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Ahead of the Game

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bob Boone was considered one of the smartest modern-day baseball players to don the tools of ignorance.

His peers considered him a student of the game, an excellent handler of pitchers, and sage observer of hitters’ habits.

“He was always in the game, knew everything that was going on,” said Rod Carew, a former teammate and current Angel hitting coach.

“He was always in control back there. If you had one word to describe him, that was it--control.”

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Boone, 50, is one of seven inductees this year in the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame, which will honor its Class of ’98 with a banquet Thursday at the Anaheim Marriott.

Boone, who lives in Villa Park, will be recognized primarily for his seven years with the Angels.

“I was really pleased when I was told I was being picked. What an honor,” Boone said.

“And when I think if it, it’s also an opportunity to say thank you to so many people here--particularly the Angels.”

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While playing with the Angels, Boone broke the major league record for games caught, passing Al Lopez’s mark of 1,918 games on Sept. 6, 1987. On July 15, 1988, Boone became the first player to catch 2,000 games.

He finished his career as the all-time record-holder for games caught at 2,225, but was eventually passed by Carlton Fisk.

While proud of the accomplishment, Boone said it was a milestone he hadn’t sought.

“It was matter of doing your job, and catching was my job,” he said. "[Being the first to 2,000 games] wasn’t my goal, it was the culmination of everything I did so I could come to work and you could count on me playing well. To me, that is what it’s all about.”

Behind the plate, his mind worked like a video camera. Should a batter deviate one iota from his previous at-bat, Boone picked it up immediately.

“There are things a hitter might do that a pitcher might not notice that [Boone] did,” said Angel third-base coach Larry Bowa, who was Boone’s teammate in Philadelphia.

“For example, the hitter could start deep in the box his first time up, and then move up his next at-bat. Or he could change his batting grip, choking up to make contact or going on the end of the handle to try and hit it out.

“Not all catchers saw those things, but he did. And he would call pitches accordingly.”

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That was the game-within-the-game aspect of baseball that Boone loved.

“There were times I would call for a certain pitch or pitching pattern to set up another pitch as much as a year later,” Boone said. “But it would be for a specific crucial situation. And if the pitcher hits the spot, we win the game.

“And if you get hitters out, no one knows what you know.”

Baseball could be considered the Boone family business. His father, Ray, played 13 major league seasons with six teams. Two of Boone’s sons, Bret and Aaron, play for Cincinnati. His youngest son, Matt, who graduated from Villa Park High last year, is in the Detroit farm system.

They are one of two families to have three generations of major league players; Gus Bell, son Buddy and grandson David is the other family.

A sixth-round pick by Philadelphia in 1969, Boone started as a third baseman. But when it became apparent he wouldn’t be replacing future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, he learned to catch.

He joined the Phillies in 1972. During the next 10 seasons, Boone played on four National League East championship teams, one NL pennant winner, and a World Series championship team in 1980.

But after a subpar, strike-shortened 1981 season, when he batted only .211 in 78 games and represented the NL players in labor negotiations, Boone said he was told the Phillies were no longer interested in his services.

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“In 1979 I was hit at home plate at the end of the year and tore my knee up,” Boone recalled. “I had undergone extensive surgery and rehabbed like crazy to get back in play in 1980, but it was a struggle [and] it took me a couple of years to get over it.

“But I was thrown out of Philly. They said I couldn’t play or throw.”

The Angels took a chance on Boone and were rewarded.

He played on AL West championship teams in 1982 and ’86. And in the team’s record book, Boone is first in games caught (961) and fifth in games played (968).

Although he left for Kansas City as a free agent in 1989, Boone said he maintains an affection for Angel owners Gene and Jackie Autry, and it extends to his manager, Gene Mauch, and teammates such as Carew, Doug DeCinces, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson, Brian Downing and Mike Witt.

“The shame was not getting to the World Series with the Angels,” Boone said. “But it was a great time for me and my family here. And Gene and Jackie Autry made it happen.”

Boone earned seven Gold Gloves (four with the Angels), which places him second to Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench (10).

Mauch, whom Boone is still close to, was not surprised by Boone’s durability.

“He did more [working out] after the game than any player I knew from 1982-88,” Mauch said. “And he did more than other players before, during and after the game combined to maintain his muscle tone.”

Boone, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology, was known to chide, cajole or coax a pitcher into doing what he thought best.

Chuck Finley, the only player on the Angels’ current roster who was a teammate of Boone’s, said Boone did much to help him through his 1986 rookie season.

