One of baseball’s records was broken today, when Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros was hit by a pitch for the 268th time in his career, breaking the modern day record held by Don Baylor.
OK. So it isn’t the most glamorous of records. In fact, it is the most painful. But it is a tribute to a player’s durability and longevity to set a record like this. Now, there are those that criticize Biggio, saying he wears "body armor" and crowds the plate, thus tainting the accomplishment. Instead, what it should do is focus some attention on one of the most underrated and overlooked players of the last twenty years. One headed for the Hall of Fame.
Take a look at baseball’s record book. Not at the Hit By Pitch record, though. Look at Doubles. And Runs Scored. You will find Biggio’s name in the upper echelon of both of those lists. He entered play today ranked 13th all-time in two-baggers with 587 and by season’s end, should pass Cal Ripken (603) and Paul Molitor and Paul Waner (605 each) to move into the rarified air of the Top 10. He has touched home plate 1650 times, tied with Joe Morgan for 28th all-time and just weeks shy of passing players such as Mickey Mantle and Dave Winfield on his way to the Top 25. And if he plays again next season, not only will he move up in both of those categories, but one of baseball’s most hallowed hitting milestones comes into view – 3,000 hits (he stands at 2,718 right now). And in a testament to the complete player he is, he homered and stole a base in the game this afternoon while breaking the record.
So with little fanfare (outside of Houston, at least), Biggio has built offensive numbers that will end up as some of the most prolific in the game’s annals. But that is only a small piece of what has made his career so noteworthy. You see, he has done this all while following one of the unique position paths in the game’s history.
He played his first four seasons as a catcher, making the All-Star team while doing so. But instead of being converted into a first baseman or outfielder, he instead made a rather unconventional move, converting to second base and spending eleven seasons as a middle infielder and making multiple All- Star teams there as well, not to mention winning four Gold Gloves. And then, when the Astros signed Jeff Kent to bolster their offense, he did the team thing and moved to centerfield – again, a difficult transition. And when they traded for Carlos Beltran for the playoff push last season, he shifted to left. This year, he has gone back to second and is enjoying one of the most productive seasons of his career.
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. He has also spent his entire career in the Astros organization, which, in this day and age, might be the most amazing of all of his accomplishments. And, in a true sign of the times, there is even a blog dedicated to him and his "pursuit" of this record, Plunk Biggio.
Now, I will admit, I’m a bit biased. Craig and I both graduated from Kings Park High School on Long Island, albeit three years apart. We went to the same elementary school and spent our youth playing in the same little league. I have been singing his praises to all who would listen for as long as I can remember. He is on my rotisserie team every year.
It is about time a little attention is cast his way. Setting this record is finally drawing eyes on what has truly been a remarkable career.
Congrats, Craig. It might have been a painful way to do it, but people outside of Houston finally realize just how much credit you deserve – and it ain’t over yet. Thanks for making a fellow Kingsman proud.
So, even though it is a bit early for this, I’ll say it anyway. Enjoy Cooperstown.