Chris Boyle could hit a baseball out of the ballpark.
His former South Carolina coach, June Raines, remembers a two-run blast in the eighth inning of a late-season 1982 game at Sarge Frye Field that Boyle hit against Clemson left-hander Jimmy Key in an important 4-1 victory.
Boyle, who served as a catcher and designated hitter from 1981-84 for the Gamecocks, still fondly remembers a two-run shot in a 6-5 win over Mississippi State in an elimination game of the 1981 College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
By the time his career concluded, he ranked either first or second on the school’s all-time list for at-bats (766), hits (224), home runs (43), and RBIs (198). Over the years, as his numbers dropped on the all-time lists, Boyle could be forgiven for thinking that his time in the spotlight had come and gone.
But over the summer —29 years after he last put on his No. 25 uniform — he received the call telling him of his selection to the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. His official induction occurred this past month, and Boyle, speaking at the baseball team’s recent alumni game, still was elated about the honor.
When he got the call from Hall chairman Tommy Moody, he didn’t realize that his wife Terri had been tipped off and sworn to secrecy by athletics director Ray Tanner. So as Moody gave him the news, Boyle pushed the phone away from his mouth and asked Terri the following questions: “Is someone making a joke at me? Am I being catfished?”
Boyle, 51, turned to self-deprecating humor to describe his surprise and delight over getting the good word.
“My first thought was I’m glad they didn’t bring out the defensive stats. There were a lot of errors between the home runs and the RBIs,” he said. “No, I was absolutely stunned. And I’m very proud.”
His teammates would disagree about his play behind the plate. Joe Kucharski, the hard-throwing right-hander who beat Key in that 1982 game before going on to be a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles, said Boyle was more than simply a power hitter.
“I think of Chris as a teammate who was a great hitter, a great player, but, truthfully, he was one of the best receiving catchers that I ever had,” Kucharski said. “He got a lot of credit for hitting, and he put up a lot of records for us, but, really, he was a good catcher and a good game manager.”
Boyle returned the compliment to Kucharski, as well as others such as Dennis Lubert, Don Gordon, Gary Parmenter and Mike Cook.
“We had some good pitchers, and they made catching look easy,” Boyle said.
His favorite moments, however, came when the team succeeded. Raines brought him down from York, Pa., to be an immediate contributor, and he batted .289 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a freshman for the 1981 club that reached the CWS for the first time in four seasons.
“I came here hoping to go to Omaha, and we did. We were the first (USC) teams to go to the College World Series back-to-back in 1981 and 1982,” he said. “Now, they’re winning national championships in consecutive years. Back then we talked about it — how we could be the first team to win a national championship at South Carolina. We sat in the hotel in Omaha talking about that. We were close, but we didn’t do it.”
The 1981 team reached the semifinals before being eliminated by eventual national champion Arizona State. His biggest season came in 1983, when he batted .307 with 16 homers with 54 RBIs. Part of what made him dangerous as a power hitter was that he seldom struck out.
Raines, who’s a fellow member of the Hall of Fame, appreciated Boyle’s contributions to four consecutive NCAA tournament teams, which went a combined 167-59 in those years.
“He was an excellent catcher, a good DH and a pretty good leader. We just had a good time with that bunch,” Raines said. “I’m very thrilled for Chris to be in the Hall of Fame. He held those records for a long time and had a great career here.”
Boyle, who lives in Columbia but works in Anderson for Silicone Print Pads, has stayed connected to the USC program. He made trips in 2010-12 to the CWS to watch the Gamecocks in Omaha, where he also has business clients.
Those good memories never go away for him.
“There’s not a day in my life that goes by that I don’t think about sitting in the batter’s box, bases loaded, no outs, and getting a chance. It was absolutely the time of my life,” he said. “The guys today who are the best friends in my life are the ones I met back then.”
One of those friends delighted to see Boyle get inducted was his first roommate at USC, John Sullivan, who later coached under Raines and saw sons Patrick and Sean play for the Gamecocks under Tanner and Chad Holbrook.
“It’s always exciting when there are guys our age that they even think about any more. We’ve been so close for all these years. It was a great night when he was honored,” Sullivan said. “He had some ups and downs, but the thing about Chris was he left it all on the field. That was the key.”