Craig Biggio and the Hall of Fame

by Ray Kerby

(c) Houston Astros
(written after 2004 season, stats updated after 2007 season)

2004 was a banner year for those who want to make a case for Craig Biggio's enshrinement into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Entering what many expect to be his final season as an Astro, Biggio showed fans that, while most baseball careers only go to 10, he could turn his up to 11 for that extra push.

Always the team player, Biggio moved to left field when the Astros acquired All-Star centerfielder Carlos Beltran. Playing out of position the entire season, Biggio nevertheless posted a personal high with 24 home runs, scored 100 runs and led the team with an impressive 47 doubles and 178 hits. Clearly, the man still had plenty of gas in the tank.

So instead of 2004 being his final year to pad his Hall of Fame case, the Astros picked up Biggio's option for 2005 and allowed Jeff Kent to become a free agent. This ensured another full season as an Astro for Biggio. But things improved even more for Biggio when the HOF selection committee enshrined Ryne Sandberg to the Hall of Fame. The induction of Sandberg, whose career was eclipsed by Biggio several years ago, virtually guarantees that Biggio will get in. And Biggio's chief contemporary rival, Roberto Alomar, announced his retirement after several poor seasons.

This puts Biggio in a great position in 2005 to remove all doubt among voters that he is best second baseman of his generation, a notch above Alomar. For even though Alomar is two years younger than Biggio, he is now retired while Biggio is still chugging along with productive seasons. The case for Biggio's enshrinement has become a no-brainer. Now the question is whether he will get in on the first ballot.

Entering 2005 with 2639 career hits, Biggio has stated that he would like to reach 3000 hits, which would guarantee a first-ballot induction. This would require two more very solid seasons and that seems like a longshot considering Biggio's age. But if anyone can pull it off, he can. Cosnsider that the chances are good that Biggio will finish 2005 with over 2800 career hits, which has not been accomplished by any second baseman in almost 70 years.

I have ranked Biggio's career accomplishments with the 16 second basemen already inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Ryne Sandberg, whose induction still seems likely. However, it does not bode well for Biggio that Sandberg is still waiting. Six significant career categories are listed, all of which are routinely bandied about whenever a player becomes eligible for the Hall: runs scored, hits, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, and batting average. I have then assigned points for each category, from 0 to 17, depending on the player's rank.

Comparing Biggio to existing Hall of Famers
(updated to reflect 2007 stats)

Player              Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg  Pts   
Eddie Collins       10s  1821   3315   47  1300  744  .333  82.5
Rogers Hornsby      20s  1579   2930  301  1584  135  .358  81 
Craig Biggio        90s  1844   3060  291  1175  414  .281  78    
Nap Lajoie          00s  1504   3242   83  1599  380  .338  76 
Charlie Gehringer   30s  1774   2839  184  1427  181  .320  75    
Frankie Frisch      20s  1532   2880  105  1244  419  .316  70   
Joe Morgan          70s  1650   2517  268  1133  689  .271  65   
Rod Carew           70s  1424   3053   92  1015  353  .328  62   
Ryne Sandberg       80s  1318   2386  282  1061  344  .285  51     
Bid McPhee        1890s  1684   2313   53  1071  568  .277  50   VC 
Bobby Doerr         40s  1094   2042  223  1247   54  .288  41   VC
Tony Lazzeri        30s   986   1840  178  1191  148  .292  42   VC
Red Schoendienst    50s  1223   2449   84   773   89  .289  34   VC
Jackie Robinson     50s   947   1518  137   734  197  .311  31   
Nellie Fox          50s  1279   2663   35   790   76  .288  30   VC
Billy Herman        30s  1163   2345   47   839   67  .304  29.5 VC
Bill Mazeroski      60s   769   2016  138   853   27  .260  18   VC
Johnny Evers        10s   919   1659   12   538  324  .270  12   VC

You can see that there is a clear line of demarcation between second baseman inducted into Hall on their regular ballots, and those entering via the Veterans' Committe (VC). Only Jackie Robinson falls below this line, and he is a special case because he was 28 before he was allowed to play in the big leagues. You can also see that Biggio and Sandberg are in the middle of the pack in this listing.

