Hard work, good luck carried Biggio to Cooperstown
Hall of Famer thanks Seton Hall, Astros for helping him develop as man, player
NEW YORK -- If it's possible to make being elected to the Hall of Fame even more special than it already is, consider where Craig Biggio found himself Wednesday.
Biggio was on a platform at the Waldorf Astoria, at a news conference introducing the newest class that will be enshrined in Cooperstown on July 26. To his left was Pedro Martinez. To Biggio's right were Randy Johnson and John Smoltz. That followed a year in which Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were enshrined, which in turn followed a year in which no former players were honored.
To put it another way, then, Biggio is one of just two hitters, along with Frank Thomas, who have gotten plaques in the last three years.
Biggio grew up on Long Island, about an hour away from where he was sitting, but, boy, had he come a long way.
As Biggio answered questions, themes emerged. He had worked hard for everything that he achieved. Biggio also took advantage of a few breaks along the way. Like when he was drafted by the Tigers out of Kings Park High School in Smithtown, N.Y., before deciding to go to college instead.
"Thank God I didn't sign, because I wasn't mature enough to do it at all," he said.
Like when Biggio chose to attend Seton Hall on a partial scholarship, where he played for coaches Mike Sheppard and Ed Blankmeyer.
"I went to play for a guy who was a military man who was a disciplinarian," Biggio said. "With Shep, if you made a mistake, it's 5 o'clock in the morning and you're going to go run the hill. I'm very grateful. I went in as a kid and I left there as a man."
Like when Biggio was drafted by the Astros instead of the Mets with the 22nd overall pick in the 1987 First-Year Player Draft.
"I almost played for the Mets," Biggio said. "They were the next pick, and apparently they were going to take me. John McMullen and Yogi Berra came to Seton Hall one day and watched me work out. How many owners of a baseball team and Hall of Fame players are going to watch a college kid work out at Seton Hall University? That's how close it came between being a Met and an Astro, but I just wanted to play."
Maybe Biggio would have gone on to a Hall of Fame career anyway, but it was the Astros who decided to convert the catcher into a middle infielder and then worked and worked and worked to help him make the transition.
"The move to second base was beyond belief, how hard it was," Biggio said. "If it wasn't for [coach] Matt Galante, it never would have gone as successfully as it did. We'd get there in Spring Training and we'd work 7:30 until 9. Then we'd do our team stuff. Then we'd go get a sandwich. Then we'd get more work done. Then we'd play the games. Then we'd get more work done after the games were over.
"I'm not embellishing. That was the only way to be as good as we were going to be, because I'd never played it. There were so many things I had to learn. You've got to understand the speed of the hitter in the box, the speed of the guy on first base. Where every ball was hit, where you had to be."
Along the way, Biggio was hit by pitches more than any hitter in history. But he admits he was also fortunate to have never been seriously injured from being plunked. He was on the disabled list only once in his career, when he injured his ACL on a takeout slide at second base.
"I was lucky, because when you get hit that many times, you count your blessings," Biggio said. "I was never intimidated. If they hit me, they hit me. That's just part of the game. You've got to pitch inside. And they were never intimidated by me. I'm not a big guy. They were intimidated by the guys behind me. I'm just trying to get on and cause havoc.
"It hurts, [but] I didn't care. If you hit me, I got on first base. That was the big thing."
Biggio calculated that getting on first base by being hit by a pitch 285 times translated into 100 runs scored. It was a tradeoff he was willing to make, although there were some close calls. He especially remembers a playoff game against the Cubs in 1997.
"I got hit in the face by a 98-mph fastball by Geremi Gonzalez," Biggio recalled. "It barely hit my earflap, but knocked me out a little bit. I'll never forget laying on the ground. I was thinking about Dickie Thon [whose promising career was interrupted when he was hit in the eye by a pitch]. I didn't have time to assess it. I was able to get up. I was lucky that the ball just barely hit my earflap and the cheekbone."
Luck, hard work and determination led to 3,000 hits, seven All-Star Game selections and, now, election to the Hall of Fame. As a hitter, which makes it even more special. If that's possible.