Behind the Music: Craig Biggio

Anyone who used to watch lots of VH-1 remembers Behind the Music . That little documentary thing that would document the life of a band or a musician. And it was a great little format. The first half would document the rise of the band. The second half would document the fall and the reunion. For instance, The Go-Go’s would just be getting to the top of the world when Belinda Carlisle would discover drugs and the rest of the band would learn that Jane Wiedlin was making all of the money because she was the one writing the songs.

What’s this got to do with sports?

Simple, this is Behind the Music: Craig Biggio.

Well, to be truthful, it’s more like a small slice out of the life of Craig Biggio.

Last week, Biggio got his 3,000th hit and the town was smothered with stories about what a team guy Biggio is, and has been. About how he’s played his whole career with the Astros and how he never took the opportunity to leave the team because he loved Houston so much.

I remember thinking: but wait, didn’t he almost sign with the Colorado Rockies after the 1996 season? But I thought I was the only who remembered because no one else seemed to bring it up. The ESPN guys didn’t even mention it.

Then my friend David sent me a link to a little column from Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News. Now, Ringolsby’s not a hack like Jesus Ortiz. He’s a respected name in the baseball journalism biz. And what Ringolsby writes has a ring of truth to it. Which is probably why I never read this in the Chron.

Now, some of you out there might remember that, after the 1996 season, Craig Biggio was a free agent. You might also recall that for the past several seasons the Astros had threatened to reach the playoffs, but had collapsed at the end of the season. Terry Collins had just been fired as manager, and Drayton McLane had made the team a national laughingstock by hiring broadcaster Larry Dierker to be the new manager.

So, as the myth goes, Craig Biggio fields a call from the Colorado Rockies. And the Rockies make him a big offer, and Biggio considers the offer, but he finally decides to remain with the Astros and with his best friend, Jeff Bagwell, even though the rumor was the Rockies had made a much better offer.

Well, so much for myth.

Ringolsby writes:

“Biggio’s other option was to come to Colorado, an area he and his wife enjoy…

The problem for Biggio was while he knew the Rockies ownership was interested, then-General Manager Bob Gebhard wasn’t.

Finally, with the Astros offering Biggio $22 million for four years to stay, the Rockies put a four-year, $20 million deal on the table that included an option.

Biggio called Gebhard and said if the Rockies would guarantee the option, he’d sign, but he needed a tangible reason to give for leaving Houston. Gebhard refused.” (Emphasis mine).

That’s right. Mr. Houston, Mr. Team Guy, was begging the Rockies to take him. And the Rockies didn’t want him. The Rockies didn’t offer him more money. He didn’t turn down a better deal to stay with Houston. Houston offered him the better deal. But he was willing to turn down that better deal to go to Colorado. He just needed a “tangible reason.” He wanted out, but he couldn’t escape. He was stuck with Houston.

But wait, I’m not done. Here’s some more on what a great team guy Craig Biggio is.

Following the 1997 season, the first Astros playoff season of the Biggio/Bagwell era, Astros ace Darryl Kile was a free agent. And teams were coming for him hard. Now, as I remember the story, Kile was a greedy bastard for choosing to sign with the Rockies. But Ringolsby writes something else: Biggio liked Denver so much that he played a key “role in…Kile signing with the Rockies.”

You read that right. Mr. Houston Astro convinced Darryl Kile to sign with the Rockies instead of returning to Houston.

Think about that for a moment. The Astros were coming off a playoff season. Former pitcher Larry Dierker had worked with the erratic Kile and had turned him into an ace. Mike Hampton was turning into a steady, dependable pitcher, and Shane Reynolds was a solid number three starter. The only person dreaming of Jose Lima as a member of the rotation was Lima. Instead, the 1998 season comes along and Shane Reynolds is forced into the staff ace role, Hampton’s still the number two starter, and Jose Lima is the number three guy. The Astros are in a tight race for the playoffs, and the one main weakness is the starting pitching, so the Astros make a trade deadline move for Randy Johnson. A deal which would cost the Astros shortstop prospect Carlos Guillen (now an All-Star shortstop for the Detroit Tigers) and pitching prospect Freddy Garcia (who’s had some good years for the Mariners and White Sox and now pitches for the Phillies).

If Biggio doesn’t convince his good friend and teammate Kile to sign with the Rockies, the Astros never have to make the deal for Johnson and the Astros Adam Everett problem never comes into being because Guillen’s there to handle the position. And the Astros never have to worry about the Rocket leaving the team high and dry because Kile, Oswalt, and Garcia are anchoring the rotation.

(Yeah, I know I’m playing with lots of ifs here. Like Kile not dying. Like Garcia able to be an ace for the Astros. Like Guillen playing at an All-Star level in Houston, but just go with me here.)

It can be argued that things have turned out well for the Astros and for Biggio. There is that trip to the World Series after all. But the main point of Behind the Music: Craig Biggio is just to point out that while Biggio has earned some of the accolades being thrown his way, he only earned the Mr. Astros designation because the team with which he wanted so desperately to sign didn’t want him. And while we hear about what a great team player he is, it should be pointed out that Biggio so loved Denver that he helped to convince the team’s best pitcher to leave the Astros and to sign with the Rockies.

As Ringolsby writes: “If things had worked out as Biggio planned…he would have attained the milestone as a Rockie…”

Biggio longed to leave to Houston. He begged the Rockies to sign him to a deal. He was stuck here, but even then, he kept working for the Rockies.

Celebrate Craig Biggio. Celebrate his career. Celebrate the 3,000 hits. But just remember that all’s not always as it seems. – John Royal


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