- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

CHICAGO.

When Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio came up to the plate last night against the Chicago White Sox, he could have been an exhibit here at the Field Museum just as easily as the leadoff batter in Game1 of the World Series.

Biggio is a dinosaur, one of the last of an extinct baseball player — the kind who wears just one uniform for his entire career.

Unfortunately for baseball fans, that’s the kind of player that you can fall in love with. That’s the kind of player who becomes the face of a franchise.

That’s the kind of player who someday soon may not roam the earth again.

Baseball’s free agency has been a boon for the players, and, in some ways to fans as well. It allows teams the freedom to perhaps make one or two moves that could put a team over the top (except for, of course, the Yankees, who believe all 29 other major league clubs are simply farm teams for their annual free agent spending folly).

But the huge drawback for fans has been the comings and goings of the players they fall in love with — particular those home-grown products that they have watched blossom through the years.

No one has seen this pain more than Montreal Expos fans, who saw one great prospect after another — Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Vladimir Guerrero and so many more — debut, develop and then depart.

Houston baseball fans, though, have had the treat of watching both Biggio and Jeff Bagwell play their entire major league careers in an Astros uniform, and they have become the beloved identity of the franchise.

“They are the heart and soul of this team,” Astros owner Drayton McLane said. “They could have left twice for free agency for more money, and they didn’t.”

Biggio and Bagwell are linked forever in their dual committment to the Astros, but to be absolute about this, Bagwell is an import. He was selected by the Red Sox of the fourth round of the June 1989 draft, and then traded a year later to Houston for pitcher Larry Andersen. Technically, he is not pure Astro. When Houston traded for Bagwell, if the deal received any attention, it was because Andersen was leaving and not because this minor leaguer from New England was coming.

Craig Biggio is a pure Astro. He was scouted by the Astros, drafted by the Astros (in the first round in 1987), nurtured by the Astros and has played for them ever since. Astros fans have had more than 18 years to follow Biggio, who led off last night’s World Series game — the first in the history of the franchise and therefore, of course, the first for the player who had gone the longest in major league history without appearing in a World Series game (2,594).

That makes him even more of a dinosaur. That puts him in Cal Ripken territory, a cradle-to-retirement kind of special relationship between a player and fans.

“There is a loyalty that makes it special,” Biggio said. “I have committed myself to this team, the community and the fans, and they have done the same to me. That’s what makes this even better.”

It would be nice if the Washington Nationals ever have a chance to have their own dinosaur. These players who go from draft board to tearful retirement announcement with one team are so rare, though. Houston has one in Biggio, a future Hall of Famer (the only player in major league history to have 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 2,700 hits and 400 stolen bases). Who knows when that will happen with Biggio? Although he is 39, Biggio remains an important, productive player, with 94 runs scored and 40 doubles in 2005.

Maybe Ryan Zimmerman could be that player, although that may be too much to ask — the first player ever picked by the Nationals winding up as their Craig Biggio.

First, though, you need a Nationals owner to have that kind of player. Apparently, Major League Baseball considers that a museum exhibit as well.

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