A week or so ago I came to the conclusion that my writing days on baseball were over. I know many people manage full time jobs, and find plenty of time to blog and write to their hearts content. Some even have to raise children as well. In the eight years I've been following the Astros inside out, and the seven odd years I've been writing about them, I've been a man of leisure (somewhat). And now, spending all day ploughing through endless reams of copy, my brain has no space when I get home to even contemplate writing for pleasure. So I had my second baseball sabbatical (I had one towards the end of the 2009 season, resurfacing in 2010).
I didn't check my baseball email, my Twitter, Crawfish Boxes, any Astros website, or this blog. Apart from checking the box score email in the morning I've pretty much blanked it out. We've acquired John Ely and Carlos Pena in recent weeks, have a brand new manager, and are now in the AL West, as well as a new logo.
But now I'm vaguely aware that Hall of Fame season has started, a little niche of the season itself, a month of vitriol, cantankerous old farts peddling antiquated arguments about integrity and playing the game the right way. It's like a parade of buffoonery interspersed with the rankest sort of hypocrisy. Every year we see new arguments popping up, but actually they are the old ones disguised as new ones, or the old ones skewed or distorted.
One that caught my eye was the accusation that Craig Biggio was a compiler. True, he played far past his peak, and in an era of mashers some of his numbers at first glance may not stack up to others around him.
And it's interesting that the same writers who argue that players from the 90s with huge numbers are under the cloud of suspicion for using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) then decry Biggio for not amassing similarly spectacular numbers.
Even if you buy the compiler gibe, as I don't, Biggio was nine home runs shy of 300 HR, 300 steals and 3,000 hits, a feat accomplished by Willy Mays (h/t to Elephande). His 50 steals, 50 doubles and 20 home runs in 1998 is a feat un-matched, and Tris Speaker is the only other player to have 50 steals and 50 doubles in one year (1912).
A cursory glance shows that the most comparable player on B-REF is Robin Yount, and while defensively a grade above Biggio, he put up a career .772 OPS while retiring at 37, compared to Biggio's .792 at 41. Tom Verducci made the same point around a month ago.
The case for Craig Biggio is spell-blindingly simple. He's Craig Biggio. There's simply no career trajectory that really compares to his. He had all round skills, speed, power, patience, and he did it at every position he was asked to play. Even when the prestige of being an all-star has rapidly diminished over the years, he's still the only player to make it as a catcher and a second baseman. He moved to left and even center field to accommodate Jeff Kent, even though he was below average at both.
He and Kent are probably the last wave of second baseman, when it was considered a defensive position. Later you had Alfonso Soriano and Chase Utley demonstrating that this was no longer the case. Before Kent and Biggio you had Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, and a handful of others.
What about integrity? How Biggio played the game? Well this might seem a bit hokey in 2012, but Biggio's sportsmanship is demonstrated through one of my favourite anecdotes. Bottom of the ninth, a run down against Billy Wagner. It's 2005 and the Astros are facing the Phillies in the middle of a dog fight for the NL Wild Card. Wagner hangs a slider and Biggio crushes it for a three-run homer. Biggio hares around the bases and doesn't celebrate a crucial home run, so as not to show up his former teammate.
Bidge got the call to the majors in 1988, to a Houston team that has Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Jim DeShaies in their rotation. The old hands pitch up their chairs clubhouse in a circle in the clubhouse and chat pitching. They probably wouldn't have let the rookie backup catcher into the circle, but every day Biggio would pitch his chair outside the circle, say nothing, but listen intently to what his elders had to say.
Cherry pick the best 12 years of his career, 1993-2004 and his all round numbers are easily good enough to say he was at the top of the game for a decade (usually the default acid-test for some HOF voters). His 1997 annus mirabilis, where he went all 162 games without grounding into a single double play, 47 steals, a .916 OPS, and a handsome .401 wOBA, is one of the best all-round single-seasons by anybody.
He was one of the most durable players of his generation, with just one DL stint, and that was after he was spiked by Preston Wilson trying to turn a doube play, when the latter played for Florida.
What about the cons? Well, Minute Maid Park certainly helped his HR numbers later in his career, but this is more than balanced out by the years he spent in the Astrodome, reaching 20 HRs a season in four separate years there (in those seasons he hit far more HR away from home than he did at the Dome, apart from 1998 where he had 10-a-piece home and away). Defensively sabermetrics are not particularly kind to him, even with all the gold gloves.
As I said earlier, there's just no need to go into that much depth. There's no-one like Biggio before, and there may never be a player like him again. The Hall of Fame will be all the better for having his boyish grin and dirty helmet in it.