The Record Stands
Three year ago it seemed like a sure thing. Even in March of this year, it seemed like Craig Biggio couldn't possibly avoid getting hit by six pitches even if he took his elbow pad off and actually started getting out of the way of inside fastballs. Well, like the sportscasters like to say, that's why they play the games - to see who gets hit by pitches.
Hughie Jennings record of 287 plunks may have just withstood the best - or at least most excessively documented - assault it will ever face. It's entirely possible that his record will stand forever, with Craig Biggio's 285 just below it. Jennings got hit 287 times in an age before helmets, and with a pitchers mound closer than the current 60 feet 6 inches, but pitchers may not have thrown quite as hard then. And, while he played before modern painkillers, it was probably more socially acceptable make full use of the popular painkillers of the day (like whiskey). Only 18 players have made it even half way to 287 plunks. Only 7 have passed 200, only 4 have passed 250 and only 2 have reached 285.
So, while we might be disappointed that we didn't get to see someone break the 104 year old record for getting hit by pitches, it's tough to be disappointed by the career of Craig Biggio. 3,060 hits, 668 doubles, 1844 runs scored, 414 steals, 291 homers, 20 seasons for one team. The stats speak for themselves, but they don't exactly tell the story of what Biggio has meant to Houston's fans - for that you might have to look at the attendance line in the box score for those last three games at Minute Maid Park, or take a look at that banner that was hanging in left center field with several thousand notes from fans thanking Craig Biggio for his career. But hey, you probably know all this.
Sometimes, when we watch baseball, we get that feeling that we might see something particularly amazing. We turn on the game, because we think something special might happen that night - and it could, on any night, and we love to hope to see those things even though we know they hardly ever happen. But they do happen sometimes, and most of all we really don't want to miss seeing it. Most of the time we think of those special things as single game records - have you ever seen a pitcher strike out the side in the 2nd inning and started doing the math in your head, counting the number of outs that aren't strikeouts as the game went along until they reached 8 and you know that's not going to be another 20 strikeout game? Maybe that's just me. But you pay special attention when a pitcher gets through a few innings without giving up a hit, or you realize someone has hit a homer, triple and double in the game and is coming up again. We also love streaks, and runs toward single season records - if it's someone on your favorite team you don't want to miss a single game on the way to what you think might be one of those special moments. And sometimes you go into a season thinking this is the year for your team - and you don't want to miss the game that could be the key moment for the season when they finally win it all.
But it's a little harder to spot when the amazing thing is just one guy playing 20 years for the same team. You never feel like you're missing something when you know the guy was there playing yesterday and he'll be their playing again tomorrow if you turn on the game. Then suddenly he's running up on 3,000 hits and announcing his retirement, and there's some weirdo on the internet who's all excited about the prospect of him getting hit by a record number of pitches. And then you look at it that way, you realize you got to see Craig Biggio play - and even if you sat and watched him go 0-4, you saw something particularly amazing, even if you didn't know it at the time.
Thanks for the years of stats, Craig Biggio. Messing around with them the way I have for the past three years probably hasn't entertained me quite as much as you have entertained Houston fans for the past 20 years, but it's been fun. Hopefully I brought a little bit more entertainment to those who had already enjoyed your career, and maybe I helped wake up a few folks from the rest of the country who didn't know what they were missing. I will miss waiting and wondering when you'll next get hit by a pitch. And, while I've considered hanging around until I reach 1000 posts on this site, I'll leave it at this. I have no future plans for another website, but if I think of something, I doubt it will be quite as much fun as this, and I never would have been able to keep this site going this long if Biggio hadn't been the player and the person he is.
Oh, and don't worry about those folks in Chesterfield County... it may look bad, but Cletus will take care of it I'm sure. It's just there way:
(photo by Cletus J. "Bubba" Huckabee Jr.)
It seems the pressure of the plunk chase got the better of some, but hopefully everyone else has survived with their sanity intact.
Thanks again for reading, everybody.