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The leadership of Biggio & Bagwell

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by Buck Turgidson, Apr 9, 2002.

  1. Buck Turgidson

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    Excellent article in the Rocky Mountain News yesterday.

    A sense of B-longing
    Astros' Biggio, Bagwell let teammates know they're among friends


    By Jack Etkin, News Staff Writer
    April 8, 2002

    The tornado roared through central Florida during spring training and touched down near the Houston Astros facility. Infielder Tim Bogar, his wife, who was four months pregnant, and their young son were living in a home that was heavily damaged. Teammate Craig Biggio was the first person to contact Bogar.

    "Not to say nobody else would do that, but he was the first guy to say, 'Pack your stuff. You and your family are coming to my house,' " said Bogar, who was in spring training this March with the Colorado Rockies and is playing this season at Class AAA Colorado Springs.

    That was in 1998, a few months after pitcher Darryl Kile left the Astros, the organization where he spent his first 10 professional seasons. Kile won 19 games in 1997 and signed with the Rockies as a free agent. His decision to leave the Astrodome, a pitching haven, for the wrath of Coors Field wasn't popular in Houston.

    Fans viewed him as disloyal and a mercenary, even though it was reported that the Astros' 11th-hour offer was more about saving face publicly than seriously negotiating. Soon after Kile agreed to sign with the Rockies, he heard from Jeff Bagwell, who had just become his former Houston teammate.

    "The first guy that wished me luck and was really in my corner was my friend, Jeff," said Kile, who now pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals. "Jeff of the Houston Astros was disappointed they lost a pitcher in the rotation. But as a friend, he understood why I made that choice, and he was behind me. I'll never forget that."

    Biggio and Bagwell.

    Bagwell and Biggio.

    Their names are inextricably linked with each other -- the tie fostered just a bit more by alliteration -- and with the Astros, the Rockies' opponent today in their home opener at Coors Field. They have been Houston teammates since the start of the 1991 season when Bagwell, new to the organization after an ill-fated trade by the Boston Red Sox, broke in with the Astros.

    When their names come up, baseball people have a typical response, simple but all-encompassing and filled with rare praise:

    They are the Astros.

    Biggio, 36, and Bagwell, 33, will retire as Astros. And when they do, no one on that team will ever again wear Biggio's No. 7 or Bagwell's No. 5. They have played their entire major league careers with the Astros, developing into superstars in Houston and never taking the free-agent ride to another city.

    Bagwell wasn't sure he would still be with the Astros after their dismal 2000 season. But after that plunge to fourth place and 90 losses, the Astros came to Bagwell, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2001 season, and they agreed on a five-year, $85 million contract extension.

    Bagwell believes the Astros probably would have traded him after their 2000 pratfall had they not signed him. And some grass-is-greener thoughts came to Bagwell when he pondered the possibility of leaving.

    "It would have been very easy for me to say, 'I'm out of here because we stink,' " Bagwell said. "My wife and I struggled with this. I can't imagine wearing another uniform, and I felt like I would be bailing out.

    "I want to win for this organization and this city. It couldn't be any more gratifying than that. Everybody was starting to say I'm going to go play for the Yankees and win the World Series. How much better would it be for us to win it here, where nobody quite expected it to happen? I want to be part of that, and if I don't, I'm going to die trying. That was what my motivation was (in staying with Houston)."

    At a time when players skitter like tumbleweed across the baseball plains, Bagwell and Biggio haven't budged. Biggio came close to leaving the Astros after the 1995 season. He was a free agent and nearly signed with the Rockies, which immeasurably would have altered Colorado's course. Instead, he stayed in Houston where, not coincidentally, the Astros reached the playoffs in four of the next six seasons.

    "Billy Crystal tells the story how he walked into Yankee Stadium, saw No. 7 and that was it," Bagwell said, referring to the comedian's sighting of Mickey Mantle. "He was standing out there. I hope some kids do that when they see Craig and I.

    "All they've got to do is look right. They can see us on the right side of the infield. This'll be our 11th year on the right side of the infield, and it was only 90 feet (different) one other year when he was catching."

    Because they have played next to each other for so long, Biggio said each simply knows where the other will be when various situations arise on the field, making conversation unnecessary.

    Their lockers are near each other in the Astros clubhouse in Houston and at spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., as well as on the road, where locker assignments typically follow a numerical sequence. There is familiarity and closeness and knowledge of the other's habits, making this, within the confines of baseball, something akin to a marriage.

    "It's a lot easier than a marriage," Biggio said, smiling, "because you don't have to talk as much."

    For all they share when it comes to how they approach the game, Bagwell and Biggio are very different players. Bagwell is a slugger who has hit at least 31 homers and has driven in no fewer than 111 runs each of the past six seasons. But he's a good enough hitter to take a .303 career average and .415 on-base percentage into this season.

    Typically, Bagwell bats third, using one of the most unorthodox and complex stances in the game. He squats at the plate and rather than stride toward the pitcher with his front foot, Bagwell actually moves it backward.

    Biggio is a pesky leadoff hitter -- and an irritant to opponents because of his willingness to lean into pitches to get on base any way he can. Still, he has enough power to have hit at least 20 home runs in four seasons when the Astros were playing in the spacious Astrodome. He has scored at least 113 runs and has driven in at least 70 in six of the past seven seasons.

