By Ross Forman
Craig Biggio made a trade that, well, even he admits he might have given up too much. But getting a Walter Payton game-worn uniform was a must. Payton was one of Biggio’s heroes.
“I got the jersey from a guy in Chicago who worked in the visitor’s locker room at Wrigley Field and also worked for the Chicago Bears. It was his prized collectible, and when he found out that I was a Walter Payton fan, we negotiated,” Biggio said.
The Payton jersey is now one of Biggio’s “prized possessions,” he said.
Another favorite relic in Biggio’s collection is an unsigned Thurman Munson game-used bat. Munson also was one of Biggio’s heroes.
“I wasn’t a Yankees fan, but I was a Thurman Munson fan,” Biggio said. “I really loved the way he played the game; I loved the way he went about his business, the way he was a family man and a baseball player all wrapped in one.”
Biggio also was one heck of a baseball player. Now 50, Biggio played his entire major league career (1988-2007) for the Houston Astros. A seven-time National League All-Star, Biggio is often regarded as the best all-around players in team history. He is the only player ever to be named an All-Star at both catcher and second base. And when he was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, Biggio became the first member of the Hall to be depicted with an Astros cap on his plaque.
Biggio had 3,060 career hits, 668 doubles, 291 home runs, 1,175 RBI, 414 stolen bases and a .281 batting average in his career.
“Look at me … I’m 5-foot-nothing and a guy like (former Astros teammate) Billy Wagner is 5-foot-nothing; he’s smaller than me,” Biggio said. “But if you dream big and think big, don’t ever let anybody take away your dreams and ambitions. If you have a dream to be a professional baseball player, take small steps. First, make your high school baseball team, and go have some fun. If you can go to college, go, and get a degree; and if you can play ball in college, go and have fun.
“Work as hard as you can, always. Just try to become the best player, the best person that you can, and you never know what’s going to happen. Baseball players come in all different sizes.”
For Biggio, it was HOF-size.
Biggio batted .300 four times and scored 100 runs eight times. He holds Astros franchise records for most career games, at-bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, total bases and extra base hits, and ranks second in runs batted in, walks and stolen bases. He also holds the National League record for most times leading off a game with a home run (53), and is one of only five players with 250 home runs and 400 steals.
Biggio was a four-time Gold Glove Award-winner who led NL second basemen in assists six times and putouts five times. He was the ninth player in the 3,000-hit club to collect all his hits with one team.
He was elected in 2015 alongside John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.
Since 2008, Biggio has served as special assistant to the general manager of the Astros.
“The Hall of Fame was an amazing weekend, from every aspect of it,” Biggio said. “Sure, it’s my name, my plaque that goes (up) on the wall, but I dedicated my life to the city of Houston, 30 years to the Astros organization and the Astros’ fans. The Hall of Fame weekend wasn’t just for me and my family, but also for my extended family – the fans. To see 30,000 fans (at the induction), it was overwhelming; I can’t even put it into words.
“The Hall of Fame was one of the most humbling feelings you could have. It was everything I could have dreamt it would be.”
Biggio said his former Astros teammate, Jeff Bagwell, certainly deserves to be inducted into the Hall, too.
“I think Bagwell is really, really close, and he definitely was a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Biggio said. “He played the game the right way and was an amazing player offensively and defensively.
“Hopefully, 2017 is going to be a very good year for Jeff Bagwell and the Astros fan.”
Bagwell spent his entire 15-year career with Houston, finishing with a .297 career batting average, 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI. He was a four-time All-Star, the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1994 NL MVP. Bagwell’s No. 5 and Biggio’s No. 7 have both been retired by the Astros.
On the signing circuit
Biggio’s motto and life approach is simple: “Treat people the way you want to be treated. Live your life the way you’re supposed to live your life. Be respectful, be humble. Work hard and just be the best person you can be,” he said.
Biggio signed autographs at the 30th annual Tristar Productions’ Collectors Show in Houston this past March, and he is one of the exclusive Tristar athletes.
“For a player, the memorabilia industry is a unique way to get out and see the fans,” Biggio said. “Often as a player you are so focused on your job and your business, perfecting your trade, so it’s hard to really get to know the fans.
“Working with Tristar Vice President Bobby Mintz and the rest of the guys at Tristar has been great. I really enjoy coming to Tristar shows, particularly from the standpoint of getting to see the fans, mingling with them, talking with them.”
At the February show, Biggio mingled with other athletes, such as softball sensation Jennie Finch. The two talked before their signing sessions for about 10 minutes, then naturally took selfie photos.
“There’s some pretty cool stuff, being signed at card shows,” Biggio said. “I’m a big fan, a collector, too. I started collecting later as a player, though. I was recently going through some sports memorabilia that we have, and we have some pretty cool stuff.”
Biggio cited game-worn and signed jerseys among the items in this collection.
“It’s a unique business, an interesting business,” Biggio said. “Collecting is something that I just enjoy.”
Biggio sound bites
• On the 2016 Houston Astros: “The thing for us this year is we’ve got a good core of young players and the chemistry on the team is excellent. The only thing that we aren’t going to do this year is sneak up on anybody. The expectations for this season, with the talent level that we have, have risen. We want to get back to the playoffs and hopefully get further in the playoffs. It’s going to be fun to watch. This is a fun group of kids and just good people. I enjoy being around them; I enjoy spending time with them and talking with them.”
• On watching baseball at home: “It’s pretty easy to watch a game. I like to watch the game within the game, though, such as how guys pitch to certain players the first time, the second time, the third time. I also enjoy watching the strategy of a manager, such as does he pull a pitcher too soon, does he let him finish the game or even an inning.”
• On Major League Baseball: “I enjoy watching just knowing how good the players are, how great the game is and just the overall competition.”
• On his sons, Conor and Cavan: “To have two kids play Division I baseball, at the University of Notre Dame, it doesn’t get any better for my wife and I.”
Ross Forman is a frequent contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.