HIS 'INTENSITY IS ALMOST PALPABLE'
Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame plaque will surely note his 3,060 career hits, seven All-Star Game appearances and rare selflessness in moving from catcher to second base to the outfield to help bring a winner to Houston. But the blue-collar aesthetics are hard to ignore. It's a wonder there was any pine tar left in Texas from all the gunk amassed on Biggio's batting helmet. And elbow guard notwithstanding, he collected more than his fair share of welts and bruises from a whopping 285 career hit-by-pitches.
There wasn't much fancy about Biggio, a Long Island product who arrived in Houston out of Seton Hall University a year after being chosen 22nd overall in the 1987 draft. He went on to spend two decades with the Astros -- much of it as part of a leadership tag team with fellow baseball stoic Jeff Bagwell.
In the summer of 1997, while writing a story on Biggio and Bagwell for the Denver Post, I asked then-Astros' manager Larry Dierker what made the team's two best players tick.
"Their intensity is almost palpable,'' Dierker said. "In some ways, I think it can almost be intimidating. They play every day. They play hurt. They play hard. They concentrate really well from pitch to pitch, whether they're hitting or running the bases or playing defense. They set an example that's pretty hard to match.''
The Hall of Fame election process isn't always fair or easy to explain. Bagwell, while deserving of induction, has yet to make the grade, and Biggio waited three agonizing winters before finally getting the call. This weekend, he'll play the role of Ringo Starr while Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz get the bulk of the attention in Cooperstown. If I know Biggio, he'll be perfectly fine with that.
HALL OF FAME GALLERY
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Biggio -- the 49th Hall of Fame inductee to have spent his entire career with one team -- is, by most any statistical measure, one of the greatest Astros players and one of the 10 best second baseman of all time. His accolades and achievements include:
• Ranks first all-time in Astros history in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles and extra-base hits.
• Ranks second all-time in hit by pitches and fifth all-time in doubles.
• Seven-time All-Star (1991, 1992, 1994-1998)
• Four-time Gold Glove winner (1994-1997)
• Five-time Silver Slugger winner (1989, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998)
• Roberto Clemente Award winner (2007)
• His No. 7 was retired by the Houston Astros on Aug. 17, 2008.
• Biggo had more hits in the live-ball era (since 1920) than any player whose primary position was second base.
• Biggio had the fifth-most doubles, more than Hank Aaron.
• He had the 31st most extra-base hits, more than Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle.
• He scored the 14th-most runs, more than Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
• Biggio's 146 runs scored in 1997 are tied for the second most in a season in the expansion era (since 1961).
• He is one of four infielders ever to have a 20-homer, 50-steal season.
• In 1997, Biggio was hit by a pitch 34 times, the third-highest season total in the 20th century, and did not ground into a double play -- then the fifth full season in history by a player without a GIDP. It was a sabremetrician's dream season: Bill James calculated that no GIDPs and 34 hit by pitches in a season is roughly equivalent to 100 points added to a batting average.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ON SOCIAL MEDIA
— Astros Daily (@AstrosDaily) July 23, 2015
— Houston Astros (@astros) July 23, 2015
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) July 23, 2015
FORMER TEAMMATES AND MANAGERS ON BIGGIO
"I played 15 years with him, saw everything he did. I would have never been what I was without Craig."
--Longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell
"He comes into me so hard at third base, I look at him and say, 'What are you doing?' He lets pitches hit him on the elbow on purpose. I tell him that he's going to get hurt bad doing that ... and for what?"
--Former teammate Ken Caminiti
"[When Biggio was moved from catcher to second base in 1992] he took ground balls every day, never missed a day, all by himself. He played almost every inning of every exhibition game that spring. Do you know how many veteran players would do that? There was no one like Bigg."
--Former Astros coach Matt Galante
"(Biggio) was so competitive. You respect the heck out of guys like that. If you're playing with him, you love him. If you're playing against him, you want to beat the heck out of them. "
--Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa
"He sticks his face in front of the hardest ground balls I've ever seen. That little bastard isn't afraid of anything."
-- Former teammate Mark Portugal
BIGGIO IN HIS OWN WORDS
"Moving from catcher to second, I can't explain to you how hard that was. That's like giving you a bat and telling you to go get a hit off Randy Johnson. Not just stand in there, but get a hit off him. Now that it's over, I can tell you that it was pretty hard."
--Biggio in 2003
"I played next to that guy for 14, 15 years. He's a good friend. And you just look at what his numbers were offensively and defensively, the way that he played the game. As far as first basemen in the Hall of Fame, he's the only guy that has ever done 30 [homers]-30 [steals], not once, but he did it twice. And that's pretty impressive. ... He's a Hall of Famer to me."
--Biggio on Bagwell, his teammate with Houston from 1991 through 2005
"Sometimes, after you've had a little success, you forget how tough it is just to make a living. My father's an air-traffic controller. When we were growing up, he worked nights, weekends. Shift work. Long hours, trying to make ends meet, providing for his family. When I was a senior, the high school ran out of money for sports. To play baseball, you had to pay, like, $200. That was a lot of money for us. My father didn't bat an eye. You don't forget that."
--Biggio in 1996 on the influence of his father, Gordon
"If anybody should be enjoying this with me, besides my family and the fans and everybody, it's Dennis. He was the guy who dressed me and had all my uniforms there for 20 years, and he was the best in the business. Besides that, the relationships and the stories we had together and the time we spent together ... it really, truly breaks my heart."
--Biggio on longtime Astros equipment manager Dennis Liborio, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease