Biggio a Hall of Famer to his peers
Ex-mates, veterans heap praise on Astros second baseman
HOUSTON -- Dodgers outfielder Luis Gonzalez was among those in attendance at the press conference at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday afternoon when Craig Biggio announced his retirement.
"I was a rookie when he was in his second year," Gonzalez said of Biggio, his former teammate on the Astros ballclub during 1990-94, '95 and '97. "You look up to players when you arrive, and I watched the way he approached the game and learned from him. I learned by the way the guy led by example. He's someone I always looked up to.
"He changed positions and never complained. He just did his job. It's nice that he announced it early like this so he can do the tour for fans to show their appreciation for a blue-collar ballplayer. He didn't hit a lot of home runs. But he played hard every day."
Across Major League Baseball on Tuesday, veteran players, managers and coaches, who played with or against Biggio over the years, were unanimous in their praise and respect for Biggio and his contributions to the game.
Texas Rangers coach Art Howe was Houston's manager from 1989-93. Biggio, who was called up in June 1988, spent his first full season in the big leagues with Howe as his skipper.
"He's meant a great deal to this game, his work ethic and energy for the game, running out every ball. He played the game the way it's supposed to be played," Howe said. "He always gave total effort. It's very rare nowadays to see a guy start and finish his career with the same team. That speaks volumes about the kind of guy he was."
It was Howe who convinced Biggio to switch from catcher to second base back in '91.
"It took me awhile to convince him to do it," Howe recalled. "He was an All-Star as a catcher, and it's tough to tell an All-Star to switch positions. There were numerous reasons, but one was his size. There were guys like Dave Parker who took pride in knocking catchers into the nickel seats.
"I couldn't keep a guy that size behind the plate and let him take those kind of hits. But he was a great athlete and you knew he could really run. If you got him out behind the plate, he could steal 40 bases and that's what he did. He really blossomed offensively once he got out from behind the plate."
Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo held a similar role with the Astros on Howe's staff during the late 80s and early 90s.
"I was really honored to be there when he was starting out and you could see his passion for the game. He always worked hard and made adjustments and always had that fire," Jaramillo said. "That's why he's a candidate for the Hall of Fame. After I left, I watched his progress. And then when we started Interleague Play, I got to watch him a little bit first-hand, and he's certainly put up the numbers. He's an outstanding young man and an outstanding family man who loves the game."
One of Biggio's teammates back in 1988 and a man who left an indelible mark on his career was third baseman Buddy Bell, today the manager of the Kansas City Royals.
"After you [played] for as long as he has, it is always going to be tough [to retire]," Bell said. "You do it every day. The thing that was toughest for me -- and he was a much better player than I was -- but we played a similar number of years, the people that you are around every day, even [the media], you miss that. It's just that part and part of the things that you do every day. It's just sad that it is not going to be there the next day. You don't know what to do with yourself. I feel for him, because I know how much he cares about baseball and cares about the life. When you have done it for so long and for every day."
Bell said that he thinks Biggio is a Hall of Famer "without any question."
"I think you can put him in -- this might be a stretch -- a Tony Gwynn-type," Bell said. "I don't know how many batting titles Tony has had, but it is quite a few, so it is a little bit different. But what Biggio has done has been pretty special, so I would have to say that he is a Hall of Famer, kind of like a Paul Molitor-type guy. I think he should be a Hall of Famer."
Mets closer Billy Wagner originally signed with the Astros and was Biggio's teammate for nine years.
|"He's a guy you enjoy competing against; you never like to see those guys leave. He's had a great career, though. He's unique."|
|-- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on playing against Craig Biggio|
"It's tough to see him retire, because he's such a mainstay in baseball," Wagner said. "He's the ultimate competitor. I came up under him. He was the guy that rode me and stayed on my case. I learned a lot from him and to watch him compete and to see how the game is played the right way. He will be missed."
Wagner learned many things from Biggio, such as: "You better bring your 'A' game. You better bring your game every day, whether it's your 'A' game or not. You better be ready to play and just focus. That was the one thing I learned. When I played with those guys, I always felt like I had to try to impress them, so I always wanted to be ready to do a great job. They meant a lot to me and really did a lot to make me feel comfortable."
