By Bob Elliott
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. _ Craig Biggio, in the words of a man who knew him well, was “one of the worst ...”
What a thing to say on induction day ... the day Biggio, the former Houston Astros catcher, second baseman, outfielder, speedster and line drive hitter, was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“He was one of the worst ... worst post-game interviews when he came up as a rookie in 1989,” said Larry Dierker, the former Astros broadcaster. The silver-tongued Dierker helped Biggio get better at interviews.
So, you’re going to be responsible for making his speech a success?
“No, but I might have had something to do with his hit total, he always wanted to hit second, bunt guys over, hit behind the runner,” said Dierker, “that ended when I took over. I told him. He was too good, he was hitting lead off.”
Dierker made like Randy Johnson’s Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly and Buck Martinez of the Blue Jays moving from booth to dugout managing the Astros from 1997 to 2001. Biggio had 210 hits in 1998 and 870 of his 3,060 hits those four years.
The Colorado Rockies made a push for Biggio in 1997, but owner Drayton McLane was insistent Biggio stay in Houston.
“I travel for work a lot and called Craig from Spain, Portugal and Warsaw, Poland, those Rockies were offering a bunch of money, finally Craig said ‘I’ve never had anyone hustle me like this,’” McLane said before the speeches. “I told Craig if he stayed with us he had a chance to go to the Hall of Fame having played his whole career with one team ... something not too many players do anymore.”
Twice more during Biggio’s 20-year career he became a free agent.
McLane said he successfully used the same sales pitch on him both times.
Biggio, the blue collar player took the microphone wearing a blue-collared shirt, thanked former Astros owner John McMullen and McLane. McLane and Biggio spent 17 years together (“I was loyal to Drayton, he was loyal to me,”) and told McLane “we built a new stadium together.”
Growing up in Kings Park, N.Y. on Long Island, he was the son of an air traffic controller, who also coached him.
“My father would put a rope around my waist and tie it to the backstop to keep me from lunging, it was a good drill, except it left marks around my waist,” said Biggio, who teared up talking about his late mother and father, saying “I wish they were here.”
He had the second largest contingent of fans, a sea of orange-clad Astros fans. Signs in the crowd read: Continental flight attendants love Biggio, Kings Park loves Biggio and giant BGO capital letters.
Heading to Seton Hall he played for coach Mike Sheppard, who taugh him to “never lose your hustle” and was signed by Astros scout Clary Anderson.
Biggio called Yogi Berra “the smartest baseball man I was ever around,” and thanked Matt Galante, the coach who converted him to an infielder at manager Art Howe’s suggestion in 1992, saying “I’m not here without that man.” Galante, who Biggio gave his first gold glove to, broke down when asked to stand.
The man with 50 lead-off homers and 668 career doubles -- most by a right-handed hitter -- said veterans Nolan Ryan, Billy Doran, Terry Puhl and Buddy Bell taught him how to respect the game. He mentioned former teammates Ken Caminiti, Darryl Kile, Brad Ausmus, Moises Alou and Jeff Bagwell.
Biggio first job was a paper boy delivering Newsday explaining “people didn’t get their evening paper until 7 PM ... after practice.”
On his paper route was a family with a child suffering from leukemia.
That led Biggio to his involvement with the Sunshine Kids, which provides activities and trips for young cancer patients.
Biggio wore the No. 7 as an Astro and becomes only the second single-digit Hall of Famer joining No. 7 Mickey Mantle.