Leading off the festivities at the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies, Craig Biggio was exactly what he was leading off for the Houston Astros for the two decades he played — dignified, respectful, perfect for the spot he was in.
Of the four inductees on Sunday, Biggio's candidacy was the one that carried the most debate. John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez — Biggio's three 2015 classmates — they were all entering the Hall in their first year on the ballot, There was little to no debate on any of the three of them. For Biggio, the journey was a little longer and slightly more polarizing.
Biggio nearly went into the Hall in 2014, but missed by a mere two votes. That was painful. The anti-Biggio platform was largely built on two bullet points:
1. His 3,060 career hits were the product of Biggio "hanging around" for a few seasons that were not quite Hall of Fame caliber. (Counterargument: As if every Hall of Famer finished their careers as an All-Star .. since when is continuing to do something you love a negative .. also, he batted leadoff on a team that went to the World Series and hit 26 home runs at the age of 38.)
2. The ridiculously arbitrary "I dunno, when I hear the words 'Hall of Fame,' I just don't think of Craig Biggio." (Counterargument: Thank God we don't decide everything this way.)
Eventually, and again appropriately, Biggio fought off a third strike and was able to get into baseball's showcase of the immortals this year. In some ways, perhaps it was more appropriate he go in with this class — Johnson, a former teammate for three months in 1998; Smoltz, a former playoff foe five times over; and Martinez, a scrapper whose physical stature, like Biggio, belied his impact.
Perhaps the most ironic part is that Biggio's speech was about as perfect a Hall of Fame speech as you could script. Not because Biggio wasn't eloquent or engaging, but because he largely spoke for 20 years in cliches and uninteresting soundbites. His speech was anything but formulaic, veering close to tear jerking at least a few times when he brought up his parents (both deceased), his work with the Sunshine Kids, his love for Matt Galante (Astros coach who molded him from a catcher into a Gold Glove second baseman), and his family.
Among the Astro-related highlights of the speech:
* Biggio showed love to the two owners that he played for, John McMullen and Drayton McLane, McMullen for the mentor that he was early in Biggio's career and McLane for keeping Biggio a Houston Astro his entire career, most notably in the mid-90's, when Biggio nearly accepted a huge contract offer from the Colorado Rockies:
“John McMullen was more than an owner. He was like a father figure to me. We did a lot of things together, off the field. Dr. McMullen kept baseball in Houston when the franchise was struggling. How many owners come watch a prospect work out in a gym in the middle of the winter? Dr. McMullen and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra did that.”
“And Drayton McClane, we spent 17 years together, we built the new stadium. We built a successful organization, but most importantly I was able to stay with one organization for 20 years."
"I was loyal to Drayton and he was loyal in return. Drayton, you were my boss and my owner, but most importantly, you were my friend.”
* Biggio thanked former Astros coach Matt Galante, who is largely credited with the smooth transition Biggio made from All-Star catcher to All-Star second baseman. I'm fairly certain that if Biggio were a Yankee, this story would have already been made into a "30 for 30":
"I’m not here without that man. Give him a round of applause please. Matty you’re an incredible coach and teacher of the game. In the National League you got to play offense and defense or you don’t play at all. I had just made the All-Star Game as a catcher and the following year the Astros asked me to go play second base, a position that I never played before in my life.
We had six weeks to learn it in spring training, no pressure, huh Matt? Typical day with Matty is that we started at 7 a.m. and we go to a half field when the sun was coming up and we’d work for an hour and a half until 8:45 or so, at 8:45, and then we’d go practice with the team from 9 ‘til around noon. Then we’d go grab a sandwich, we’d go back to the half field again get some more work done. Then we’d go back, play the game, and then when the game was over we went back to the half field again. We did that every day in spring training for six weeks. I thank God for Matt Galante and I’m so grateful. When I won my first Gold Glove I gave it to him. Matt, thank you for everything. For being a great coach, a great teacher but a better person and a better friend."
Biggio singled out the teammates with whom he's probably most inextricably linked by longtime Astros fans. Sadly, two of them are deceased:
Ken Caminiti. Was a great teammate and better friend and I miss him a lot. Nancy, Kendall, Lindsey and Nicole, your father has given us an amazing relationship.
Darryl Kile. Had the best curveball I’d ever seen. Brad Ausmus, a true friend. Moises Alou, one of the greatest hitters I’ve ever played with.
Jeff Bagwell, another East Coast kid who just loved to play the game. We played 15 years together and changed the culture in Houston by making it a baseball town. We both got to live our dreams together by playing in the big leagues side by side. Thanks for being here today, it really means a lot.
The Hall of Fame speech may not have been the right platform to do so, but some fans were a little surprised that Biggio made no mention of Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy in his speech. It's not Biggio's duty to do so, but undoubtedly the throngs of Astros fans who made the trip to Cooperstown all hope to do so again sometime in the future to celebrate Bagwell's induction the Hall. Admittedly, Bagwell's campaign is more complicated than Biggio's, what with the voters all becoming forensic scientists in body types and performance enhancing drug suspicions.
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Here is the entire Biggio speech for your enjoyment….
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