed to drive in runs."
Like many good friends, Boggs and Brett make fun of one another's foibles, even during games. "Sometimes, if one of us takes a bad swing, the other will give him a look, like this," says Boggs, going into a kind of crooked, cynical grin. There was just such an incident before Friday's game. As thousands of camera-toting fans ringed the field for the Royals' Photo Day, Brett sauntered out of the dugout and lounged on the back of the golf cart that would drive him out to a cluster of fans in centerfield. Boggs, standing nearby to do a TV interview, saw Brett lying on the cart looking like a Turkish pasha reclining on his litter. Boggs couldn't let that slide. He shot Brett a look of mock disgust that said, "Oh, will you please give me a break with this superstar pose." To which an amused Brett responded with a saucer-eyed look of "Who, me?" that seemed to say, "Is there any other way to travel?"
Indeed, like the best of friends, they spoke to each other without opening their mouths.
Brett's way up there, too, both on the field and at the plate.
The league leader in batting (.354), Boggs has hit safely in 35 of his last 37 games.
When Boggs found himself caught in a rundown, his friend Brett showed him no mercy.