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Farewell to an Icon

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by msn, Oct 3, 2007.

  1. msn

    msn Member

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    Awesome read. Deserves its own thread, even if it's already been posted elsewhere. Warning: it's loooooooooooooooooooong.
    ________________________________________________________

    Farewell to an Icon
    By Whitney Pastorek, Special to SI.com

    Because you probably missed it, here's what happened during the final moments of Craig Biggio's major league career on Sunday afternoon: As Biggio, 20 years a Houston Astro, stepped to the plate, the volume at Minute Maid Park grew from deafening to roof-rattling. Atlanta Braves reliever Ron Mahay stepped off the mound, doffed his cap at Biggio and made a gesture that said, Take another moment, drink it in, it's okay.

    But Biggio -- who for two decades has not so much shunned the spotlight as ignored the possibility that it might exist at all -- kept shuffling towards the batter's box, trying to get on with things. Eventually, he got Mahay to pitch, and grounded a ball toward third, his old adversary Chipper Jones throwing him out cleanly, a fraction of a step before Biggio (who never met a first base that he didn't charge) got to the bag. The fans didn't care. They hollered anyway. Astros manager Cecil Cooper pulled Biggio in the top of the next inning, gave him a chance to be applauded off the field. He hugged his teammates, he hugged his kids, he hugged the cops guarding the dugout. He blew a kiss to his wife. After the game, he took a long, slow lap around the park to the tune of U2's Where the Streets Have No Name, shook a thousand hands, waved from the dugout steps with what looked like tears in his eyes, and disappeared into the tunnel forever.

    ***************

    There's something painfully apt about the fact that during Biggio's last weekend as an Astro, the rest of the baseball world's attention was focused squarely elsewhere: The Mets, Phillies, Padres, and seemingly half the rest of the National League's teams were locked in battle over the closest pennant race in years, every division coming down to the wire, extravagant playoff scenarios dancing across the sports pages like bloated, statistical sugarplums. Meanwhile, it was said that on Sept. 27, the only NL game played that had no bearing on the playoff standings was... Astros vs. Reds. Figures.

    Figures, that in what should have been the crowning moment of his two-decade career as a catcher, second baseman, and outfielder for this perennially outshined Houston franchise, no one will notice. Sure, the franchises he played in the latter part of the summer feted him like a king: In Milwaukee, they gave him sausages; in Chicago, he got an old seat from Wrigley; St. Louis fans gave him possibly the nicest impromptu standing ovation in history. And sure, in Houston, under the Minute Maid roof , it was a three-day party, with fans lining up outside five hours before game time. But you'll be hard-pressed to find appropriate coverage outside of Houston -- one only has to look at the hoo-hah made for Barry Bonds's last game as a Giant to understand what should be -- even though few could be so deserving of celebration.

    Biggio played his two decades at three positions without controversy or scandal. The most statistically significant moment of his career came when he picked up his 3,000th hit on June 28 of this year (part of a game in which he went 5 for 6), but Biggio remains so unselfish that he consistently refers to himself as a "we, " as in, "We're at 3,000 hits" -- something catcher and teammate Brad Ausmus has tried and failed to correct. Despite a career that's spanned six playoff appearances, one World Series (2005), seven managers, two ballparks, three uniform redesigns, and four U.S. presidents, most would be hard-pressed to say anything about him except that he's the guy in the oversized helmet that gets hit by pitches. But did you know he has more doubles than any right-handed hitter in history? That he holds the NL record for leadoff home runs, with 53? That he's only been on the disabled list once?


    Here's the honest truth, in language that everyone can understand: Craig Biggio was as important to the Houston Astros as Derek Jeter is to the Yankees. He is as beloved to Astros fans as Cal Ripken Jr. was to Orioles' fans. Outside of Minute Maid, he has a statue, just like Michael Jordan does outside of Chicago Stadium. No less a Houston icon than Jose Cruz calls him "the Man." Astros lifer Larry Dierker, who managed the team during Biggio's peak years, compares him to Pete Rose, identifying their shared style of play as "never give in, never concede anything." Would Biggio have been a bigger star if he'd played in a bigger market? "Absolutely," says Dierker. "He would have been the toast of the town." If baseball fans nationwide had watched him on the highlight reel every night -- jaw clenched, wrists taped, jersey dirty as hell -- would there be any doubt that he's a Hall of Famer? "I wanna know who's doubting it now," says Ausmus. "They obviously don't know baseball."

    Three-thousand-sixty hits, 668 doubles, 414 stolen bases, 1,844 runs scored and 291 home runs, just nine away from another milestone. It seems worth pointing out that Biggio does not plan on lingering around the ballyard in retirement, at least not just yet. He says he plans to spend the foreseeable future "living at the gas pump, being a big yellow taxi" for his kids -- who, for the record, kinda think it would've been cool for him to get 300 homers. Their dad says, "I can't justify it." He's walking away because family is more important, and because he just doesn't care so much about all that stats stuff. Instead, if he could ask you to remember him for one thing, it would be this:

    "It's as somebody who went out there and played the game the right way. Played the game hard. I understand that baseball is a game of failure, but I don't have anything to be disappointed about. If I didn't play the game hard every day, then I would have a regret, but I don't."