    The exception was 2000, when Biggio played only 101 games, the only time in his career he hasn't played 155 in any 162-game season. He tore two ligaments in his left knee Aug. 1 in a collision at second base while attempting to turn a double play. It was the only time in his career Biggio went on the disabled list. Bagwell has been there twice: missing one month in 1995 because of a broken bone in his left hand after being hit with a pitch, and two weeks in 1998, when he cut his right knee in a collision at home plate.

    "I just think we work very well together," Biggio said. "I'm not going to score 120 runs a year without him. And he's not going to drive in 130 and 140 runs without me."

    Their impressive statistics don't reveal how hard they play and how badly they want to win. Those intangible assets at least can be seen and appreciated, unlike another essential trait they share that isn't going to show up on the field.

    "They're also guys that care," Bogar said. "They care about their teammates. They care about their teammates' families and care about what's going on around them. And to be superstars like that and just to actually care that much says an enormous amount about what type of people they really are."

    Cardinals reliever Dave Veres, who played for the Rockies, was a 27-year-old rookie when he reached the Astros early in the 1994 season and played for them through 1995. Every time Veres sees Bagwell and Biggio, he said they always ask about his family.

    "More recently, I've played with guys a lot longer who don't do that and aren't nearly the players they are," Veres said. "I was a rookie and played two years with them, and they could easily not give me the time of day. It's kind of nice to play with guys of that caliber and they still talk to you and appreciate what you did."

    When Veres was traded by Houston to Montreal after the 1995 season, he asked Bagwell to sign a picture. "It wasn't: 'Best wishes, Jeff Bagwell,' " Veres said. "It was: 'Great being your teammate. Best of luck. You're a good pitcher.' "


    * * *
    Biggio and Bagwell are now playing for Jimy Williams. He managed the maelstrom that was the Boston Red Sox nearly five seasons until former Boston general manager Dan Duquette fired him Aug. 16 last season. Williams is the fourth person to manage Bagwell and Biggio, following Art Howe, Terry Collins and Larry Dierker.

    With far less media scrutiny than there was in Boston and a good rapport with general manager Gerry Hunsicker, the Houston job will seem tranquil to Williams. Instead of a Red Sox clubhouse where veterans were carping over playing time, Williams has found a piece-of-cake contrast, in no small part because of the leadership and influence of Bagwell and Biggio.

    "Williams is a very lucky man," said Tom McCraw, who was Houston's hitting coach for nearly four seasons under Dierker. "He won't have to get in anybody's face about playing hard, playing the game right. Biggio and Bagwell will take care of that. That's a blessing, especially today."

    For all the basic similarities in their approach to daily business, Bagwell and Biggio are different personalities in terms of how they're perceived by younger players. McCraw, who is now the Montreal Expos hitting coach, said Bagwell has a "calming effect" and is "the fatherly type that talks to you and dosen't shout at you, but you know he means every word."

    Biggio is more intense and high-strung, albeit not to the extent he was earlier in his career. Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said, "Craig is a little more intimidating because he is so focused, especially once the season starts. I can obviously say anything I want to (Biggio), but I could see how a rookie (wouldn't feel as comfortable) or even a younger guy who didn't know him or a veteran guy who was just acquired. He's got a little thicker exterior you've got to break through, but he's a great guy."

    Part of that personality difference stems from their Astros beginnings. When Bagwell, who had finished a season at the Class AA level in the Red Sox organization when they sent him to Houston for pitcher Larry Andersen on Aug. 31, 1990, joined the Astros when they were a young team that had just lost 87 games. Biggio was then one of the veterans, even though he had been in the majors for a little more than two years.

    "I've told (Bagwell) I wish he had the opportunity to see what I had when I came to the big leagues," Biggio said.

    He joined a veteran Houston team in June 1986. His new teammates included Terry Puhl, Alan Ashby, Mike Scott, Andersen, Bill Doran, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and Rockies manager Buddy Bell.

    "That team might have been my most favorite to play on," said Bell, who was then in his final full season. It was more of a veteran team and had guys that obviously played hard every night. He was able to see that firsthand at an early age.

    "We used to stay in that locker room for hours after a game and talk. Biggio would just listen. He'd just suck it all in."

    Biggio said of those days, "I'm 22 years old. The guy next-closest to my age is 32. I thought I knew a lot about the game. I'd sit around the locker room and didn't say anything. I got more educated after a baseball game than I did during the game."

    Now Bagwell and Biggio are passing on the lore, telling the stories, dispensing the wisdom that comes from experience and giving good advice to younger players.

    "We're all in this together," Bagwell said. "These guys coming in, they're young kids. They need help. Though Craig and I are different in our personalties, we are very similar on the field because we both play for one thing and that's to win. We play as hard as we can, and we expect everybody else to do that.

    "Off the field, it's nice to say (to Biggio), 'You talk to him,' or 'We'll talk to him together.' Sometimes when we talk to him together that's real power. Have two of us sit down together on the plane with a kid, it carries a stronger message. I think that's a positive."

    Contact Jack Etkin at (303) 892-2921 or sports@RockyMountainNews.com.
     
  2. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    Amidst all the b****ing people do about the Astros, I hope they appreciate how fortunate we are to have guys like Bags and Biggio to watch 162 nights a year. This has easily been the best era in this franchise's history...and as a lifelong Astro fan I'm grateful for that!
     

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