Boynton, Willie (2018)
“One of my greatest thrills in life was the first time I ran onto the baseball field in Kennewick, Washington, the Northwest League in 1971, in a San Diego Padre uniform; I was being paid to do something I would rather do than eat – play baseball.” - Willie Boynton
Will was born and continues to make his home in Skowhegan to Raymond “True” Boynton who passed in 2014 and Phyllis Boynton, aged 94, who also still resides in Skowhegan. He is one of six children. He had four sisters and one brother. Will and his wife of forty six years, Bonnie, are the parents of Justin, Yale and Brooklin. He is self employed as the owner of Boynton and Pickett LLC Land Surveyors. He also owns a baseball legacy which reaches far beyond his hometown.
Will (Willie to many Maine baseball fans and players) began playing Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball in Skowhegan continued in his days as a town team player in the Northeast League with the Guilford Advertisers then as an All America pitcher at Springfield College and ultimately was a second round draft choice of the San Diego Padres. His signature fastball left many broken bats and shaking heads along the way.
Will showed prodigious talent for throwing a baseball at a young age. As a Little League pitcher, he once struck out seventeen batters in a six inning game. That is not all. He also caught a pop fly for an out. Six innings, three outs per inning equals eighteen outs. Will accounted for all eighteen of the opposition’s outs. Let that sink in a minute. When he entered Skowhegan High School, he met a man whom he would call, “The man who had the greatest influence on me in baseball”, his coach Ken Reed. As a senior pitcher Will averaged 2.7 strikeouts per inning, which, you might note, was just a tad off his Little League pace. Coach Reed later was his teammate on the powerful Guilford Advertisers whose roster included Roger Clapp (MBBHOF ‘84) and David Gaw who joins him in this year’s class. That team advanced to the YABC Tournament in New York. He pitched against teams whose lineups were laden with future Hall of Famers: Mattawamkeag with Herbert, Kenneth and Dennis Libbey and the Roberts 88ers with Bob Baumer would be examples. In fact, the young hurler defeated the local Auburn ASAS with a complete game two hitter to send the Advertisers on to the YABC. He was a Northeastern League All Star. Not all of the people in the stands were local fans; there were lots of college coaches and professional scouts who were also watching. One was from Springfield College. It did not hurt Springfield’s feelings that this fellow was also a capable football player. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite.
It took some time, but it was not long before the Will Boynton who toed the rubber for Springfield looked just like the one folks in Maine remembered. As a junior he returned to his old stomping grounds to face Colby. The coach at Colby then was a fellow who knew something about baseball. His name was John Winkin. He watched the former Skowhegan hurler strike out twenty Mules in a complete game win. Will struck out two in the sixth inning followed by three more in the seventh, three more in the eighth, and three in the ninth, those all in a row. He was almost back in Little League form. In an interview with the The Waterville Sentinel Coach Winkin said of Will, “One of the finest pitchers I have seen since I have been coaching.” Further down the road Coach Winkin would be a force in giving Will All America recognition in 1971. Check out some of the other names on that list: Mike Schmidt, Burt Hooten and Pete Broberg. Yes, let’s talk about Broberg for a moment. Some of us baseball fans “of a certain age” will certainly recognize him. I’m pretty certain there was at least one day when he recognized Will. That was the day that he defeated Broberg and Dartmouth 1-0. The win moved Will’s record to 7-1. He had thirteen strikeouts. Some of the media was not nearly as embracing as The Sentinel. An article from The Harvard Crimson was titled, “Crimson Nine Meets Springfield; Indians rely on ‘Pride of Skowhegan’” The article continued, “ The name of the hero of the game is Willie Boynton, a junior right hander from Skowhegan, Maine. Boynton, who did not make the starting rotation last season has come off the bench with a blazing fastball to pitch four complete games, establish an ERA of 0.87 and lead the nation in strikeouts per game with 15.7.” The writer took great pains to underscore that Harvard was definitely not “up” or worried about the outcome. Their playoff spot was secure. In fact the would be scribe was a bit condescending. “Boynton will face hitting against Harvard like he’s never seen before. Why, up in Skowhegan the only experience he got was pitching potatoes in the barn,” I have to say drips an unfounded arrogance. In fact, one might say that something other than potatoes was being pitched. In spite of a case of Poison IVY League, Boynton went on to win all New England honors to go along with his All America accolades. He also won the Springfield junior Athlete Of the Year award for his feats on the gridiron as well as the diamond. Springfield advanced to the NCAA tournament, eventually being eliminated by Florida Southern 4-0 in ten innings.
Will ended up being selected in the second round of the MLB draft by the Padres. Then it was off to Tri Cities in Oregon and then AA Alexandria, Texas. Take that, Harvard Crimson!
No one can dispute that Will Boynton has had a tremendous amount of success at many levels of baseball from the local teams in his hometown to the national stage both in college and at the professional level though he is loathe to talk much about it. When I first talked to him about his nomination, he asserted that he “doubted that he was worthy.” That might be one of the worst pitches he ever made. For some of us, there is no better place to be than in a room with others who have played the game. You know, baseball brings out the young person in all of us who have ever played it. Please welcome a fine representative of Maine baseball to the Hall of Fame.