After a down season in 2002, Biggio's performance has rebounded for two consecutive years. And with the departure of Jeff Kent, Craig resumed his role as the team's second baseman. He was a defensive liability in the outfield, but those concerns should diminish with his return to the infield. Most importantly, his offensive rebound greatly improved his standing against his Hall of Fame competitors. The table below shows Biggio's improving standing against the others over the last three seasons. If Biggio repeats his 2004 season, his career numbers would and projected rankings would be:

Year    Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   

2005?    100    178   24    63    7  .281 
Career  1703   2817  258  1057  403  .286
Player             Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg  
through 2000       12th   15th  7th  16th  6th  11th   
through 2001       10th   13th  6th  14th  6th  11th  
through 2002        9th   13th  5th  12th  5th  12th  
through 2003        8th    9th  5th  12th  5th  13th  
through 2004        5th    8th  4th  12th  5th  13th  
through 2007        1st    3rd  2nd   7th  4th  13th  

Biggio has now surpassed Carew on this list of Hall of Famers and is creeping closer to rarified air of Joe Morgan. Although the offensive totals of Biggio's era are not directly comparable to Morgan's, it is reasonable to conclude that Biggio is now on solid Hall of Fame ground. With a solid 2005 campaign, he should get consideration for a first-round induction.

Comparing Biggio to existing candidates

When Biggio is eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, his stiffest competition will come from his contemporaries. This group includes second basemen retiring in the same general time as Biggio, along with good second basemen that had been previously snubbed. Once again, the assumption is made that Ryne Sandberg will be in the Hall of Fame by the time this occurs.

Modern-era second basemen
Updated stats through 2007
Player          Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   obp   slg   
Bobby Grich     70s  1033   1833  224   864  104  .266  .371  .424   

Craig Biggio    90s  1844   3060  291  1175  414  .281  .363  .433 
Roberto Alomar  90s  1508   2724  210  1134  474  .300  .371  .443  
Lou Whitaker    80s  1386   2369  244  1084  143  .276  .363  .426 
Jeff Kent       90s  1278   2338  365  1459   94  .290  .357  .504  age 39  

(c) Houston Astros
As you can see, Biggio compares very well in this group but his real competition will come from Roberto Alomar and Jeff Kent. The retired Alomar is the most comparable to Biggio, but he is no longer a moving and should be passed by Biggio in most offensive categories. Kent has had an impressive offensive career and his 300 home runs will make a great case for his induction.

There is certainly room in the Hall for two second basemen from the same decade, provided that they are both worthy. But will three get in? If not, the pertinent question is quickly becoming "Will Jeff Kent edge Alomar for the second HOF spot?".

Kent is still going strong and could finish his career with over 350 homers and 1500 RBI. It would be hard to keep any middle infielder out of the Hall with those kinds of numbers. Kent also won the MVP in 2000. This is a major award which neither Biggio nor Alomar has attained.

Biggio's intangibles

(c) Houston Astros
One final consideration has to be given to Biggio's case for the Hall of Fame. Sportswriters love "intangibles", because this gives them enough vagueness to make a case for their favorite players despite having tangible evidence.

Does Biggio have enough good intangibles? I think he does. For one thing, writers love "gamers": those mythical players that go out and play every day despite broken arms, snakebites, and whatever other ailments can bench a merely human player. Biggio had a 494 consecutive-game playing streak, and I think that will help make his case as a "gamer". Coming back successfully from his injury-shortened 2000 season also enhances this part of his reputation.

Biggio also has some impressive-sounding statistical intangibles. In 1997, Biggio became the first player in history to play a 162-game schedule without grounding into a double play. In 1998, he was the first player since Tris Speaker to collect 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in a single season. It doesn't hurt that Speaker is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

One final intangible that could work in Biggio's favor is his positional switch from catcher to second base to center field. Much can be made about how Biggio was an All-Star catcher and then made the unheard-of transition to second base with such success that he not only become an All-Star at the new position, but he even became a Gold Glove winner. But to willingly move to a new defensive position at age 37 is just as unlikely. This is the kind of "intangible" story that writers love, and we can expect to relive this portion of Biggio's career over and over again when he becomes eligible for the Hall.


(c) Houston Astros
Thanks to the decline of Roberto Alomar, Biggio has become the best second baseman in the game not yet in the Hall. Alomar may drop into a statistical dead heat and lose to Biggio over their intangibles. Don't forget that sportswriters love round numbers and Biggio has recently racked up some nice, round career numbers. Here are a few important career milestones:

2500 hits - accomplished May, 2004
500 doubles - accomplished July 10, 2003
200 homers - accomplished April 18, 2003
1500 runs - accomplished August, 2003
1000 RBI - accomplished April, 2005

At age 39, Biggio has accomplished all of the significant career milestones that I thought four years ago would make him a lock for the Hall of Fame. The best thing is that he is still going strong. Biggio has set his sights on 3000 career hits, which would cement his position as one of the greatest players of all time.

How about some new milestones?

3000 hits - accomplished June 28, 2007
600 doubles - accomplished
250 homers - accomplished
1750 runs - accomplished