Craig BiggioBy Nick Aerts

When you think of Astros all time greats, a couple named come to mind-Bagwell, Ryan…Then you have Craig Biggio. He is on of the best players to ever play, and is a first ballot HOFer. He has spent his entire 20-year career with the Houston Astros, the team that drafted him 22nd in the 1987 draft.

Craig Biggio graduated from Kings Park High School in Long Island, New York. Oddly enough, in 1983, Biggio was awarded the Hanson award, for being the best football player in Suffolk County. However, his passion lay with baseball, so he turned down football scholarships to play college baseball at Seton Hall. Biggio was an All-American at Seton Hall, and got to play with future MLB stars Mo Vaughn and John Valentin. Biggio, Vaughn and Valentin, along with Marteese Robinson, were featured in the book The Hit Men and the Kid Who Batted Ninth by David Siroty which chronicled their rise from college teammates to the major leagues. The Houston Astros drafted Biggio with the 22nd overall pick in 1987.
Biggio was called up midway though the 1988 season, as a catcher. He batted .344 in the minor leagues, so they couldn’t keep him waiting. In 1989, he became the Astros full time catcher. He won the Silver Slugger award, which is given the the best offensive player at his position in the league. Biggio was a fast runner, and a good basestealer, but that made Astros management worry that catching all the time would zap his speed, so they moved him the outfield part time in 1990, as he played there in the minors. In 1spring training 1992, the Astros finally converted him to second base, even though he had made the 1991 All-Star team as a catcher. Biggio made the All-Star team for the second time in 1992, becoming the first player in the history of baseball to be an All-Star at both catcher and second base. It is remarkably rare for a major league catcher to make a successful transition to middle infielder. If a catcher changes positions, it is usually to first base, or occasionally to outfield or third base. Biggio became known as a reliable, hustling, consistent leadoff hitter, with unusual power for a second baseman. He holds the National League record for most home runs to lead off a game, with fifty. His statistics reflect this, having consistently good marks in hitting, on-base percentage, hit-by-pitch, runs, stolen bases, and doubles throughout his career. Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher, when asked about Biggio being short for a catcher, said “Short catchers are better, because they don’t have to stand up as far.”

Biggio played 1,800 games without a trip to the disabled list until August 1, 2000, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. In the play in which Biggio was injured, the Florida Marlins’ Preston Wilson (who would later become Biggio’s teammate) slid into second base, trying to stop a double play, and hit Biggio’s planted left leg, tearing the ACL and MCL in Biggio’s knee. Biggio rebounded with a good season in 2001, but had a lackluster performance in 2002, with only a .253 average, his lowest since entering the league. However, he improved slightly for the 2003 season, averaging .264 with 166 hits despite being asked by management to move to center field after the signing of free agent All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent. In 2004, he put up numbers more typical for his career, batting .281 with 178 hits, including a career high 24 homers. Biggio moved to yet another new position, left field, midway through the 2004 season to accommodate Carlos Beltrán, who was acquired in a trade to help bolster the Astros’ struggling offense.
For the 2005 season, Biggio moved back to second base after Kent left for the Dodgers. Biggio set a new career high by hitting 26 home runs and during the season hit his 1000th RBI becoming the second Astro with 1000 RBI for Houston (the first being Jeff Bagwell). Biggio played in the World Series in 2005 for the first time in his eighteen year career. On May 23, 2006, Biggio became the 23rd player in MLB history with 10,000 at-bats.

On June 28, 2007, Biggio became the 27th player in the history of Major League Baseball to join the 3000 hit club, with a single against Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook, even though he was tagged out on the play as he tried to stretch it into a double to draw a throw and allow a run to score. The game action paused while Biggio shared the moment with his wife and children. Longtime friend and former teammate Jeff Bagwell emerged from the Astros clubhouse to congratulate him. Biggio became the first player in Astros history to accumulate 3,000 hits.

