No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Craig Biggio Snubbed By The Hall
Craig Biggio was a mere two votes short of being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame on his second ballot. To me and many (even outside of Houston) he should have been a first ballot player. As a member of the exclusive 3,000 hit club it should have been a lock. Add to that he excelled at catcher, second base and center field and racked up 3,060 hits, 291 homers, 414 steals and four Gold Gloves. He is renowned for his respect for the game; playing at full throttle from his first to last at bat. At his final game, every Atlanta Brave stood outside the visiting dugout to honor Craig when he strode to the plate. Accolades from players and coaches rained down for days after Craig walked off the field. The most common observation was that “he played the game like it is supposed to be played.” Indeed.
I was moderately irritated when Biggio didn’t make it on the first vote. When he got passed over last week, I was infuriated. I hammered out venomous words for MLB and the Hall on my battered Dell laptop. “If he was in a Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs uniform,” I raged, “he would already be in!” It just got nasty from there. Yet, something made me pause to consider the legitimate reasons an honest voter could have omitted Craig on that second ballot. His batting average was not the best and his production faltered in the latter days. He was pushing and past 40 then, but alright, he didn’t bring a championship to Houston; okay, fine. However, many beleaguered Astros fans have good reason to believe that it wasn’t those minor quibbles that kept Biggio out of the Hall but rather the fact he played for Houston; one of the teams that MLB treats as Muzak for the Yankees’ waiting room. We are simply ignored. Yes, yes I know that some of the voters are from Texas, but they are cut from the same cloth as the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network. Only the big market teams matter and thus players who grind it out with lesser clubs are given short shrift during and after their playing days.
There’s a history folks. Bud Selig isn’t the most popular man in our town; from forcing Houston to open the roof at Minute Maid Park during the World Series appearance to accommodate the sensibilities of the visiting White Sox to the heinous act of extorting the team’s move to the AL, Astros fans feel, let’s say, under appreciated by MLB. Truth is none of these series of swift kicks in Houston’s shins were intentional slights. It’s just that MLB and the elite sports media has so little interest in the Houston Astros. It didn’t even register with them that we were getting the shaft. Do you really think that they would so blithely move the Yankees or Red Sox to the National League?
Like many mid and small-market fans rooting for our teams in the shadows, we have learned to accept it. Obviously, the comparatively young Astros will never amass a history, tradition and nationwide popularity comparable to historic teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. Thus far, the club hasn’t been able to pull a Ted Turner and get Astros games on screens across the nation to generate a broad based following. We love baseball and our Houston Astros and just live with our status as MLB’s second class citizens. So it goes with Craig Biggio; he put up sufficient numbers to get in the HOF and the rest is a popularity contest which Houston more often than not loses. As a career Houston Astro, he’s just not the brand of beer preferred by the snobbish guardians of Cooperstown. Groovy by me man; HOF voter Joe Morgan cannot vaporize the joy of Houston baseball with a pen and his condescending commentary.
January 11, 2014 brought the announcement that Alex Rodriguez was banned for the season for using PED’s. Suddenly, it occurred to me; never mind that Astros fans are at peace with their lowly MLB status. Why are the HOF voters at peace with their snub of Craig Biggio?
Forget the stats for a moment. Craig Biggio epitomized all that was good about baseball at a time players like A-Rod were sullying the game with selfish prima donna behavior and use of PEDs. Biggio’s character and respect for the game is above reproach. Craig played clean while many of his contemporaries, MLB’s darlings and revenue centers, filled their bloodstreams with PED’s putting honorable players at a disadvantage. A-Rod was and is all about A-Rod. He juiced to pad his numbers and with those numbers demanded obscene, fan-repelling contracts from the highest bidder. The game be damned, A-Rod was going to get his; sworn to fun, loyal to none. At the height of his career, Biggio was a highly valued free agent and aggressively courted by big market teams. Biggio declined to abandon teammates like Jeff Bagwell and the community he had come to love; leaving money on the table out of loyalty.
When one thinks of Craig Biggio off the field, his tireless work as national spokesperson for the Sunshine Kids (a charity that supports children with cancer) comes to mind. He meets with the Kids mostly behind the scenes without fanfare; the true mark of giving from the heart. He is a family man and role model. He never turns away a fan seeking photos and autographs. I know because he cheerfully posed with my kids in Newark airport and signed everything they handed him. Craig Biggio is known to personally greet trick or treaters on Halloween; handing out candy and signing autographs in front of his home. When one thinks of A-Rod the mental image is that of expensive suits, Madonna and celebrity ooze. When he retired, Craig took a coaching job at a local high school and could be seen grooming the field on a riding lawnmower. He laughed when asked about it, saying “it’s part of the job.” Think A-Rod would ever be caught dead doing landscaping?
One evening in the East Texas town of Beaumont there was a championship football game between two private high schools. It had come down to the final seconds and the Beaumont school’s kicker had to make a do or die field goal. He missed and was utterly devastated. Parents and fans filed away from the field leaving the kicker virtually alone save for some of his teammates who tried to console him. He had lost the game for his team and was carrying the burden on his own. Then, the father of a player from the other team approached the young man. He told him how there would be other games and other field goals; encouraging him not to give up or get down on himself. That father was Craig Biggio; what a spirit-lifting gift that must have been. Instead of the bitter memory of a tanked field goal, the boy will instead recall being consoled by baseball great Craig Biggio.
Craig didn’t have to do it. He could have just got in the car with his family and driven back to Houston. He received no compensation nor did he promote the event with self-serving photographs or interviews. He certainly didn’t get any air time from ESPN which was probably doing another “What’s Next for the Yankees” segment. Contrast that with another celebrated (until he was exposed as an outright fraud) Barry Bonds who indignantly and profanely refused to sign a baseball bat for a San Francisco teammate who wanted it for an auction to benefit for sick and disabled children. Yet if it were not for his PED use, he’d be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Houston Astros: We are the Great Unwashed. We barely merit mention in the same breath with the “more important” teams in the league. MLB can move us around the league like mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table and yank our roof open to help out a bigger market team. That’s cool, we understand and we’ll survive. We’ll continue to enjoy our little baseball world and Craig Biggio will eventually get in the HOF; much to your chagrin.
However, the misguided priorities of MLB and its self-appointed guardians remain. The League rightly punished A-Rod for his corrosive impact on the game. However, with A-Rod being one of a very few who have actually paid a price for pharmacological and other misdeeds, the custodians of America’s Pastime send a perverse and corrupt message by failing to recognize a player like Biggio for preserving and enriching the game.
By any account, A-Rod is a pre-eminent baseball player with more talent and accomplishments than Craig Biggio. However, baseball needs more Craig Biggios and fewer A-Rods. Electing Craig to the Hall and meting out real and consistent punishment to bad guys like A-Rod could have been a part of the league’s clarion call for a new era of respect for the game. Sadly, it was not.