- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

A 95 mph heater has drilled Craig Biggio and left him in the dirt wondering what planet he was on.

Again.

The Houston Astros’ second baseman doesn’t have a bull’s-eye on his uniform — it just seems that way.

Biggio’s unmagic number is 270. That’s how many times he has been hit by pitches during 17 painful seasons.

It’s a record that might never be broken.

Certainly nobody wants to.

Call him the Prince of Plunk, the Baron of Bean, the King of Klobber.

Call him dumb?

“I don’t know what it says — I’m real stupid?” said Biggio, who seems an unlikely target with his modest 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame. “I think you have to have a high pain tolerance to get hit that many times.”

For sure. And the pain just keeps on coming for Biggio at age 39. He had been nailed 14 times this season going into last night’s game with the Washington Nationals, including the historic plunking June29 when Colorado pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim bounced horsehide off his left elbow. That was the 267th time Biggio had been literally marked, surpassing a record held by former Rockies manager Don Baylor.

Of course, Baylor probably understood better than anyone else how Biggio felt. Meaning, tattooed.

Biggio’s arm pad was immediately sent to the Hall of Fame. At the time, he had been hit by 202 pitchers and had scored 95 runs after taking first base the hard way. He was hit a career-high 34 times in 1997 alone. Former Montreal second baseman Ron Hunt is first in that category with 50 in 1971.

“It is just something that evolved over the years,” said Biggio, who has been hit an average of 22 times over the past 10 seasons. “It probably started when I was younger. I loved to hit playing football. I was a catcher coming up. I caught for four years in the big leagues. You take a huge beating. That’s probably a lot where it stems from. Getting hit by a pitch is like catching a foul tip. It just happens, you move on. A guy runs you over from third, you just get up.”

Of course, there’s much more to Biggio’s career than the beanings. The seven-time All-Star is one of only four players in major league history with 400 steals, 225 home runs, 500 doubles, 1,500 runs, 1,000 walks and 2,500 hits. The others are Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds and Paul Molitor.

Biggio, who has spent his entire career in Houston, set the record in part because he stands on the top of the plate and up in the batter’s box, meaning breaking balls can hit him before they break. That, along with his aggressive nature and a long leg kick, leaves him little time to get out of the way.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who should know, was asked if some players get hit intentionally to generate offense.

“Depends on the hitter. Biggio? Yes,” said Robinson, who is fourth on the all-time hit-by-pitch list with 198. “He gets hit because he doesn’t get out the way. … The rule says you are supposed to make a legitimate effort to get out of the way.”

Even Astros manager Phil Garner concedes he wondered about Biggio’s intentions when he was an opposing manager.

“It is hard to throw him [batting practice] because he is so close to the plate and he doesn’t give,” said Garner, who previously managed in Detroit and Milwaukee. “He doesn’t get out of the way. I can tell you it’s frustrating when you are pitching against him. I used to yell at him all the time — and I love Biggio — from the opposing dugout, ‘We’re going to hit you in the head. Hit him in the neck.’ All that [stuff] he’s got all over his body used to infuriate me to no end.”

The “stuff” is all the extra padding Biggio wears under his uniform. And who can blame him?

“Biggio tries to take away the inside corner,” said Nationals reliever Joey Eischen. “Biggio isn’t so much diving into stuff — he just won’t get out of the way. He has enough armor on his body that it doesn’t matter. You take the arm guard off him and other stuff, and he won’t stand on the plate like he does.”

Robinson put it even more acerbically: “Real men don’t wear that stuff.”

The Nationals manager played in an era (1956-76) where players didn’t wear padding and the brush-back was an accepted risk for players crowding the plate. Robinson often dived out of the way of a knockdown pitch, then re-took his place in the line of fire with more determination.

These days the Hall of Famer sees some players taking a hit rather than trying to get one, such as Detroit Tigers second baseman Fernando Vina.

“He turns the knee in,” Robinson said. “[The Nationals’ Jose] Vidro does the same thing with the front arm, turns it [into the pitch] and goes to first base.”

In addition to absorbing pitches to the body, Biggio has taken a handful of dangerous shots to the head. One that sticks out came in 1997, when the Astros were attempting to clinch a wild-card berth when he came to bat against Jeremi Gonzalez of the Chicago Cubs.

“It almost felt like getting hit with a sledgehammer in the face,” Biggio said. “We beat them that game, and he hit me with a 94, 95 mph heater. Three-fourths of the ball hit me in the cheekbone, and the other quarter hit me in the ear flap. I remember that like yesterday.

“As you lay there with your face in the dirt, a lot of things go through your mind real quick. You gather your thoughts, think about a lot of things and do a checklist. And I realized I was going to be OK. The ear flap really saved me. Dickie Thon was in Houston, and he got hit square up in the eye — that is something that went through my mind as well.”

Thon was struck in the temple in the first week of the 1984 season by Mike Torrez of the New York Mets. Thon missed the rest of the season and half of the next dealing with headaches, blurred vision and nausea. The shortstop never recovered.

And of course, the only death in major league history resulted after star shortstop Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians was hit in the temple by Carl Mays of the New York Yankees in 1920 — long before batting helmets and ear flaps were used. Chapman died that night.

To his credit, if that’s the word, Biggio remains fearless. He’s likely to wind up in the Hall of Fame someday because of his overall accomplishments — and it’s easy to speculate that his plaque will include one particular word.

Ouch!

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