Farewell to an icon
After 20 years as an Astro, Biggio gracefully exits
Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 9:49AM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 2:28PM
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."