He was one of the most versatile men to ever play the game, having donned a catcher’s mask, executed flawless 6-4-3’s and made highlight-reel-worthy fly ball snags in center field.
In an era of megabuck free agency, he opted to stick with the team that drafted him throughout his illustrious career.
And now, after an inexplicable and unjustified delay thanks to the Baseball Writers of America, Craig Biggio, one of the greatest figures in the Houston Astros franchise, finally has a plaque with his likeness affixed to the mausoleum-like Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this past weekend.
Biggio’s emergence harkened the Astros’ transition from the Nolan Ryan-Mike Scott Astrodome ball club to helping build a stadium with a retractable roof in downtown Houston that would finally host the World Series, even if only briefly.
Beyond his stats and his talent as a fielder, Biggio’s induction into the Hall of Fame is special to me as it is the first time a player has been inducted whose career I had followed since he entered the majors, as I became a baseball fan right about the same time he emerged as Alan Ashby’s successor behind the plate.
I even lost my first job in an argument about Biggio after the manager of the baseball card shop I was employed made jokes at Biggio and Scott’s expense When this then-15 year old decided to return fire at my boss’s favorite team, the Steve Balboni era New York Yankees, I was out the door, though with no regrets.
And of all the stuff that was engulfed in the eleven feet of water that Hurricane Katrina sent to my home in Chalmette, the signed 8 x 10 color picture of Biggio in his catcher’s gear, my first sports autograph, is one of the items I most regret losing.
Why was Biggio not voted in upon reaching eligibility?
Did his relatively modest career batting average of .281, ranking him 119th amongst his hall brethren, slow his roll to Cooperstown?
Was it because he played for an expansion franchise without a rich lineage, as Biggio is the first to go into the hall as an Astro?
Was it market bias against Houston as America’s fourth largest city, which far removed from the northeast and west coast media centers?
Or did the baseball writers harbor some kind of other agenda unrelated to Biggio’s onfield performance?
I don’t know the reason but it has led more than a few baseball aficionados to question the hall’s election system and the judgments of the individuals charged with conferring the sport’s highest honor, especially as other deserving candidates linger in Cooperstown’s purgatory awaiting salvation from the Veterans’ Committee.
A few years ago I spoke with Biggio at an event at Minute Maid Park about his chances of getting into the hall on the first ballot. I thought it odd that he had an almost grim expression on his face when talking about it. That long look was nowhere to be seen on Saturday as the Astro catcher-second baseman-outfielder was beaming, basking in the applause and cheers from over ten thousand Astro fans who trekked up from Texas (an in at least one case, Chalmette) while riding in the Hall of Fame parade that went from Doubleday Field to the front door of the hall.
Congratulations number 7; you earned your enshrinement far earlier than you received it.
Other notes from Cooperstown weekend-
The Dominican Caucus: Pedro Martinez drew a large crowd of Dominican Republic flag waving supporters, Martinez being his native country’s second inductee. Pitcher Juan Marichal, the first Dominican enshrined, was present for the ceremonies and joined Martinez on the stage holding up their national flag.
Hall of Fame Praise: During Saturday’s Hall of Fame parade, Milwaukee Brewer great Robin Young spotted a young fan with wild hair along the route, gave a tug to his own long locks and gave him a thumbs up.
Path to Cooperstown Goes Through Howard Avenue: Tom Gage the longtime Detroit Tigers beat writer for the Detroit News received the 2015 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, annually given for excellence in baseball writing. Gage had spent the early part of his career writing for the Times Picayune. In his acceptance speech, Gage referenced a story where he and longtime political reporter Ed Anderson got into a severe car accident in which he dodged an oncoming vehicle by diving off an overpass that ended up leading to his transfer to the sports department. Gage’s full speech is posted on the Detroit News website.