Bruised and Battered, Biggio Nears Record
Wednesday, June 15, 2005; 1:37 PM
BALTIMORE -- The ball hurts, Craig Biggio will make no claims otherwise. He should know; the Astros outfielder has taken fastballs off his arm, leg, back, head, backside and foot. He's been knocked to the ground, sent spinning in the dirt and wondered if a blazing pitch had irreparably disfigured his face.
Now he is on the doorstep of history.
Last night, Orioles reliever Jorge Julio drilled Biggio with a fastball in the eighth inning of a game at Camden Yards. The pitch apparently did little to the tiny player who jogged to first. "Just one of those nick jobs," he later said with a laugh.
But it was also the 263rd time in his major league career that he has been hit by a pitch, which puts him just four plunks away from the modern record of 267 owned by Don Baylor. Needless to say, it's a dubious achievement.
"I guess any record is a nice thing to be associated with," Biggio said with a laugh as he sat in the Houston clubhouse before the game. "My job is to set the table, that's what you're paid to do. It's something, over the years, that's been a way to get on base."
He swears he does not come up to the plate trying to get hit, though that is hard to believe when someone's been hit 263 times with a pitch. Rather he blames his record-setting pace on a complicated front leg kick that used to be his trademark swing. The leg kick helped him concentrate on the pitch, but it also kept him from moving out of the way of balls that were close.
Biggio would try to drop the foot and duck out of the way, but to no avail. Once the ball came roaring in, his feet turned to concrete and there was nowhere to go. Thwack!
He attempted for years to change the leg kick, not so much because of all the pitches that hit him, but because the motion was starting to exhaust him as he got older. Come up to bat 700 times in a year, that lifting and dropping of a leg on every pitch is going to take its toll.
But ridding himself of a leg kick was not easy for Biggio to do. Old habits are hard to break. He tried to remove it from his swing for parts of about three seasons only to go back, before finally ridding himself of the habit before last season. The rewards were dramatic, he dropped from 27 hit by pitches in 2003 to 15 in 2004 -- his lowest total since he was hit 11 times in 1998.
Still, getting hit 11 times is a lot. Currently, having been hit seven times already this season, he appears to be on a pace to far surpass last year's total, though he is just two behind this season's leader Brady Clark of Milwaukee. And if all goes well, he should catch Baylor sometime in August.
"It's either going to happen or not happen," Biggio said of the record. "Pitchers lose balls, they come inside. It's going to happen. It's just a part of the game."
Of course, as with all other dubious achievements, there is a blog celebrating his pursuit of Baylor. Plunkbiggio.blogspot.com has kept a daily diary of his poundings. When Julio hit him with the pitch last night, Plunkbiggio was all over the news, quickly throwing up an entry it titled "263!"
While he's only four short of Baylor, Biggio would have to be hit 24 more times if he wants to break the all-time record of 287 held by Hughie Jennings, who played much of his career in the late 1800s. Baseball doesn't generally recognize records held before 1900 and Jennings was known for intentionally trying to get hit by pitches as a way of getting on base.
You would think with all the plunkings that Biggio would have charged the mound a few times in his career. But he hasn't. He comes from an old school of thought, he said. He knows he stands close to the plate and thus is more of a target than most players. He also has never had to pull the old shoe polish trick, like in the old days, when players would point to black marks on the ball to prove they had been hit in the foot.
One time, however, he was hit hard on the bicep with a pitch that the umpire, Bob Davidson, called a foul ball. Biggio looked down at his arm, that was beginning to swell and he saw the ball had come so fast that it actually left an imprint of the stitches right on his arm.
"Okay Biggio," he said. "Go take first."
You would think, too, that Biggio might come to the plate loaded with protective armor. He doesn't. The only different equipment he uses is a slightly bigger batting helmet -- the result of having been hit in the head four times -- and an elbow pad he bought after he took fastballs off his elbow in back-to-back days.
He sees nothing wrong with this. After watching his teammate Jeff Bagwell lose parts of three straight seasons with injuries that came from being hit by a pitch, he figures he should protect himself as much as possible.
"If you're paying somebody $15 million a year and there is something they can use to protect themselves and keep that investment safe why not use it?" he said.
Baylor has already said he would be glad to bequeath the record to Biggio. There will probably be no ceremony; what do you do when somebody breaks the record for getting hit by pitches? The hope is probably that an ambulance is not heading onto the field.
For now, all Biggio can do is laugh about his new fame. At 39 years old, he is just 300 hits from 3,000 for his career. If he plays until he's 41 he has a great chance at the milestone. But nobody cares about 3,000 hits all they want to know about is being hit by a pitch.
"If someone had told me 18 years ago that I would be going after Don Baylor's record for getting hit by pitches with me being just 185 pounds I would have told you that you were crazy," he said.
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