    ***************

    Luis Gonzalez, a former Astros outfielder and current Dodger, on Biggio: "I loved playing with him. I just liked the way he always had the dirty helmet, the pine tar all over everything, his white tape all the way up his wrist. We were actually playing against them this year when he announced his retirement [on July 24]. I snuck in and sat in the back for the press conference, and I thought it was pretty neat just to see a guy do something like that, get emotional with his kids and his wife and everybody sitting there, and then for him to go out that night and hit the grand slam, the game-winning homer. Sadly, it was against us, but it was kind of a fitting moment for the way his whole career has gone. Bidge has a flair for the dramatic."

    ***************

    How old is Biggio? He's so old that there are players on the current Astros roster that took pictures with him at Photo Day when they were kids.

    A first-round draft pick, he joined the 'Stros in 1988 as a catcher, smacked his first hit against the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser, his first home run against Goose Gossage. Moved to second base in 1992 to save his knees, paired with slugger Jeff Bagwell in taking a Houston franchise summed up by disappointment and turning it into one that wins things, or at least comes close. Earned four Gold Gloves, seven All-Star appearances, launched the "Killer B's." Changed positions again in 2003 to make room for Jeff Kent. Moved back to the middle bag in 2005, and helped lead the team to its first World Series appearance, at last ridding this proud sports city of one enormous burden. And through it all, when chances came to play for other, bigger, shinier organizations -- when the Yankees came calling in 1995, for example, offering what Biggio calls "a pretty nice number" -- he always said no thank you. Craig Biggio was an Astro, the same way Tony Gwynn was a Padre and Robin Yount was a Brewer and George Brett was a Royal. "To be associated with people like that makes you feel pretty good," he admits. "I think it's an individual thing, whether you want to stay or you want to go. What happens with a lot of players, they always think the grass is greener on the other side. They look at the money. But we're all making a good living. You can't complain."

    If ever there was a time to complain, this would be it, for the 2007 season has been woeful. The Astros finished 73-89, and the ongoing Craig Biggio Farewell Tour even sparked complaints that his refusal to ride the bench was causing the team to lose. Going .251 with 130 hits and 68 runs is down from his best years, certainly -- in '98, he hit .325, 210, and 123 -- but management and ownership never considered other options. Craig Biggio was going to play one last season at second base, he was going to get 3,000 hits, and that was the least they could do for all he'd given them. "I wish I'd had the chance to get to 3,000," says Cecil Cooper, who took over as manager from Phil Garner in September. "He's been a real champion for the Houston Astros, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

    Team owner Drayton McLane, from whom many people assume the decision to let Biggio play largely stemmed, puts it simply. "I'm a very loyal person," he says. "Craig has earned that right." And despite the losing record, the squabbling media, and the obvious emotional toll, Biggio's handled the Farewell Tour with the same squinty-eyed focus he's exhibited every day of his life.

    September 30 was the last game of the season, the culmination of a three-game series against Atlanta, in which every Biggio at-bat brought an avalanche of crowd noise that echoed off Minute Maid's jagged walls and built to a frenzy of "B-G-O!" chants. "Sweetness," is how Braves third baseman Chipper Jones described the sound of the ovations from the field. "There are certain games during the course of your career where you look back and you're glad you were there," he says. "This is one of them."

    Three hours before the first pitch, Biggio was in front of his locker, sipping coffee after a night's sleep aided by Ambien, taking pictures with teammates, discussing ceremonial first pitch options with his kids. Out on the field, the Astros presented him with a letter from Bud Selig -- "See you in Cooperstown," the last line read -- a commemorative second base, and a donation to the Sunshine Kids, the cancer charity Biggio has supported for almost as long as he's been in Houston. One last time, he pulled on his uniform; one last time, he ran out to his position. But this time, the man who speaks in the eternal "we" did not have his teammates by his side -- they gave him that moment to sprint on the field alone. And when he came to bat in the first inning, he smacked a double, his 668th, one last time. The sellout crowd went wild.

    "When I first got here there were 5,000 people in the stands," says Jeff Bagwell, who's been waiting patiently on the other side of the retirement tunnel for two years to greet his friend. "[Now] we're drawing three million fans a year. But it's time for the Biggio/Bagwell era to move on."

    However, when asked how his buddy was going to deal with this next phase of life, Bagwell honestly couldn't say. "It might be a little bit different for him than it was for me," he smiled. "He's a lot more hyper than I am." Or, in other words, Biggio had the energy it took to play the game hard, and play it the right way, every day. Even if not enough people noticed.

    Whitney Pastorek, an Entertainment Weekly staff writer, is a native Houstonian.
     
  2. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run

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    I think I'll read any Biggio article over the next few months..and years..
     
  3. RunninRaven

    RunninRaven Contributing Member
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    Great. ****ING. Article.

