I’m trying to understand how Craig Biggio came up short in the eyes of 89 Hall of Fame voters

I’d really like to hear from the 81 voters who didn’t think Craig Biggio belonged in the Hall of Fame. I’d like to try and understand where he came up short in their eyes. Having watched over a thousand of his 2,850 career games, having seen the impact he had on winning, having seen how conscientious he was in just about everything he did, I figured he was a slam-dunk first-ballot inductee.

I thought I would have it figured out by now why he came up short in being named on 388 of 469 ballots, 39 short of the number needed for induction. But I just went over Biggio’s statistics again and am still baffled. I’m baffled about Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez and others, but Biggio is personal.

I saw every side of him. I saw how well he played on the field and how much community work he did and how he really and truly believed a Major League Baseball player should be a role model.

I was about the luckiest sportswriter on earth for a few years when I’d walk into the home clubhouse at Minute Maid Park and see them lined up on one side of the room: Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, etc.

Jeff Kent and Brad Lidge were there with them for a few seasons. On the other side of the room: Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and for a time, Billy Wagner.

You can cover a lot of hardball and not have that much talent gathered in one room.  They understood winning baseball, too. They prepared meticulously and played their tails off.

But it started with Biggio and Bagwell. Former Astros owner Drayton McLane called them “the heart and soul of the Houston Astros,” and they were exactly that. They were both great players. They were both leaders, too, running the clubhouse with styles that complemented one another. Bagwell was the nice guy, the one everyone loved. Biggio had more of an edge, less popular, more blunt. He played that way, too, with his spikes up and his emotions on display.

They’d sit there in front of a big-screen television after games and discuss the contest they’d just played as well as all the games that were still going on. For a lot of us in the media, it was like a graduate school class in the sport.

They led the Astros to six playoff appearances in nine years, and even though there was some playoff heartbreak, they sent Astros’ fans home happy thousands of nights. For some of us, it was hard to comprehend there’d be a day when they would no longer be there.

I’ve been lucky enough to cover a few Hall of Famers–Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer. When their careers are over, you felt blessed to have been able to watch them play.

That’s how it was with Bagwell and Biggio. By the time they were done, there didn’t seem to be any doubt they were headed for Cooperstown.

It wasn’t just performance with them, although that, obviously, is the best way to measure what they did. It was also more than that. It was their preparation and smarts and their competitive fires.

This Hall of Fame balloting was dominated by performance-enhancing drugs. And that’s why Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn’t get in. And that’s probably why Bagwell came up 88 votes short.

He never failed a drug test or got named in a criminal investigation, but in the terrible guessing game some voters have decided to play, he’s apparently on the wrong side of suspicion. Among offensive plays on this ballot, only Bonds had better numbers.

Still, there’s just no explanation for Biggio falling short. There has never been a whiff of scandal around him.

Was it the .281 career batting average? Did that lone number overshadow everything else on his resume? Biggio was also fifth all-time in doubles, 21st in hits and 33rd in total bases.

He’s 88th all-time in Wins Above Replacement for position players, according to BaseballReference.com. He’s just behind Ernie Banks and just ahead of Willie McCovey, Dave Winfield and Jackie Robinson.

In fact, Biggio does well in most of the advanced metrics. Maybe, though, there’s just a large number of voters who believe a .281 career batting average isn’t Hall of Fame-worthy.

If that’s it, maybe it’s some voters way of not making Biggio “a first-ballot Hall of Famer.” That’s a stupid way of doing things. Either a guy is a Hall of Famer, or he isn’t. At least, it’s a reason.

It’s not a good reason, but it’s a reason. Even a .281 career batting average isn’t a good enough reason when compared to all the other numbers. To those of us who watched Craig Biggio–and Jeff Bagwell–play, this week’s voting was a bitter disappointment.

Those who knew them best–Lance Berkman, Brad Ausmus, Roger Clemens–would tell you they represent the best of their generation, and then some. If it happens next year for one or both of them, we’ll have a big party, and it’ll be as sweet as ever. But it won’t make waiting an extra year any more understandable. Or right.

3 Comments

I couldn’t agree more. The day Bidge got a single for hit # 3000, Barry Bonds also got his record breaking homerun. Bonds stood at the plate and admired his homerun. Biggio got thrown out trying to stretch his single to a double. That told me all I needed to know about both players.

You and your peers make the vote. Alamor took 2 years. So will Bidge.

Sorry Mr. Justice, but doing good work in the community is a red herring to this conversation. It carries no weight in a debate over who is HOF-worthy or not. I just thought Biggio was a very good player for a long period of time, but ultimately he was a compiler. I never felt he was one of the best players in the game at any time, no less one of the all-time elites. He belongs in that theoretical “Hall Of Very Good” in my view.

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