Wagner also remembers Biggio's work ethic.
"He went about his job and he'd stick to that himself," Wagner said. "He always ran balls out, he always went that extra mile to do his best and that's sort of how you got that feeling, playing with him. You don't want to go out there and just kind of go through the motions. You always want to do a little extra."
Mets left fielder Moises Alou was Biggio's teammate from 1998-2001. The two were part of a pair of Astros teams that reached the playoffs in 1998, '99 and '01, though Alou was injured and missed the entire '99 season.
"I kind of expected [Biggio's retirement]," Alou said. "I knew he wanted to get to 3,000 [hits]. I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity to play four years with him. I got to see his game every day, and he gave all he had. He loved the game. He was early at the stadium every day. He was one of the first guys in and the last guys out. He played hard every day, no matter what the score was. I was so happy to see him get his 3,000th hit. For a guy that worked so hard, I was so happy to see that.
"The way he played and respected the game, it was just amazing. He's an amazing player and an amazing guy. He just wanted to play. He always wanted to do what was best for his team and you dream of having someone like him to play with."
Marlins veteran infielder Aaron Boone characterized Biggio as a "great player."
"I played a lot of years against him when he was in his prime in Houston," Boone said. "He's just a great player. He did everything well, played good defense. Ran. Stole. Hit for extra-base hits a lot. I think even though he's got 3,000 hits, you can almost say he is a little underrated. I think it's neat that he's been able to [spend] his whole career in Houston. Those players are few and far between."
Texas shortstop Michael Young called Biggio "a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
"I loved playing against him for seven years," Young said. "I've always had a great deal of respect for him and the way he played the game. I've had the chance to talk to him a little bit about hitting, and he's given me some advice. Last time we played, we talked a little bit and he just said keep doing what I'm doing, play the game hard.
"You look at a guy like that, he took care of himself and played the game hard and still had a great career into his 40s. That just shows that if you take care of your body and have the right frame of mind, you can still be productive for a long time."
Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, a former teammate of Biggio's and a longtime Houston-area resident, said that he was a little surprised to hear the news.
"I'm a little surprised, but then you're not surprised," Pettitte said. "It's been a long career and he's had a great career. It's definitely a good time for him. I'm glad he was able to get his 3,000 hits. He's been a great player, and I was thankful I got to play with him. I didn't really get a chance to see him when he was putting up his monster years, but to see the way he goes about his business and to see the way he prepares, it was great getting to play with him.
"He's the ultimate gamer. He's this guy that you definitely want on your side. He's a good man, a good person; he's got a great wife and kids. Really, when you think of the Astros, you think of him and [Jeff] Bagwell. I know when he got his 3,000th hit, to bring Baggy out on the field and let him be a part of it, that tells you what kind of a guy [Biggio] is right there. He's a Houston Astro, definitely."
St. Louis reliever Russ Springer, another former teammate, figured Biggio would retire at season's end.
"He's had an outstanding career," Springer said. "At times, he's been probably the best second baseman, especially offensively. It's going to end for all of us sooner or later, so to have a career you can look back on like he's had, you can't be anything but satisfied and happy with it."
Springer noted that Biggio is in his 20th year with Houston and has spent his entire career with one organization.
"In today's game, it's huge. Very few people play their whole career with one team, and surely not as long a career as he's had," Springer said. "That's something really special. That's the way we all drew it up when we decided to play this game. You'd like to play your whole career with one team and be the guy. But it doesn't always work out. It actually hardly ever works out. It's great. He's been good for the city and good for the organization. I can't see him not hanging around and still being involved."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa praised Biggio's contributions to the game.
"He's a guy you enjoy competing against; you never like to see those guys leave," La Russa said. "He's had a great career, though. He's unique. We had the pleasure to be in the [National League Central] Division, so he went against us so many times. He's the model. To be that competitive and that team-oriented, responsible off the field, he's really the model."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.