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April 29, 2015

The Lineup Card

Memories of Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame Career

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Thrown Out Stretching on 3,000th Hit on June 28th, 2007
I flipped to the at-bat just as Aaron Cook released a 2-0 pitch, one Biggio lined into center field for a clean, easy single. It was marvelous, I thought. Quintessentially Biggio, in its unfolding, from the diving out over the plate, to the flash of his hands, to the ball’s sharp arc into the outfield. A half-smile overtook me.

Then Biggio just kept running. It was unforgivably stupid. It was showboating. With two outs in a game tied up on this hit, Biggio insisted upon trying to reach second base on a ball the center fielder had effortlessly cut off before it could get anywhere near a gap. Hell, it wasn’t even hit toward a gap. In 1997, he might have been safe, and maybe it was just the transcendent power of the moment, but in 2007, it was not remotely close. The half-smile turned into a chortle, first of exasperation, but then of appreciation. Biggio’s hustle was real, even when it felt fake. The same thing that made him take so many pitches off the body just to have first base pushed him to beat out every would-be double-play grounder he hit in 1997, and the same things that made him do those things made him try for second base when it was entirely beyond hope.

To me, the name of Biggio’s game was always ruthless ambition, only of an unusual kind: He desperately wanted the next 90 feet. Defined himself by whether he could get it, and enjoyed it much more if he took it from you by force of will. That he didn’t get it on this signature play is less important than the fact that he tried. —Matthew Trueblood

2. The Game-Winning Three-Run Homer on September 7th, 2005
Finding that signature (non-milestone) moment isn't as easy for Craig Biggio as it is for most Hall-of-Famers, but there is one that comes to the front of mind pretty quickly. The Astros came back from a 15-30 start in 2005 to make their lone World Series, and the series that you could argue powered them to the wild card that year was a September road sweep of the Phillies, who they fought the whole month for that spot. Houston began the series a half-game behind the Phillies, then took the first two in low-scoring, one-run games. In the finale, the Phillies appeared ready to get one back, leading 6-5 with one out left to record, until Biggio took former teammate Billy Wagner deep for a three-run home run.

The Astros would beat the Phillies by one game for the wild card, and then beat the Braves and Cardinals to reach the World Series. —Zachary Levine

3. Reaction to Darryl Kile's Death
When Darryl Kile died, I remember being gripped by the news and trying to read as much as I could about it. I remember watching ESPN and seeing video of Larry Walker crying to reporters.

But there was one image that stood out to me, one that was seared in my memory. This AP photo of the Astros game the day after Kile’s death, and Kile’s former Houston teammates lined up in a pregame ceremony to honor him. All the men there were solemn, but this particular photo of Biggio’s distraught expression was used in numerous news articles that day and since. Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Brad Ausmus sat the game out so they could grieve.

It’s easy to forget, but Biggio came up to the big leagues as a catcher. In fact, he caught the very first game Kile pitched as a big leaguer in 1991. He and DK were teammates until 1997, when Kile left for Colorado. But they stayed very close friends throughout their time in the majors, and Biggio has helped to honor Kile’s memory in the meantime. He and Bagwell were featured in a 2012 MLB Network documentary to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Kile’s passing.

Through the Kile tragedy, I was reminded that ballplayers are not just teammates with one another, but very often their friends, too. Biggio confessed a year afterward, “During the national anthem, I always say a prayer for the people close to me, and he's one guy I think about.” —Dan Rozenson

4. The Rookie Card
Craig Biggio marks a certain passing point for me in my baseball life. Biggio came to the big leagues in 1988, around the time that baseball became a game for me, rather than just the thing that my hometown Cleveland Indians played. The fact that I noticed Biggio was impressive because he played for the Astros, who (for our younger readers) were in the National League at the time and before interleague play was an actual thing. Eight-year-old me noticed Biggio via the medium through which I learned all the names of the players, both famous and obscure: baseball cards. I remember that there was legitimate buzz at the time around two particular rookie cards, Biggio and Gary Sheffield, the young shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers, who (for our younger readers) were in the American League at the time. I remember buying packs at the local Drug Mart, probably Donruss—I was very pro-Donruss in those days—and getting a Biggio card tucked between two anonymous guys from the 80s. Score! It was the first time I was happy to have gotten one specific card.

Now, Biggio is in the Hall of Fame. For those of us who would never admit it, but get sucked into clicking on the Bizzfeed "19 signs you grew up in the 90s" posts, this is an official "old moment." Technically, 2014 inductee Frank Thomas was the first players who debuted, had a Hall of Fame career, and then got voted in to the Hall of Fame within my baseball fandom lifetime, but Biggio entered my consciousness a little bit earlier. The Hall of Fame used to be the place where the giants of yesteryear were recognized for their playing accomplishments. Now, yesteryear is... my childhood. It's kind of like how every year, the new drivers get younger and younger. Or maybe they all stay the same age and I get older and older. —Russell A. Carleton

5. plunkbiggio.net
In an anniversary I’m not even sure the Plunk Biggio founder is aware of, nearly 10 years ago to the day this super-niche site was born with an introductory post that made sure everyone (“everyone”) knew that this was not a site in favor of actually plunking Biggio, but just to track his happenstance ascent up the record books, crouching the plate all the way.

I remember this little Blogspot website being mentioned on ESPN in 2005, and little blogs just didn’t get mentioned on ESPN back then. (The only website allowed to be mentioned on ESPN in 2005 was ESPN dot com, part of the Go Network.) I didn’t have a strong opinion either way on plunkbiggio.blogspot.com, but I couldn’t believe how popular this little thing got. Kind of reminds me of Biggio himself.

First he passed Don Baylor, the modern mark. Then he passed Tommy Tucker, no. 2 on the list. The all-time HBP mark actually looked to be his, but after a plunk by Joe Smith in July 2007, he finished his career with 61 straight HBP-free games (and the Onion was ON IT), two HBPs shy of the all-time record held by Hughie Jennings, who once got hit 51 times in 1896 (#ThanksMcKinley).

One can only wonder if Biggio ever pulls a “Mr. 3000” and comes out of retirement just to get three more HBPs. —Matt Sussman

6. When he got hit by lightning
At 10 or 11, I got a book on baseball players’ childhoods. One page per player, with a baseball card for each that had a picture of them as a kid. I read that book about 1,000 times—Tom Gordon at age 6 throwing a curveball that could curl over a picket fence and knock over a bottle on the other side, Carney Lansford in the Little League World Series, etc.—baseball players as young Mozarts, the field as their pianos. Then there was Biggio, for whom the field was a much darker memory: As a teenager, he was playing in New Jersey with a storm far off on the horizon. Suddenly, shockingly, lightning struck—Biggio was hit, and his team's shortstop was killed. "I used to be really afraid of lightning ," Biggio said years later, after a lightning storm in spring training. "I thought I was over it, but I guess I'm not.” I still don’t know why that story captivated me at the time, or why it stuck with me for so long. It’s probably the “far off on the horizon” part. It’s shocking enough to get hit by lightning; it’s more shocking still to get hit by lightning when the storm is so far away, when there doesn’t even appear to be a threat, and so goes life. I know it’s weird for this to be my Biggio memory—it was either this or Bill James hyping him in the late 1990s—but maybe it makes sense. Nothing he did on the field as a big leaguer mattered, relative to what happened on the field that day. Maybe when I was 10 or 11 that’s the lesson I learned reading that book. —Sam Miller

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Craig Biggio

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