Astros icon informed Caminiti's family of late star's team HOF induction

January 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Nancy Caminiti, the widow of late big leaguer , knew something was up when  corralled her and her three daughters at a family wedding in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago and told them to pose for a photo while holding their thumbs in the air. Biggio joined the group and did the same, while they all flashed bright smiles at the camera.

“He didn’t tell us why,” Nancy said.

After the picture was snapped, Biggio told Nancy and her three daughters, Kendall, Lindsey and Nicole, some news: Ken had been selected to be inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame in 2024. An announcement was made a couple of days later, and Caminiti will be inducted prior to the Astros' game against the White Sox on Aug. 17 at Minute Maid Park.

“We’re all so happy, and honestly, I think he deserves it,” Nancy said. “He loved being an Astro. Everybody always, even to this day, people will say to me, ‘He was so much fun to watch.’”

Indeed. Caminiti was selected by the Astros in the third round of the 1984 MLB Draft out of San Jose State and broke into the big leagues with a bang, hitting a homer and a triple in his first game on July 16, 1987 -- one year before Biggio made his debut.

With his hard-nosed style of play and cannon for an arm, Caminiti quickly became a fan favorite, and by 1991 he, Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Luis Gonzalez were the cornerstones of a young team on the rise. Biggio, who broke into the big leagues as a catcher, had the best seat in the house to watch Caminiti’s wizardry at third base.

“You’re seeing every play and watching him make some plays, and you’re like, ‘Wow, a normal human being doesn’t make those plays,’” Biggio said. “He would knock the ball down on the third-base line, and the ball falls out, and he picks it up and throws from his butt and throws a seed across the diamond.”

Caminiti was one of the top defensive third basemen in the National League, but he never won a Gold Glove until he put up gaudy offensive numbers after being traded to the Padres -- a 12-player deal following the 1994 season that brought Derek Bell and Doug Brocail, among others, to Houston. The Astros also sent future All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder Steve Finley to San Diego in the trade.

“I remember how exciting it was when he was first called up, and nerve-wracking for me, of course,” Nancy said. “I think he felt part of the Astro family. It kind of hurt his feelings when he was traded. It was that big trade with Steve Finley and everybody. He was really fun to watch play at third base.”

Caminiti bashed 26 homers in 1995 for San Diego and won the NL MVP Award in '96 after hitting .326 with 40 homers and 130 RBIs. He returned to the Astros in '99 for two injury-plagued seasons -- he hit three homers in the '99 NLDS -- before finishing with the Rangers and Braves in 2001.

“Those were hard years at first because they completely rebuilt the [Astros],” Nancy said. “All of a sudden, Ken and Craig were some of the older guys, which was surprising because they weren’t very old.”

This October will mark 20 years since Ken Caminiti passed away unexpectedly at the age of 41 -- one day before Biggio played in the biggest game of his career: Game 5 of the 2004 NLDS against the Braves in Atlanta. The Astros won, 12-3, for their first playoff series victory in club history.

Ken was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 2016, with Kendall, Lindsey and Nicole throwing out the ceremonial first pitches. Nancy said she and her daughters will be at Minute Mark Park in August to see Ken honored by the franchise with which he became a Major Leaguer and spent most of his career -- a franchise that still holds him dear.

“It’s always fun, but it’s also emotional,” she said. “My daughter’s wedding was emotional because Ken should be there. There are certain times when we really feel he’s not there. It will be exciting and he’ll be there in spirit, but it’s still a little sad.”