arm-guard appreciation post.
Many people have noticed this season that part of Craig Biggio has retired already this season, and some have been wondering when exactly that happened. That heroic arm guard that so many times leaped to the defense of Craig Biggio's other body parts, like a Secret Service agent diving in front of the President, has not been seen since June 5th this season, at Colorado*.
One might jump to the conclusion that someone in the Hughie Jennings fan club may have equipment-napped Biggio's elbow pad, particularly since it was last seen in Colorado where Biggio has been plunked more than any other road park, but that's unlikely. Biggio was spotted playing bare-elbowed as early as April 24th this season, and played about 1/3 of his May games without the arm guard.
Biggio has said his batting helmet is the same - uncleaned - one he's had since 2001. I don't know if he's been quite as superstitious with the arm guards, but the one he was last seen wearing could only have been with him for plunks 269 to 283. His previous elbow pad - above - was requested by the Hall of Fame after Biggio passed Don Baylor for what some in baseball (who like to deny the existence of the 19th century) considered the "all-time" record and what others called the modern record. The one in the Hall may have been protecting Biggio for as many as 115 HBPs - MLB put in a rule at the beginning of the 2000 season regulating elbow pads to a maximum of 10 inches, and Biggio went along with the rule (unlike certain other MLB players continued to wear the enormous ones). Biggio's first plunk in 2000 was number 154 so if he really did wear the same arm guard from then until he gave it to the hall after 268.
Prior to 2000, Biggio wore the very large black arm guard for 3 or 4 seasons, and before that he appears to have worn a very small white version from around 1991 to 1995. Biggio claims he went to the large elbow pad after Danny Darwin hit him, which would have been plunk 67 in 1996, so that would put the total plunks wearing the oversized padding at about 86 (assuming he was wearing it for all his HBPs from number 68 to 153).
But now, it appears that Biggio will go the rest of the way without his bodyguard - if his hands and wrists can, in any way, be compared to Whitney Houston, they'll be playing without Kevin Costner. You may have noticed when he took number 284, his elbow still bravely moved upwards to block a ball headed for his wrists but it seemingly forgot it was playing un-padded.
It's hard to say whether the early retirement of the arm guard will be a factor if Biggio does not get the three plunks required to pass Hughie Jennings for the all time lead, and it's hard to say how many times he'd have been hit if he never wore one. But it's easy to say that if Craig Biggio played in a league without elbow pads, or even without helmets, he would have been equally unwilling to move out of the way of a pitch if he knew that a little pain on his part would help his team win. If he played his career without protective gear, he probably just would have had it cut short by one of those pitches.
*The June 5th last reported sighting is as close as I can get browsing through the mlb.tv condensed games - if you have visual proof of an arm-guard sighting since then, let me know.