When Wade Boggs came to the plate for the Red Sox, he rarely swung at the first pitch. It was almost too easy for pitchers to get ahead in the count on the Boston third baseman. It wasn’t as easy, however, to get Boggs out—he finished his career with a .328 lifetime batting average.

Restraint was a hallmark of both Boggs and his fellow 2005 Hall of Fame inductee, Cubs second-baseman Ryne Sandberg. They were class acts who worked hard, eschewed showboating, and quietly made their marks on the game. Their status as hall-of-famers is well deserved.

What do these baseball purists have to say about the state of the game today? Not much. Sandberg said yesterday:

“A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do — play it right and with respect.

“If this validates anything, it’s that learning how to bunt, how to hit-and-run and turn two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light on the dugout camera.”

…You see players self-promoting. They hit a home run, their team is still down four or five runs, and here they are tipping their hat to the camera because they hit a home run. It drives me nuts. … I’d like to see more of team concept. We, not I.”

Sandberg added more thoughts about respect:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates, your organization, your manager and never your uniform. Make a great play, act like you’ve done it before. Get a big hit, look for the third-base coach and be ready to run the bases. Hit a home run, put your head down, drop the bat, run around the bases because the name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back.”

Likewise, Boggs thought little of the sportsmanship of today’s athletes:

“When I retired in 1999, I grounded out to second and gave it everything I had running down to first base in my last at-bat. I always felt if I disrespected the game by not hustling and giving everything I had, it’s circumstances of cheating the fans — you’re cheating the fans, you’re cheating your teammates and disrespecting the name that’s on the front of your jersey.”

USA Today columnist Hal Bodley wonders:

. . . if Manny Ramirez or any of the other enormously talented players who masquerade as major leaguers were listening? Just the other day, Ramirez refused to play, even though he was needed because one of his Boston Red Sox teammates was injured. Or all the times he refuses to run hard to first base on an obvious ground-ball out. Or when he drops his bat and celebrates a home run.

I wonder too. Baseball has always had its share of showboating (think Babe Ruth calling his shots), but there was also an element of respect to keep it in its proper place (think Lou Gehrig). If only that element would emerge in baseball again today. . .