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Biggio makes painful entry in record books

July 17, 2005

By Jeff Franks

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Craig Biggio has a problem with
baseballs — they keep hitting him.

On June 29, Colorado Rockies pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim struck
him on the left elbow with a wayward fastball and put Biggio in
the record books as the modern player who has been hit by more
pitches than any other.

It was the 268th time that the 1.80-meter, 83-kg Biggio has
been hit, pushing him past previous record-holder Don Baylor
for one of baseball’s most painful milestones.

Biggio, 39 and in his 18th year with the Houston Astros,
insists the record is an accidental one.

“I go up to the plate trying to get a hit, not get hit,” he
told Reuters in a recent interview. “Getting hit by a 90 mile
an hour (144 kph) fastball hurts.”

The seven-time All-Star has been hit in just about every
part of his body and has had the bruises to prove it. He
remembers one time in particular when he got struck in the face
by a pitch from Jeremi Gonzalez in 1997 and for one moment
wondered if he was seriously injured.

His cheek swelled up, yet he finished the game. And he
continued to get hit by pitches at a record pace.

Biggio’s record covers what is called the modern era of big
league baseball, dating from 1901. Two pre-modern players, Hall
of Famer Hughie Jennings and Tommy Tucker were hit by more
pitches, 287 and 272, respectively.

“If Bidge keeps playing, he may end up getting hit 300
times and I don’t think that will ever be beat,” said Astros
manager Phil Garner.

PAIN TOLERANCE

The next closest active player to Biggio is Oakland’s Jason
Kendall, who has been hit by 184 pitches.

Kendall is a catcher and Biggio began his career behind the
plate before moving to second base.

That he was a catcher once is central to one of Biggio’s
theories on why he keeps getting hit. He says catchers get
nicked all the time by bad pitches and bowled over by runners
racing home, so they develop a tolerance for pain.

He was also a terrific high school football player who
learned to dish out and take pain with equanimity. It has made
him somewhat philosophical about it.

“From the football days and the catching days, you’re going
to get beat up. You’ve just got to move on as quickly as you
can.”

Biggio also cites a big leg kick he used in his swing for
years as a factor.

“It was pretty big and the timing was very precise and it
was just something that by the time you recognized the pitch,
there was nowhere to go a lot of times.”

While Biggio says he never meant to get hit, he does not
move out of the way much when a pitch comes inside. Instead, he
generally lets the ball hit him — preferably on the ample
elbow pad he wears — and trots down to first having happily
achieved his objective of getting on base.

“My first reaction about Biggio is that the guy has very
slow reflexes,” Astros catcher Brad Ausmus joked about his
long-time team mate. “But the truth is that as long as I’ve
played with him, his big thing has always been to get on base.
That’s his mentality and his goal, even though it’s a pretty
painful way to make a living.”

SIZE LIMIT

Some opponents complain that Biggio’s elbow pad should be
outlawed, but Major League Baseball (MLB) has only placed a
limit on its size.

Biggio shrugs off the doubters. “It still hurts when you
get hit on the pad,” he said.

Somewhat lost in the hubbub about Biggio’s record is the
fact that he is playing as well as he ever has, at the All-Star
break, hitting .288 with 13 homers and 40 runs batted in.

With each hit, each run, each walk he climbs the ladder of
baseball history and has joined some exclusive company on the
way to what many believe is a Hall of Fame career.

He is one of only four players in the history of the game
– the others being Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson and Paul
Molitor — with more than 2,500 hits, 400 stolen bases, 225
home runs, 500 doubles, 1,500 runs scored and 1,000 walks.

He is the 13th on the all-time doubles list, with 589, and
may soon pass Cal Ripken and Paul Waner, tied with 603. He is
49th on the all-time list for extra base hits with 887 and may
surpass number 48, Nap Lajoie, with 902, by season’s end.

Recently, he passed the great New York Yankees first
baseman Lou Gehrig for most career hits and now is tied with
Bonds at 49th on the list with 2,730 hits.

Biggio said he would not think about the Hall of Fame until
his playing days were over because his primary goal was to help
the Astros do something they have never done — get to the
World Series.

Nor does he worry that his hit-by-pitch record may
overshadow his other accomplishments.

“If somebody’s going to remember you for something, it’s
not such a bad thing. You’ve been able to score almost 100 runs
by getting hit by pitches over the years — that’s a season’s
worth for most guys, so you’ve got to take a positive out of
it.”




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