Biggio set an example for teammates

Biggio set example for teammates

HOUSTON -- When the final out is recorded on Sept. 30, Craig Biggio will leave Minute Maid Park as a player one final time. He'll walk back into the clubhouse, take off his uniform for the last time, pack his things and drive into the next phase of his life.

Soon thereafter, his name and number will come down in the clubhouse, and a locker that once symbolized Hall of Fame greatness will merely remain empty until the Astros set their next 25-man roster in March.

The Astros won't have the top-of-the-order presence that Biggio has been for a majority of 20 years. They won't have the 3,000 hit chase and the media frenzy that accompanied it. They won't have the Hall of Famer in waiting to watch and learn from on a daily basis. In a sense, he'll be gone.

But Biggio's legacy is about more than strictly runs and hits, and it's something that will make an impact even after his playing days come to a close. That legacy is about a player who personified leadership, teamwork and dedication. It's about service to people in need and the community of Houston. It's about playing the game "the right way," as numerous Astros said throughout the day Tuesday after Biggio's retirement announcement. It's about setting forth an example of professionalism. It's about winning.

It's those things that Biggio's teammates say define him, and it's those things that his current Astros teammates will carry with them long after his playing career ends in two months.

"I think it's great he can go out on his own terms," Mark Loretta said. "He's meant so much to this organization and this city. He's been an inspiration to all the players that have grown up watching him and played with him.

"In the generations to come, the guys that were here now can see his example, learn from him and carry on the torch for future Astros."

For Biggio, leadership meant a number of things. In addition to performing well on the field and being a class act off it, it was about setting a standard of play to be demanded when a player puts on an Astros jersey.

"I can remember the first thing he said to me whenever I was in my first Spring Training in 2000," shortstop Adam Everett said. "He said, 'So you're the guy we traded Carl [Everett] for, right?' I said, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'You better be good.' And that's all he said and walked off. I was like 'Oh, this is great, welcome to the club.'

"But he has embraced me. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, and taught me the middle of the infield. To be able to play alongside him for a few years has been special. It's special to know I played with a Hall of Famer, one of the best. The way he has played the game will be remembered here, and it's going to be a staple in this organization forever."

Many baseball legends aren't able to exit the game on their own terms. Two years ago, Jeff Bagwell was forced out of baseball due to a bum shoulder, and he wasn't able to have the sort of farewell tour and goodbye season with the Astros that Biggio has had this year.

Not only has Biggio avoided injury, he's also going out as an everyday player in the season in which he notched his 3,000th career hit. He's leaving the game productive instead of as a liability, and that's yet another aspect of his legacy.

"A lot of times it happens like Bagwell, where they suffer an injury and they can't play any more," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "Or they get to a point where they're not as productive as they once were and they ship you out. For Craig to be able to play as long as he has and to go out on his own terms, it's a pretty unique happening in the sport."

"I think his legacy will be that he was so durable for so long," second baseman in waiting Chris Burke said. "It puts into perspective how long he played and how productive he was for such a long time. You see guys decline after six, seven or eight years in the league. The fact that he was able to produce for such a long time makes it an amazing career."

Berkman thinks Biggio's impact was enough to redefine the positions of second base and the leadoff hitter.

"When I was a rookie, he was one of the premier players in the game," Berkman said. "He was pretty much revolutionary for the leadoff spot and second base. Before Craig, second basemen were kind of slick-fielding, no-hit types, and he really had a hand in changing the position to people who can hit home runs and be offensive weapons. You see that a lot today."

Biggio leaves the game as the 27th player all-time with 3,000 career hits as well as the 27th player to reach 1,000 extra-base hits. He's the only player in Major League history to have at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 250 home runs and 400 stolen bases. He also led the Astros franchise to its first ever National League championship, and led all players in total hits in the 2005 postseason.

"It was never about Craig Biggio, it was about the team," catcher Brad Ausmus said. "I know he has achieved some great individual accomplishments, but it still was always about winning."

Given the individual and team achievements, Bagwell said recently that anyone who doesn't view Biggio as a first-ballot Hall of Famer is "crazy." That feeling is mutual among his current teammates.

"He's definitely a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Ausmus said. "To me, there's no discussion. He has been one of the best baseball players of the last 20 years. He's had a phenomenal career."

"To me, the Hall of Fame is an institution where if an alien came down from outer space and watched the game of baseball, you would point to the Hall of Fame and say, 'This is how you play the game,'" Mike Lamb said. "And for me, being a baseball player, if somebody had no idea what the game is about, you'd want them to watch a player like Craig Biggio to understand how to play the game."

That's why Biggio's impact and presence will likely live on well beyond when his locker is cleaned out and his uniform is put away for that last time.

"Since I got here, he and Jeff [Bagwell] were the faces of the organization," closer Brad Lidge said. "I remember when I got drafted in 1998 out of college, everybody was like, 'Oh man, you're going to get to play with the Killer B's, that's awesome.'

"Anything they do, people have so much respect for them. They were the guys everybody looked up to, and their presence will still be felt for awhile after they're gone. Nothing can take that away."

Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.