Sad truth: Craig Biggio is no lock for Hall of Fame next year either — and Pedro Martinez is part of the problem
Once the hue and cry subsides and the righteously indignant shift their focus to another cause worthy of their rancor, Craig Biggio will resume his waiting.
It required extraordinary patience to complete the arduous climb to 3,000 career hits, and Biggio did not relent despite advancing age and declining skills. While his pursuit inched him closer to a statistical benchmark that only 20 other men have reached in baseball history, it helped undermine the statistical glory of his remarkable prime. But the destination was intrinsically linked to the journey, with Biggio acknowledging every step en route to the finish line.
Biggio has already proven that he can wait with the best of them, thus while his falling two votes shy of joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas as members of the 2014 Hall of Fame class qualifies as bitterly disappointing, his admirable perseverance is on record. His moment will undoubtedly come, perhaps as early as next year, and Biggio has the intestinal fortitude to outlast the time between today and his inevitable enshrinement.
The next 12 months will expose Biggio and Bagwell to additional scrutiny.
But let's be frank: Biggio has been unjustly denied entrance into the Hall of Fame. Setting aside his impressive counting stats — 3,060 hits (21st all-time), 1,844 runs (15th), and 668 doubles (fifth, most ever by a right-handed hitter) — and the denigration of those accomplishments via the "compiler" tag, Biggio authored a 10-year prime that ranked him among the best players of his era, a critical tenet for those fully invested in the vetting of candidates.
Biggio's Defining Difference
By Wins Above Replacement, Biggio qualified as the third-best position player in the National League between 1990-99, trailing only Barry Bonds, whose extraordinary accomplishments have been smeared by the specter of performance-enhancing drugs, and former Astros teammate Jeff Bagwell, himself a more worthy candidate than Biggio but, like Bonds, tainted by PED accusations. During that glorious stretch Biggio created runs 29 percent above the league-average rate while producing a weighted on-base average of .369.
Of the 1,728 hits Biggio accumulated that decade, 533 went for extra bases.
His value as an offensive-minded second baseman undermined the fact that Biggio saved 27.2 runs on defense during the '90s. But his offense was outstanding: a .297/.386/.441 slash line with a 125 OPS+ and an avalanche of hardware and accolades including eight All-Star Game appearances, four Silver Slugger Awards, four Golden Gloves and five seasons finishing in the Top 16 in NL Most Valuable Player voting. By any measure, Biggio excelled.
On Wednesday, the fact that Biggio added 269.1 runs for the Astros during his peak decade did not matter. The Baseball Writers Association of America last voted three players into the Hall of Fame in 1999 (George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount). In 1955, four were granted entry: Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance, the last quartet to enter simultaneously. The deck was stacked against Biggio sharing the ballot with Maddux, who ranks alongside Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez as the greatest right-handed pitchers of this generation, Glavine and Thomas who, statistically, is no more deserving than Bagwell.
That Biggio earned 74.8 percent of the vote while needing 75 percent for access speaks more to voter oversight than voter disenchantment. However, that presumption doesn't lessen the blow of his exclusion, particularly given the formidable competition on the ballot next year.
In joining Pie Traynor (1947) and Nellie Fox (1985) as the only candidates to miss induction by two votes, Biggio set the stage for his inclusion in 2015. Traynor earned the required votes the following year while Fox was granted access by the veterans committee posthumously in 1997. Taking his tantalizing leap from 68.2 percent last season to 427 votes among 571 voters this winter, Biggio would seem a logical bet to join the Hall of Fame next summer.
If fate calls upon Biggio to wait, he clearly possesses the attributes to stay the course with persistence and pride.
But the upcoming ballot will welcome Martinez, John Smoltz, an equally accomplished teammate of Maddux and Glavine, and Randy Johnson, who belongs on any shortlist of the greatest left-handed pitchers ever. The slim possibility does exists that Biggio might be forced to wait a while longer.
The next 12 months will expose Biggio (and Bagwell) to additional scrutiny. They will present conflicted voters ample opportunity to delve deeper into advanced statistics, to realize that Biggio amassed just 17.9 percent of his total WAR over his final eight seasons. To some, Biggio clung to the latter stages of his fading career for that fateful night on June 28, 2007 when he stamped his entry into Cooperstown. To others, his 3,000th hit marked the culmination of a sensational career, with Biggio standing as a testament to those with abundant talent and the wherewithal to maximize every ounce of that talent.
If fate calls upon Biggio to wait for what destiny has already deemed his, he clearly possesses the attributes to stay the course with persistence and pride.
"Congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas," Biggio said in a statement released by the Astros. "Obviously, I'm disappointed to come that close. I feel for my family, the organization and the fans.
"Hopefully, next year."