Writer's Note: Houston's Craig Biggio has made seven All-Star teams and scored nearly 1,700 runs in the major leagues, and he recently broke Don Baylor's record for most times hit by a pitch in a career. But he might ultimately be defined by his versatility.
After breaking in with the Astros as a catcher, Biggio shifted to second base at age 26 and won four Gold Glove awards at the position. He moved to the outfield 10 years later before shifting back to second this year at age 39. Few players have a more intimate knowledge of the fundamental demands placed on each player on the field.
When scouts and front-office people praise the Astros for playing the game properly, they routinely attribute it to leadership. Year in and year out, Biggio and teammate Jeff Bagwell have assumed the responsibility of setting a tone of professionalism and an adherence to the little things.
For Biggio, hustle is as much a part of the game as welts, a dirty uniform and a grungy batting helmet. He shared his thoughts on fundamental play in an interview with ESPN.com:
I guess my dad taught me how to play the game the right way. He'd tell me no matter what, you should give everything you can until the game is over. You have 4-5 at-bats and you run every ball out. You might force a guy to make a bad throw, and if you get on base and score a run, that might win the game for you.
Little things like that were instilled in me. Then I got to the big leagues and I had guys like Buddy Bell and Billy Doran to help me. I was 22-23 years old, and those guys were 30-something and they made sure you played the game the right way.
Keith Bodie, my manager in A ball, used to tell me, "If you can hit a fly ball and get to second base before they catch it, I'll give you a hundred bucks." I never got there, but a couple of times I came close. I'm not saying you have to go out there and give it a 100 percent sprint, but you have to give it at least 80. To not even get to first base when the ball is caught by an outfielder, that's just unacceptable to me. That's not right. It's 4-5 at bats a game -- 4-5 sprints. That's not asking that much.
I think it's a little different right now with the new school compared to the old school. The old school was that you ran everything out, no matter what. Takeout slides are the same, as long as they're clean. There are no more roll blocks anymore, which were kind of dirty. But for the most part, you see a lot of kids come up and they don't have the same baseball instincts that they had a long time ago.
You have to let the young kids know there's a right and wrong way to play the game. With Baggy [Jeff Bagwell] and me, it's our nature that we're not going to let it go. If something needs to be said, you do it in a professional way. Every now and then a guy will pop it up and get mad and dog it, so you go up to him and say, "Just give me a little better effort." That's all that needs to be said.
A lot of proper fundamentals is just giving it an effort. When I went out to play center field for the first time, I remember Terry Puhl telling me, "If you're not tired when the game is over, you're really not playing the position the right way." That's because you always have to be backing up somewhere.
It's the same no matter where you're playing. As a catcher, you have a responsibility to your pitching staff and to back up your infielders. As a middle infielder, you have to try to back up on throws from the shortstop and third baseman. Everybody on the field has a responsibility to be somewhere. If you're not where you need to be, somebody will tell you, "Hey, make sure you're there."
Guys are going to forget sometimes. It's the nature of the game, because it's a long season and guys get tired. Sometimes you just have to ask, "Hey, what were you thinking here?" If the person says, "I messed up," that's all that needs to be said.
As far as our way in Houston, I think that's one of the reasons why we've been so successful over the last 10 years. We play fundamental baseball and back up bases and do what we have to do. It's something we take a lot of pride in. If somebody is sitting in the upper deck and you're jogging rather than sprinting, they're going to call you a dog. That just doesn't fly here. I think it's up to the leaders on the club to make sure that doesn't happen.