In anticipation of Biggio’s reaching 3,000 hits, the Astros installed a digital counter just left of center field displaying his current hit total. With 668 doubles, he ended his career in 5th place on the all-time list. Biggio also holds the record for the most doubles by a right-handed hitter. Biggio is the only player in the history of baseball with 3000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases, and 250 home runs. Biggio ranks 20th on the all-time hits list, though of those 20 players he ranks 19th in career batting average. Only Cal Ripken hit for a lower career average. Biggio fell nine home runs short of joining the career 300-300 club (300 homers and 300 stolen bases). He would have become only the seventh player to achieve the feat. Incidentally, this also caused him to fall short of the 3,000 hits, 300 homers and 300 stolen bases mark; he would have been only the second player in history to reach that club, the other being Willie Mays.

On July 24, 2007, Biggio announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season (his 20th season with the club, a franchise record). Hours later, with the Astros locked in a 3-3 tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Biggio hit a grand slam in the 6th inning. The Astros went on to win the game 7–4. In the final game of his career, Biggio started as a catcher and caught 2 innings for the Astros. He also hit a double in his first at-bat of the game.

A sellout, record-breaking crowd packed Minute Maid Park on September 30, 2007, to witness Biggio’s final game. He recorded his final career hit, a double in the first inning, and scored his final career run that same inning. In his final career at-bat, he grounded the ball to third baseman Chipper Jones, who threw out the hustling Biggio by half a step. He left the field to a standing ovation from the fans, and when he was replaced defensively in the top of the 8th inning he shook hands with umpires and teammates and left to another standing ovation as he waved to the fans. A book documenting that final game has been released by Bright Sky Press in Houston, Texas. “Biggio: The Final Game” contains 120 color photographs by photographer Michael Hart, and a foreword by former Astros great Larry Dierker, as well as an after word by Houston Chronicle columnist and ESPN Radio contrbutor Richard Justice.

Here as some of the many highlights/awards from Craig Biggio’s career:

  • Led the Majors in runs scored in 1995 and 1997 and in doubles in 1998 and 1999.
  • In 1997, became the first player in baseball history not to hit into a single double play while playing an entire 162 game season. Two players, Augie Galan (1935) and Dick McAuliffe (1968), had previously played an entire season with the same feat, but did not play in as many games in their respective seasons.
  • In 1997, scored 146 runs, which is the most of any National League player since the Phillies’ Chuck Klein scored 152 runs in 1932.
  • Tops the Astros’ career list in games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles and extra-base hits.
    Holds the record for most regular season games played before his first World Series appearance with 2,564.
  • In 1998 became the second player to have 50 stolen bases and 50 doubles in the same season. The only other person to accomplish this is Tris Speaker.
  • Holds the National League record for most lead-off home runs in a career with 53. He is second in MLB behind Rickey Henderson (81).
  • 7-Time All Star.

All-Star

  • 1991 (Catcher)
  • 1992 (2nd Base)
  • 1994 (2nd Base)
  • 1995 (2nd Base)
  • 1996 (2nd Base)
  • 1997 (2nd Base)
  • 1998 (2nd Base)

Gold Glove

  • 1994: National League Gold Glove (2nd Base)
  • 1995: National League Gold Glove (2nd Base)
  • 1996: National League Gold Glove (2nd Base)
  • 1997: National League Gold Glove (2nd Base)

Other Awards1989 NL Silver Slugger Award (C)

  • 1994 Baseball America NL All-Star 2B
  • 1994 NL Silver Slugger Award (2B)
  • 1995 NL Silver Slugger Award (2B)
  • 1997 NL Silver Slugger Award (2B)
  • 1997 Branch Rickey Award in reognition of his exceptional community service.
  • 1998 Houston Astros Player of the Year
  • 1998 NL Silver Slugger Award (2B)
  • 1998 Baseball America First-Team Major League All-Star 2B
  • 2004 Texas Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2004 Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2005 Hutch Award (honors baseball great Fred Hutchinson and is given annually to a Major League baseball player who best exemplifies his fighting spirit and competitive desire)
  • 2006 Heart and Hustle Award
  • 2007 Roberto Clemente Award

Over his career, Biggio gained a reputation for being hit by pitches. Some have even gone so far as to proclaim him the “king of hit batsmen. On June 29, 2005, Biggio broke the modern-era career hit-by-pitch record, previously held by Don Baylor with 267. He is second to only Hughie Jennings on the all-time list with 287. Despite being hit by a record number of pitches, Biggio never charged the mound, and had no serious injuries as a result of being hit. In his final season, however, Biggio was only hit three times. He was hit fewer times total between 2006 and 2007 (9 times in 2006, total of 12) than he was in 10 of his previous 11 individual seasons. In August 2007, the satirical online newspaper The Onion referenced this in the article, “Craig Biggio Blames Media Pressure For Stalling At 285 Hit-By-Pitches” Biggio sent an arm guard to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his high hit-by-pitch total.

