The Real Hall of Fame Shock of 2013: Craig Biggio

What follows is a piece from Greg Steele. Greg is typically a Houston Rockets fan and given their recent success, you’d expect a piece on the Rockets to follow. However, Greg will actually be venturing into baseball to talk about the recent “no players voted in” Hall of Fame class for Major League Baseball. Enjoy!
The Baseball Hall of Fame had an odd day at the polls this year. Despite a bumper crop newly eligible players, no one on the ballot was elected to the Hall. There was no shortage of famous players on the ballot, which was highlighted by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, and Sammy Sosa. However, the Hall’s qualifications include a “character clause” which was apparently pressed into service this year to prevent the induction of suspected steroid users.

The sporting world has been on fire with debate about the issue of steroids, but one point has passed unnoticed in the midst of all the hubbub. Craig Biggio, a non-steroid user who is 32nd all time in runs created (one of the most comprehensive metrics for a player’s offensive performance) despite playing most of his career at defense-first positions (second base and catcher). With over 200 members in the Hall, it is difficult to find any rationale for the hall’s existence if it does not include one the best second basemen of all time. What kind of fame might the Hall be designed to recognize, if not the fame one can accrue by putting together on the top career portfolios of all time?

Here are some of the highlights of Biggio’s resume – he led his league three times in doubles and five times in being hit by pitches. He was among the top ten in his multiple times in batting average (twice), on base percentage (four times), runs (nine times), hits (six times), total bases (twice), doubles (five times), triples (twice), walks (five times), steals (five times), singles (seven times), extra base hits (three times), times on base (nine times), hit by pitch (fifteen times), and stolen base percentage (five times). He also had eight full seasons in which he grounded into five or fewer double plays, included 1997, when did not ground into a single double play despite playing all 162 games!

Why was Biggio’s impressive resume rejected? The answer is very common to the Wages of Wins – Biggio is chronically underrated and unappreciated. His career is that of a legend, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he is easy to overlook for reasons that are also prevalent in basketball – his body is normal, as opposed to the exceptional appearance we tend to expect from a professional athlete. Biggio is 5’11” and had a somewhat uncommon-looking batting stance; since he doesn’t look like a professional athlete, people assume by default that he must not be a good one. Biggio was good at undervalued things like getting hit by a pitch and not grounding into double plays. He hit a ton of doubles, and stole a lot of bases without getting thrown out very often. He was patient at the plate. Nearly all of his skills were invisible from the perspective of the highlight reels, and so Biggio was, in some senses, invisible. He played for a medium-market team throughout his career, and one which did not enjoy a great deal of postseason success. He does not make flashy plays on offense (where he never hit more than 26 homers in a season) or on defense (where he fielded second base quite well, but without making the sorts of acrobatic plays that tend win some middle infielders acclaim as glove wizards). Finally, Biggio’s achievements came in a relatively low-run context (the National League has had lower run totals than the American League, almost uniformly, since the introduction of the Designated Hitter), and in a very difficult park for a hitter (the old Astrodome).

Although the steroid issue is actually the cover story, I can’t help thinking that the denial of Biggio, a non-steroid user, is a story that’s very familiar in pro sports, whether it’s baseball or basketball. Like the underappreciated rebounder and high-efficiency shooter in the NBA, or the non-scoring point guard who avoids turnovers while doling out assists like Halloween candy, baseball also features players whose skills are subtle and less obvious than their peers. These players, of whom Biggio is one of the best exemplars, manage to pass unrecognized despite being among the best players in the game. The blogosphere will continue the debate about the admissibility of steroid users into the Hall of Fame, but the Wages of Wins can settle one question here and now – Craig Biggio does deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.


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