Move from behind plate paves way for Biggio
Potential Hall of Famer utilized speed, extended career with position switch
HOUSTON -- Astros coach Matt Galante took away Craig Biggio's baseball glove, handed him a makeshift foam paddle and dragged him to the back fields at Osceola County Stadium. The transformation from catcher to second baseman was underway.
That was the spring of 1992, a year after a fresh-faced Biggio had made the National League All-Star team as a catcher. A star was in the making, but the team saw something more. They saw a franchise cornerstone who had the kind of speed and athleticism that would vanish quickly if he had stayed behind the plate, so a collective decision was made for an unprecedented position change.
If anyone was up for this kind of challenge, it was Biggio. He was eager and determined to make himself into not just a second baseman, but one of the best to play the game. And there was no turning back.
"It was by far the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, because I had never done it," Biggio said, "and I had to do it in the big leagues."
Biggio went on to play second base for the Astros for the next 11 seasons before he moved to the outfield in 2003-04 to accommodate Jeff Kent. Biggio returned to second base for the final three seasons of his 20-year career and retired following the 2007 season with four NL Gold Glove Awards and 3,060 hits.
After finishing 39 votes shy of being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot a year ago, Biggio has a good chance of becoming the first Astros player to be enshrined in Cooperstown this time around.
The Hall of Fame results will be announced exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 1 p.m. CT as part of a three-hour live show beginning at 11 a.m. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 10 a.m. CT.
"I looked at with a curiosity last year," Biggio said. "This year, I'm crossing my fingers. I want it for my family, I want it for the organization and I want it for the fans. That's the order I want it for, because those are the things that are the most important."
The fact he's on the cusp of entering the Hall of Fame is something that likely would not have happened had Biggio not begrudgingly moved out from behind the plate. The switch to second base saved his legs and enabled him to play in more games than any other Astros player.
"There's no doubt about it," Biggio said.
Galante, the longtime Astros coach and fellow New Yorker that Biggio considers a father figure, worked tirelessly one-on-one with Biggio that spring. The pair disappeared each morning prior to workouts and worked on the position on a turf half-field at the team's Spring Training complex.
"I got to Spring Training and Matty takes my glove away and gives me a paddle, and I'm like, 'OK, let's make it even harder,'" Biggio said. "I have a paddle in my hand and I'm saying, 'What am I doing here? This is crazy.' I just made the All-Star team the year before and now I have a paddle in my hand?"
The goal of the paddle was to help Biggio field the ball gently and with two hands, and help his hands and feet work together.
"It was the hardest thing I've done in my life," he said. "Put it this way: It was never done ever in the history of the game, a catcher to go to second base, and I had to learn it in the big leagues. Think about it: If it didn't go as well as it did, I'm home already. I play a couple of years and I'm done. That's the reality of the whole thing."
Galante hit hundreds and hundreds of grounders to Biggio.
"We felt that if he continued to catch, he was going to lose one of his biggest assets, and that was his speed," Galante said. "We made the dissemination that if he went to second base, two things would happen: He would continue to steal bases, but more importantly, that he would be able to play 16, 18, 20 years. He wasn't exactly crazy about the idea, but we worked on him and finally convinced him that it was going to be good for him.
"Many years later, he told me how good it was for him to move to that position. The kid worked his tail off."
Biggio was so indebted to Galante for helping him make the transition that he gave him the second of the four consecutive Gold Gloves he won from 1994-97.
"There were no bad habits to break," Galante said. "It was almost like taking a little baby and teaching him how to walk, because he had never walked before. It was pretty easy. He was very attentive and did what I asked him to do."
Another who was instrumental in Biggio's move was former Astros second baseman Bill Doran, who was traded to the Reds late in the 1990 season. Doran flew to Houston prior to the spring of 1992 and took Biggio to the Astrodome, where the pair drew a field on the dirt that was for a tractor pull and discussed angles and the nuances of the position.
"He said, 'Look man, if you're going to play this position, you've got to let me show you the shortcuts here and there and do this thing right,'" Biggio said. "I mean, who does that? I'll never forget that."
Doran wasn't surprised Biggio went on to have kind of success he had.
"He was relentless in his work habits and his work ethic," Doran said. "He was the kind of guy that never was going to be denied. He worked extremely hard. Everybody talks about his numbers and all the great things that are obvious, but I don't think he gets enough credit for how hard he worked at it and how much he cared and how dedicated he was."
That dedication, Biggio said, was the only way he knew how to approach it.
"There's 90 percent of the experts out there said it was not going to work and that's what I used for my motivation," Biggio said. "And I had one of the best infield instructors in the world in Matty. I was stubborn and lucky at the same time."