Astros’ Fans Fortunate To Be In Craig Biggio Era
This Korner has been a major league baseball fan for nearly 60 years. We have had the pleasure of following the careers of such players as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn, Pete Rose, Roger Maris and a plethora of Hall of Famers throughout the years and decades.
We never became a Houston Astros fan until after we had an opportunity to dabble in pro baseball ourself as a member of the Chicago Cubs organization where we were fortunate to rub elbows with Ernie Banks, Larry Jackson and several others Cubs.
When we settled into Texas in the mid-1960’s and had season working press passes to the Astrodome, we became a Houston Astros fan, despite the fact their teams in the 1960’s through the mid 1980’s weren’t anything to write home about.
We followed the team with huge hopes of success during each spring only to be disappointed when the regular season ended without any chance of getting to the post-season.
In 1987 the Astros used their No. 1 draft choice on a promising young baby-faced catcher from Seton Hall named Craig Biggio, who became the first player from the ’87 draft to make the major leagues the following season.
Biggio took over the starting catching duties during the 1988 season and became an All-Star a couple of years later. The Astros’ third base coach Matt Galante pulled Biggio aside and told him that if he planned on being in the major leagues for 20 years it wouldn’t be possible as a catcher because of the wear and tear on the body the position requires.
So Galante worked endless hours hitting ground balls to Biggio and mentoring him into becoming a second baseman. The Astros’ regular second baseman, Billy Doran, came to Houston during the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo and drew second base in the dirt and showed Biggio everything he knew about playing second base in the major leagues.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Doran was traded and Biggio became the Houston Astros second baseman. Galante continued to work with Craig on some of the finer points of being a second baseman so he could play at the highest level.
Biggio soon became the only player in major league history to make the All-Star team as both a catcher and second baseman. He later played the position well enough to be awarded four Gold Gloves.
In 1991 the Astros traded relief pitcher Larry Anderson to the Boston Red Sox for a minor league third baseman named Jeff Bagwell. The only problem is that Houston already had a pretty good third sacker in Doug Rader. So Bagwell worked real hard to learn the first base position.
Bagwell and Biggio became best buddies and were nearly inseparable in the Astros’ locker room. Both players blossomed as the stars of the team and the leaders both on and off the field.
The team was built around these two icons and magically became much more competitive. They made the playoffs and began to win NL Division championships and even made it to the World Series in 2005.
The years began to pass and Bidge and Baggy as they were called by teammates continued to be the Astros’ stars. A bad right shoulder forced Bagwell to retire before the 2006 season and Biggio announced his retirement shortly before the 2007 season concluded.
Last year the Astros retired Bagwell’s No. 5 Jersey and Sunday the team held a ceremony before the 1:05 p.m. game against the Arizona Diamondbacks to retire Biggio’s No. 7 jersey.
However we were playing in the second round of the Idylwild Dog Days of Summer Two-Man Golf Tournament with partner Craig Couvillion and we were leading our flight after Saturday’s first round. But with the magic of video taping we were able to hang on to win our flight and to watch the Biggio ceremony later Sunday evening.
On Sunday Craig Biggio became only the ninth Astro to have his jersey retired, joining Jim Umbricht (32), Don Wilson (40), Jose Cruz (25), Mike Scott (33), Nolan Ryan (34), Larry Dierker (49), Jimmy Wynn (24) and Bagwell (5).
It was pointed out that only two players in major league history—Biggio and Mickey Mantle—have had jersey No. 7 retired.
Master of Ceremonies and longtime baseball announcer Milo Hamilton pointed out that there have been only 19 players who had more than Biggio’s 3,060 base hits in a career and that only Biggio and Tris Speaker have ever hit 50 home runs and stole 50 bases in a single season.
Biggio also holds the major league record for being hit by a pitch 285 times in his career and his 668 career doubles are the most by any right-handed hitter and fifth all-time.
Biggio also is Houston’s all-time leader in seasons played (20), at-bats (10,876), hits (3060), extra-base hits (1,014), doubles (668) and runs (1,844).
It also was pointed out that in 1997 Biggio played in all 162 games without hitting into a single double play. That shows what kind of dividends hustling 100 per cent of the time will produce.
Galante spoke briefly at the ceremony and thanked Biggio for the way he played the game of baseball and for the way he helped young players feel comfortable in the major leagues.
Bagwell commented that he watched Craig become one of the best second basemen to play the game. He also talked to parents who had youngsters, “You would want your child to grow up and be Craig Biggio.”
Biggio’s 15-year-old son Conor came up to the podium and told the crowd that his dad’s work ethic made him a better athlete and student. He also mentioned his dad used only two batting helmets throughout his entire career and gave one to each son. Conor described both helmets in one word, “Nasty.”
Owner Drayton McLane, Jr. pointed out that during the 17 years that he owned the team Biggio had 339 different teammates.
McLane also said that because Biggio is the new head baseball coach for his son’s high school (St. Thomas) he presented Biggio with a brand new all-terrain John Deere Infield Drummer with an infield dirt rake in the back because the coach has to sometimes work on the field and this piece of equipment is the top of the line for doing that kind of work.
“To have your number retired, it’s one of the greatest things that could happen to you,” Biggio told the capacity crowd at Minute Maid Park. “I knew the significance of it, so I was nervous. I haven’t been this nervous in a long time. I played the game I dearly loved to play since I was a kid. They (Astros) gave me a number and now it’s hanging from the rafters.”
After the ceremony the sellout crowd was treated to a game between two of baseball’s best pitchers—Roy Oswalt and future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson—in which Oswalt allowed only one hit in eight innings and was won by Houston 3-0, thanks to a three-run first-inning home run by Ty Wigginton.
KWICKIES…Although this Korner is not the greatest Olympic Games fan in the world we certainly got excited watching swimmer Michael Phelps win a record eight gold medals for the United States and the 14th of his career. At last count the U.S. was leading host China 65-61 in total medals but trailing badly in gold medals to China 35-19.
The Bridge City Cardinals had their scrimmage against Lumberton rained out Saturday and was rescheduled for Monday.
South Lake Charles still remains unbeaten in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. thanks to a 9-0 no-hitter by Trey Quinn Sunday over Jeffersonville, Ind. South Lake Charles will swing back into action Tuesday at a time not yet determined at this writing.
Houston Astros regular third baseman Ty Wigginton has picked up where the injured Carlos Lee left off by not only replacing him in left field, but hitting around .500 in the process. Wigginton cracked a three-run home run off Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Randy Johnson Sunday to give the Astros a 3-0 win. Wigginton’s 15th home run extended his career-long hitting streak to 14 games, during which time he has hit six homers, five doubles a triple and has driven in 16 runs.
JUST BETWEEN US…Orange’s Scott Sterling had one of his best tournaments since joining the PGA Tour last weekend at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. by firing a pair of six-under par 64 rounds and finishing tied for 15th place. Sterling fashioned rounds of 64-71-64-68—267, eight shots behind winner Carl Petterson, who hails from Greensboro. Sterling collected a check for $81,600 for his efforts.