Name me your favorite Craig Biggio moment.
It’s fine. I’ll wait.
Of the four players elected to the 2015 Class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, three of them either have signature moments or accolades to validate their place in Cooperstown. Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher in baseball in an era when offenses were artificially enhanced. While everyone is doing handstands that Clayton Kershaw continually has pitched to a sub-2 ERA, Martinez did that once. In 1999. In the American League. He also helped the Red Sox erase 86 years of championship ineptitude, and struck out the first five batters in the 1999 All-Star Game at his home ballpark in Boston.
Randy Johnson is perhaps the runner-up to Pedro, when you look at the overall resume. A 300 game winner, World Series Co-MVP Award, and a perfect game and no-hitter to his name. His ferocious pitching in the final month of 1995 saved baseball in Seattle, and six years later, his October heroics helped to give Arizona a World Series Championship.
John Smoltz was 13-4 in post-season starts, a Cy Young Award winner in 1996, and helped win the Braves win the 1995 World Championships. He would have had more wins and more championships if not for being on the opposite end of one of the best pitching performances in World Series history (Jack Morris, Game 7 1991), or if Paul O’Neill had started out two more feet to his left on Luis Polonia’s game-ending fly out in the 1996 World Series.
So, again, what’s your favorite Craig Biggio moment?
The only answer worth considering is his 3000th hit. You remember, the one where he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
Biggio, is one of the most consistent players throughout the 1990’s, and it is widely assumed that he had no part in PED use. During his tenure, the Astros were a mainstay in the playoffs, eventually reaching the World Series in 2005, when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox. But Biggio was hardly one of the best players of his generation.
Don’t believe me? Ask the baseball writers. Only three times during his 20 year career did he finish in the top five of the MVP voting. The total number of first place votes? Nil. Only two other players elected to the Hall of Fame since 2005 – pitchers included – have never received an MVP vote. Tom Glavine (a teammate of Smoltz who won two Cy Young Awards and over 300 games), and Wade Boggs, whose career batting average is 47 points higher than Biggio’s.
Of course, the typical response is that the MVP Award is usually (not always) given to a player who hits home runs and drives in runs, which Biggio is not known for. So let’s compare Biggio to other Hall of Famers who he is similar to. Using Baseball-Reference’s similar players listing, Biggio is most similar to two Hall of Famers – Robin Yount and Joe Morgan – and one player soon-to-be enshrined, Derek Jeter.
From a purely statistic viewpoint, Biggio looks to match well with these players. But on a closer look, the numbers don’t favor him. In just four seasons did Biggio bat .300 or better. Only two years did he finish among the top ten hitters in the league. Compare that to the six times that Yount did both. Morgan, a back-to-back MVP Winner in 1975-76, hit .300 only twice, but both times he did placed him in the top five of the National League. Jeter hit at least .300 in 12 seasons, and finished in the top ten on 10 occasions.
But what about getting on base? Biggio was hit by pitches 285 times in his 20 year career, and ranks second on that notorious list. That should help lift his on-base percentage to a level high above his competition, right? Not quite. Between Morgan, Jeter, Yount, and Biggio, the 2015 elect is third-best in career OBP. Biggio’s lifetime OBP is .363, or 13 points lower than the average Hall of Fame hitter. Even adjusting for his position, Biggio compares poorly. When he is inducted, there will be 20 second basemen in the Hall, with the average OBP for that position at .373.
Defensively, Biggio holds his own, winning four Gold Gloves and finishing top five in the league in range factor for second basemen on seven occasions. Morgan won five Gold Gloves and placed in the top five in range factor seven times. While Yount won only one Gold Glove in his career (1982, at shortstop), he had nine seasons where he was top five in range factor as a shortstop, and then went to center field, where he placed in the top five, four times. Jeter, as has been widely publicized, was not as solid defensively as his five Gold Gloves suggest. He finished in the top five in fielding percentage eight times, but the only time he was among league leaders in range factor was in 2005.
Let’s go back to memorable moments. If players like Pedro, Johnson, Smoltz, and many others can have their Hall of Fame resume beefed up with their post-season stats, why can’t Biggio’s be trimmed for his lack of playoff success? Biggio’s slash line for his 40 playoff games is .235/.295/.323. In five playoff series, Biggio average was beneath the Mendoza line. Morgan’s numbers are, somehow, worse than Biggio’s. But the Big Red Machine won. Yount, in limited playoff experience, had a slash line of .344/.419/.469 in 17 playoff games, including hitting .414 with 6 RBIs and a home run in the 1982 World Series. Jeter, with nearly a regular season’s amount of games in the playoffs, had a slash line of .308/.374/.465, and a World Series MVP in 2000. The players in and around Biggio’s similarity either won championships, played well when it mattered, or both. Biggio did neither.
This is nothing against Biggio’s career, which is an exceptional career. He did it cleanly, in a time when many players were using performance-enhancing drugs. However, the Hall of Fame is reserved for the best of the best. It should be for the icons of the game. While every member of the 3000 Hit Club, with the obvious exception of Pete Rose, is a member of the Hall of Fame, this distinction should not make election automatic. Biggio never led his league in hits, was top ten on six occasions and in the top five, thrice. Morgan never hit any of those plateaus. Yount, led the A.L. in hits in 1982, finished in the top ten in seven seasons, and place in the top five, four times. Jeter led the American League in hits twice, placed in the top ten a dozen times, and finished top five on nine occasions.
The Kings Park, Long Island native was good. In the opening words of Indiana Jones, “He was very good.” Being very good is not good enough for the Hall of Fame.