06/16/2005 11:36 AM ET
A few more bruises for Biggio
Second baseman close to setting hit-by-pitch record
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
When the Astros go on the road, a steady stream of reporters have been lining up at Craig Biggio's locker. All are eager to ask the second baseman about a record he could break this year with a little ... well, luck probably wouldn't be the right word.
Craig Biggio is only five hit-by-pitches away from breaking Don Baylor's record. (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)
Biggio has been hit by pitches 263 times in his career, and with five more, and he'll pass Don Baylor, baseball's all-time leader in plunkings.
While approaching a hit-by-pitch record isn't in the same vein as, say, Pete Rose's hits record, it is, if nothing else, interesting. Reporters are writing about it. Fans are talking about it. There's even a website that chronicles every game in which Biggio gets hit.
All of this is in fun, and Biggio's been good-natured about the attention this is getting. But he also points out the serious side of getting hit by a pitch -- it hurts.
"Anybody that's been hit that many times, it's everybody's record," he said. "It's the purple heart of baseball. You get hit that many times, that's paying your price right there."
But it also gets him on base, and having spent most of his career as a leadoff man, that's part of his job. He's paid to get on base and score runs, and 263 times pitchers have helped him in that respect.
"They're all justifyable as long as you score," he said. "If you don't score, they hurt more. You feel a heck of a lot better when you touch home, compared to the times that you don't."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 92 of those beanings transferred into runs. That's a 35-percent success rate.
To guard against serious injury, Biggio wears protective gear, but even that has evolved over the years. Sometime around 1993, Danny Darwin hit him squarely on the elbow, and it swelled up like a balloon. That's when Biggio first considered using some sort of protective device.
"Then I said, 'Aw, to heck with it,'" Biggio recalled. "What are the odds of me getting hit again?"
Shortly thereafter, he was hit in the exact same spot. That was the last time his elbow was exposed during an at-bat.
The pad he started with was large, covering not only his elbow, but several inches up and down his arm. He was criticized heavily over the years by opposing players and managers, who argued that he had no reason to get out of the way if he wasn't going to be hurt when the ball hit him.
|All-time hit-by-pitch leaders|
|Since 1900, through 06/15/2005|
|1.||Don Baylor|| ||267|
|2.||Craig Biggio*|| ||263|
|3.||Ron Hunt|| ||243|
|4.||Frank Robinson|| ||198|
|5.||Minnie Minoso|| ||192|
|6.||Jason Kendall*|| ||182|
|7.||Andres Galarraga|| ||178|
|8.||Fernando Vina*|| ||157|
|9.||Brady Anderson|| ||154|
|10.||Chet Lemon|| ||151|
Nowadays, arm pads are regulated by Major League Baseball, and the guard he wears now only protects the elbow area.
"The first one I had was big, I'm not going to lie," Biggio said. "You could hit me anywhere and it wasn't going to hurt. The one now, you get hit, and it hurts."
That does not mean Biggio changed his approach. He still stands close to the plate, and he understands pitchers are going to throw inside. He'll take his lumps, and his bumps and bruises, but he'll also take his base, which is all he cares about.
Not all players can psychologically handle being hit, and they may become gun shy after a particularly close call. Biggio doesn't fall into that category. He credits his past lives -- first as a high school football player and then as a Major League catcher -- for giving him the mental toughness to handle being plunked.
"There are some guys, if you throw up and in on them, knock them down, they're yours the rest of the game," he said. "But I've never been intimidated by getting hit or gun shy about getting in the box the next time up.
"Pain is part of the deal, part of the game, part of the sport. You deal with it and move on."
Of the 263 plunkings, Biggio estimates only about four hit him above the neck. The scariest one was the Jeremi Gonzalez pitch that hit, in Biggio's estimation, three-quarters of his face and one-quarter on the ear flap of his helmet.
But that beaning happened during the game that clinched the division title for the Astros in 1997, so leaving the game was out of the question.
"It would be like me walking up to your cheekbone and taking a hammer and just smacking you in the face," Biggio said. "You're laying on the ground, you make an assessment of yourself real quick and you just take your time. Make sure everything's working, make sure you can see. You know you're gong to have a big knot on your face."
Biggio separates the plunkings into two categories: there are those that hurt, and those that barely graze his jersey. He told his kids that there's an easy way to tell which one is which.
"If you see me walk to first base, it hurts like heck," he said. "If I just jog to first, it's not a big deal. If I'm walking, I need a little time before I get there to gather myself."
When and if Biggio breaks Baylor's record, the Hall of Fame has a request for his arm pad. Biggio, who has several items already on display in Cooperstown, will be happy to oblige.
"Anything the Hall of Fame wants, they can have," he said. "It's an honor to give it to them."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.