“That year he probably lost 15-20 pounds coming to the mound to talk to me,” said Finley, chuckling. “I didn’t really know what I was doing that year, but he saw some raw talent in me, and tried to feed me as much information about the game as I could handle. I figured, why not learn from the best?”

But not all the lessons were readily apparent to Finley.

“I can remember in the beginning of the year, if I went 3-0 on a batter, he would wiggle his wrist back and forth. I thought he meant ‘Make this guy swing.’ I’d lay the pitch in there and it got creamed.

“I finally asked him what he was doing, and Boone said, ‘It’s 3-0, this guy is swinging. Don’t make it too good.’ ”

Baltimore bench coach and former star Eddie Murray said Boone was an expert at making pitches off the plate look like strikes.

“He always let the umpire see the ball and he could steal strikes. There were times you knew he was 6-7 inches off the plate, but he would get calls and make you start doubting yourself.”

Boone became Kansas City manager in 1995, and held the job until being fired midway through the 1997 season.

He now works for the Reds as senior advisor for player personnel.

“I do some scouting and I also work with their minor league catchers,” Boone said. “I’m doing this because I enjoy it. And I’m learning more about baseball.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

ORANGE COUNTY HALL OF FAME

Members of the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame by their induction years:

1981--Mickey Flynn, football; Jim Fregosi, baseball; John Huarte, football; Walter Johnson, baseball; Fred Kelly, track and field; Donn Moomaw, football; Claire Van Hoorebeke, coaching; George Yardley, basketball.

1982--Shirley Babashoff, swimming; Dan Gurney, motor sports; Bob Hamblin, basketball; Brig Owens, football; Cathy Rigby, gymnastics; Arky Vaughan, baseball; Eddie West, contributor.

1983--Del Crandall, baseball; Gavvy Cravath, baseball; Brian Goodell, swimming; David Meyers, basketball; Blaine Nye, football; Carlos Palomino, boxing.

1984--Bruce Furniss, swimming; Sammy Lee, diving; Bob Webster, swimming.

1985--Hobie Alter, water sports; Randy Jones, baseball; Moon Mullins, football; Evelyn Furtsch Ojeda, track and field.

1986--Isaac Curtis, football; Alex Maese, horse racing; Jim Musick, coaching; Wendell Pickens, coaching.

1987--Ann Meyers Drysdale, basketball; Pat McCormick, diving; Cap Sheue, coaching; Jack Youngblood, football.

1988--Rod Carew, baseball; Andy Messersmith, baseball; Eddie Morris, track and field; Carol Spanks, softball.

1989--Bobby Grich, baseball; Dennis Harrah, football; Reggie Jackson, baseball; John Ward, coaching.

1990--Don Baylor, baseball; Paul Cleary, football; Nolan Cromwell, football; Steve Timmons, volleyball.

1991--Homer Beatty, coaching; Bill Cook, coaching; Pat McInally, football; Alex Omalev, coaching; Bruce Penhall, motor sports; Dwight Stones, track and field; Bertha Regan Tickey, softball; Shirley Topley, softball.

1992--Steve Busby, baseball; Al Carmichael, football; Doug DeCinces, baseball; Vince Ferragamo, football.

1993--Bert Blyleven, baseball; Gary Carter, baseball; Red Guyer, coaching; Hal Sherbeck, coaching; Jerry Shipkey, football; Ray Willsey, coaching.

1994--Josephine Cruickshank, tennis; Brian Downing, baseball; Bobby Knoop, baseball; George Latka, boxing; Nolan Ryan, baseball; Rich Saul, football; Steve Scott, track and field; Mary Decker Slaney, track and field.

1996--Don Johnson, coaching; Mike Lansford, football; Dick Tucker, coaching; Clyde Wright, baseball; Mark Wulfemeyer, basketball.

1998--Bob Boone, baseball; Bob Boyd, coaching; Steve DeBerg, football; Debbie Green, volleyball; Johnnie Johnson, football; Dan Quisenberry, baseball; Leon Wood, basketball.

Hall of Fame

* What: Orange County Sports Hall of Fame’s 16th induction banquet

* When: Thursday, April 30

* Where: Anaheim Marriott Hotel

* Class of ’98 inductees: Bob Boone, Bob Boyd, Steve DeBerg, Debbie Green, Johnnie Johnson, Dan Quisenberry and Leon Wood. Receiving special awards: Paul Salata, Ken Purcell, Bill Cunerty, Jim Gattis and the late Duncan Clark.

* Tickets: $100

* Information: Marianne DeRose, (714) 758-9882


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