On May 23, 2008, during a pre-game ceremony in which Biggio received an award for MLB.com’s This Year in Baseball 2007 Moment of the Year award for his 3,000th hit on June 28, the Astros announced that they would retire Craig Biggio’s jersey in a ceremony on August 17. The Houston Astros retired his No. 7 jersey on August 17, 2008, prior to the start of a game versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. Biggio was the tenth player in Astros history to have his number retired; most recently, Biggio’s longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell had his No. 5 retired in 2007.

Biggio has received awards from various organizations, including the Hutch Award (2005) and being named one of Sporting News’ Good Guys (2004). The Hutch Award is given to a player that shows competitiveness and never gives up. Part of the reason Biggio was given the award was for his multiple position changes, but also because of his work in the community and inspiring other teammates to participate as well. He also received the Roberto Clemente Award in 2007. The Roberto Clemente Award “recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Biggio has been a supporter and lead spokesperson for the Sunshine Kids Foundation for over a decade and almost the entirety of his playing career. The organization supports children fighting cancer with exciting activities for themselves and their families. Biggio helps the organization by raising awareness of the organization by wearing a small yellow sun on his cap for interviews, batting practice, and spring training games and by holding a celebrity golf tournament in Houston each spring. Biggio hosts an annual party at Minute Maid Park for about 100 Sunshine Kids to play baseball with Biggio and some of his teammates.

With the 2006 annual golf tournament, Biggio has raised over $2 million for the organization. During 2007 spring training, MLB informed Biggio that he would no longer be allowed to wear the small yellow sun on his cap during interviews, photo shoots, or spring training. Biggio had worn the Sunshine Kids pin for over a decade. This edict was big news in Houston, and Houstonians, long known for their charitable nature and unconditional love of Biggio, reacted very negatively to MLB. After the public uproar, MLB relented and Biggio was allowed to wear the Sunshine Kids pin as he had done since becoming a spokesperson.

Biggio finished his career with 3,060 career hits, 668 doubles, 291 home runs, 1175 RBI, 414 stolen bases, and a .281 batting average. On May 18, 2008, Biggio accepted the position of baseball coach for St. Thomas High School in Houston, Texas.

Here are the top 5 Craig Biggio cards that I have selected:

#5-1996 Leaf Gold Press Proofs #207 (Search Ebay) -Any kind of press proof is hard to find, and this is no exception. With a print run of 500, it will be a happy day when I get one.

1996 Leaf Gold Press Proof Craig Biggio

#4-1993 Finest Refractors #119 (Search Ebay)  -This is one of Biggios rarest cards. Many of the player collectors spend years trying to find these, and of course, I still haven’t found one. Even with a print run of 241, it a a tough task.

1993 Topps Finest Refractors Craig Biggio

#3-1997 Circa Rave #362 (Search Ebay)  -This card is a must for all Biggio collectors. Most people have the regular version, but the Rave is a must have. What makes it tough is the print run of 150.

#2-2002 Fleer Platinum Clubhouse Collection Jersey/Bat Relc #4 SP to 50 (Search Ebay)  -This is the only card on this list that I own. There are many variations of this card, but this is the only one I have seen with this combo. Limited to just 50 copies, this is a must have variation.

#1-1988 Tucson Toros Jones Photo #2 (Search Ebay) -This is the #1 must have card for anyone’s Biggio collection. It actually isn’t a card, rather a 5×7 photo of Biggio in the minors. Any card of Biggio in the minors is a must have because he only spent half a season as a Astros minor leaguer. No one knows the exact print run, but it hovers around 25. This is my Biggio holy grail right now.