    Damn, I'm gonna miss Craig. :(
     
  4. msn

    msn Member

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    Here's the end of the plunkbiggio blog:

    The Record Stands

    Three year ago it seemed like a sure thing. Even in March of this year, it seemed like Craig Biggio couldn't possibly avoid getting hit by six pitches even if he took his elbow pad off and actually started getting out of the way of inside fastballs. Well, like the sportscasters like to say, that's why they play the games - to see who gets hit by pitches.

    Hughie Jennings record of 287 plunks may have just withstood the best - or at least most excessively documented - assault it will ever face. It's entirely possible that his record will stand forever, with Craig Biggio's 285 just below it. Jennings got hit 287 times in an age before helmets, and with a pitchers mound closer than the current 60 feet 6 inches, but pitchers may not have thrown quite as hard then. And, while he played before modern painkillers, it was probably more socially acceptable make full use of the popular painkillers of the day (like whiskey). Only 18 players have made it even half way to 287 plunks. Only 7 have passed 200, only 4 have passed 250 and only 2 have reached 285.

    So, while we might be disappointed that we didn't get to see someone break the 104 year old record for getting hit by pitches, it's tough to be disappointed by the career of Craig Biggio. 3,060 hits, 668 doubles, 1844 runs scored, 414 steals, 291 homers, 20 seasons for one team. The stats speak for themselves, but they don't exactly tell the story of what Biggio has meant to Houston's fans - for that you might have to look at the attendance line in the box score for those last three games at Minute Maid Park, or take a look at that banner that was hanging in left center field with several thousand notes from fans thanking Craig Biggio for his career. But hey, you probably know all this.

    Sometimes, when we watch baseball, we get that feeling that we might see something particularly amazing. We turn on the game, because we think something special might happen that night - and it could, on any night, and we love to hope to see those things even though we know they hardly ever happen. But they do happen sometimes, and most of all we really don't want to miss seeing it. Most of the time we think of those special things as single game records - have you ever seen a pitcher strike out the side in the 2nd inning and started doing the math in your head, counting the number of outs that aren't strikeouts as the game went along until they reached 8 and you know that's not going to be another 20 strikeout game? Maybe that's just me. But you pay special attention when a pitcher gets through a few innings without giving up a hit, or you realize someone has hit a homer, triple and double in the game and is coming up again. We also love streaks, and runs toward single season records - if it's someone on your favorite team you don't want to miss a single game on the way to what you think might be one of those special moments. And sometimes you go into a season thinking this is the year for your team - and you don't want to miss the game that could be the key moment for the season when they finally win it all.

    But it's a little harder to spot when the amazing thing is just one guy playing 20 years for the same team. You never feel like you're missing something when you know the guy was there playing yesterday and he'll be their playing again tomorrow if you turn on the game. Then suddenly he's running up on 3,000 hits and announcing his retirement, and there's some weirdo on the internet who's all excited about the prospect of him getting hit by a record number of pitches. And then you look at it that way, you realize you got to see Craig Biggio play - and even if you sat and watched him go 0-4, you saw something particularly amazing, even if you didn't know it at the time.

    Thanks for the years of stats, Craig Biggio. Messing around with them the way I have for the past three years probably hasn't entertained me quite as much as you have entertained Houston fans for the past 20 years, but it's been fun. Hopefully I brought a little bit more entertainment to those who had already enjoyed your career, and maybe I helped wake up a few folks from the rest of the country who didn't know what they were missing. I will miss waiting and wondering when you'll next get hit by a pitch. And, while I've considered hanging around until I reach 1000 posts on this site, I'll leave it at this. I have no future plans for another website, but if I think of something, I doubt it will be quite as much fun as this, and I never would have been able to keep this site going this long if Biggio hadn't been the player and the person he is.
     
  5. LonghornFan

    LonghornFan Contributing Member

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    Awesome article. Beautiful.
     
  6. rezdawg

    rezdawg Contributing Member

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    Wow, that article gave me chills...specially the opening paragraph.

    Biggio was a baller...Im 27 now...as long as Ive followed the Astros, he has been there.
     
  7. Blake

    Blake Contributing Member

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    wow. great read. thanks for posting
     
  8. rocketsjudoka

    rocketsjudoka Contributing Member
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    Great article and this was my favorite part:
    I was just thinking about this the other day how a player like Johnny Damon could be part of that great Red Sox comeback and World Series win in 2004 and then go and play for the Yankees as a free agent the next year. In this age of huge money and free agency playing your whole career for one team in itself is a huge accomplishment.

    For all those people who have been griping this last season about letting Biggio start I agree with the article that he deserves it for everything he's done for the Stros. Think about the great Stro's run of the late 90's and 2004 and 2005. Would the Stros have been nearly as good if Biggio had just taken the money and headed to NYC? Not just missing his bat and glove but think about how much of a steadying influence he was in the clubhouse. Many free agents who came to play for the Stros have cited Biggio and Bagwell as reasons why they would come and play at Houston.

    So long Biggio and thanks for the memories..

    [​IMG]
     

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