Monday, February 25, 2008

In Praise of Craig Biggio, Sort of...

I've spent the last 15 years or so of my life as a Houston Astros fan, albeit from a distance for the last ten. One person has been a consistent performer during that time for the team from southeast Texas, Craig Biggio. Until his retirement last year, Biggio exemplified everything that was right about the game, the hustle, the drive of the overachiever.

Today in Slate, Bill James, the Sabrematician made famous in Hardball, also expresses fondness for Biggio, at least until recently.

You have to understand, when I wrote in 1998 that Craig Biggio was one of the five greatest second basemen of all time, people thought I was nuts. Very few people at that time saw him as a special player. I liked that, too—I liked people thinking I was out on a limb about something when I knew I was right. I loved doing a point-by-point summary comparing Craig Biggio to Ken Griffey Jr., and showing Biggio was actually as valuable, in his best seasons, as Griffey. Griffey at that time was generally regarded as the best player in baseball. In 1997 Griffey outhomered Biggio 56-22, in 1998 56-20. But Biggio had a higher batting average, more doubles and triples, more stolen bases with a better stolen base percentage, was hit by pitches an additional 20 times a year and grounded into fewer double plays. He had as many walks and fewer strikeouts. It was pretty obvious that, if you added together all of Biggio's advantages, Biggio was, at a minimum, on the same level.

But Bill then discovered the anguish of having someone you love when they're obscure become famous.

But in the last years of his career, my affection for Biggio started to fade, I'm afraid. As he moved closer to 3,000 career hits there came a general recognition of his status as a star player, which severed the bond that I felt to him when he was deserving of recognition that he wasn't getting.
Eventually James grows tired of the fact that Biggio seemed to be hanging around for his 3,000th hit.

And then the story went on a little too long. You ever go to a movie, it' s pretty good for about an hour and a half but then the story is over but it's like the director can't find the ending so it goes on for another half-hour looking for some way to tie things together? That's kind of Biggio's career; it was over, and then it went on for quite awhile.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spring Training Excitement is here

Spring Training Baseball, Can't you just smell it?

From your hotel window you can feel the excitement building. Spring training is a time when veterans stretch while rookies hustle. Equipment managers sort out the bats, the ball, the baseball gloves, the protective helmets, all of the gear you'll need to make that major league dream come true.

If you're like me, you've spent the winter listening to baseball talk on satellite radio and preparing your fantasy teams for the big draft. You bought your son a new glove to put under the Christmas tree and the two of you have been playing catch ever since.

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported for duty, perhaps you've been thinking about taking a vacation to Florida or Arizona to watch your favorite teams in action. You'll need to check the road atlas or perhaps the airport schedules, then rent a car, get a hotel, get tickets, and the thrill of baseball will be yours again.

Who are the players that will make a big splash this year? You’ll know before your buddies do. A trip to Spring Training will give you the insight that the other members of your fantasy league might never experience. Stay late into the seventh inning of a B squad game and you’ll know that the pitcher from AA just might have a shot at the starting rotation. Dazzle your friends with your inside knowledge of fastballs, sinkers, and whiffs all while enjoying the sunny weather and pleasant temperatures of Florida and Arizona in March.

You might even come back with some valuable autographs and stories of meeting famous athletes who are dining in the same Tucson or Kissimmee establishment as you are.

Baseball spring training is my favorite time of the year. I hope you’ll catch the excitement and I’ll see you standing next to me at batting practice this year scouting the prospects and analyzing the vets. Watch the thrill in your son’s (or daughter’s) eyes as the snag that foul ball or watch a coach yell at a famous player for not running out the ground ball. It’s a baseball education in itself.

So get out that ball and those gloves and get yourself ready to experience Spring Training excitement.