Craig Biggio fell about three semesters short of earning his undergraduate degree from Seton Hall.
The kid from Kings Park, N.Y., managed to turn out okay.
Twenty baseball seasons, 3,060 hits, 291 home runs, 1,175 RBI, 414 stolen bases and four gold gloves later, Biggio will be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.
“I always said I was going to get (my degree) so my kids couldn’t hold it over my head,” smiled Biggio Monday night from Notre Dame’s Club Naimoli prior to the Meet the Team Dinner.
“But I’m pretty far out. I’m not going back to school, I’ll tell you that.”
Biggio is not averse, however, to spending as much time as possible on the campus of Notre Dame, where sons Conor (a senior outfielder) and Cavan (a sophomore second baseman) have taken their skills.
The lessons learned along the way and the third-ballot selection to the Hall – he fell two votes short last year – have been impressed upon Conor and Cavan.
“The game doesn’t really care what your name or number is,” said Biggio, summarizing the lessons learned/passed on to his offspring.
“It’s how you handle it, and knowing that you’re going to have good times and bad times. You have to understand that humility is part of the game. You always hear big leaguers say they’re just trying to remain on an even-keel. It’s always about the team.”
Biggio will enter the Hall of Fame this summer with pitchers Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez.
Q: When you get that call from the Hall, what kind of things do you reflect upon?
CB: When you retire, you reflect on the relationships that you had with the fans, your teammates, the guys in opposing uniforms, the clubhouse guys, the trainers…everybody involved in your life.
Twenty years in the big leagues is a long time. There are a lot of reflections and people to be grateful and thankful for. That’s what really makes it a special thing because of the relationships that you had. I had over 450 text messages that I tried to get through. Just got through them the other day. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the people that had a huge impact on your life.
It’s been, to say the least, a little overwhelming and humbling. We’re taking it all in and moving forward. The people in Houston, the fans, the organization, and obviously my family and I are very excited…You can’t go into a better building than that, so we’re very honored and humbled. I’m just glad we’re in and that’s all that matters. It’s an exciting time for my family and the people in Houston and the organization.
It’s a pretty small group of guys. There are 300-and-some people in the Hall of Fame. Player-wise, there’s 214 plus four. So that’s pretty darn special, which is why we are very humbled over the whole thing.
Q: Who were the driving forces behind your commitment to reaching that level of excellence?
CB: I had parents who were really supportive. Dad worked. He’d get off his job and throw you some BP and make some of the games. Your mom was the one who was always driving and getting you to where you had to go.
But the driving force is yourself. The game motivated me. I never forgot where I came from and never will. I just came from a little town in Kings Park, N.Y. I remember how hard it was to get there and I worked twice as hard to stay there. That’s the motivation in itself: to get to put a big-league uniform on every day. You don’t take that for granted.
Q: Was there ever a time when you doubted whether you were going to make it, or were you able to stay the course and believe every step of the way?
BG: The easy part about getting to the big leagues is getting there, and I don’t say that disrespectfully. But once you’re there, the hardest part is to stay there. They get scouting reports, video, they figure you out before you figure yourself out. That’s part of the game: surviving and adjusting. You’ve got to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect your coaches or anybody else to believe in you?
You’ve got to understand you’re going to have some bumps on the road and it’s not all that rosy. But you’ve got to fight your way through it and battle your way through it. That’s all part of being a professional.
Q: You were a model of dependability during your career. How much pride do you take in that?
CB: I take a lot of pride in the fact that I did everything the organization ever asked me to do. I have no regrets. You want me to hit first? I’ll hit first. (Houston) was in the National League at that time. I never hit ninth, but I hit everywhere else. I played catcher, I played second, I played center and I played left. I did whatever the club asked me to do, so I have no regrets in any of the decisions I made because it was all about the team and about the organization.
Q: Coming out of high school, you had opportunities in baseball and football. Were you drafted out of high school?
BG: The Tigers wanted to take me in the eighth round. I kind of told them that unless it was worth what my scholarship (to Seton Hall) was worth, don’t even bother, which was probably the best thing that happened.
I was like a typical 18-year-old kid. You think you know a lot and you really don’t know a lot. I played for a guy that was an ex-Marine – Mike Sheppard at Seton Hall – and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. He and (Seton Hall assistant) Ed Blankmeyer took you from a young kid and developed you into a young man.
If I would have went (into professional baseball) out of high school, I probably never would have made it, to be honest with you.
Q: Your younger son, Cavan, had an opportunity to turn professional after being drafted out of high school. What was your advice to him?
CB: We wanted him to do whatever was going to make him happy. But for my wife and I, we believe in the college route. We believe that sooner or later, you’re going to need an education. I’ve seen guys come to the big leagues and they’re there for a year or two, and then that’s it. That’s why I say it’s hard to stay in the big leagues. That’s the hardest part.
So we understand the importance of getting an education, and obviously getting an education at one of the greatest institutions in the country is hard to say no to. We talked about it as a family and hopefully he’ll continue to progress and maybe next year (Cavan will be draft eligible again in 2016), he gets the opportunity to do it all over again.
I could have probably played a couple more years. But the most important thing to me was retiring for Conor and getting to know him. I had four years to spend time with him and get to know him before he went on in his own life.
We’re enjoying it. We’ve been through a lot as a family. We’re excited about the direction they’re going here and the direction that they’re going with their lives.
Q: What’s it like when Notre Dame first approaches your son and you end up having two sons here that will likely get their degrees from Notre Dame?
CB: For my wife and I and for (the boys), we’re so grateful. To get an opportunity to come to a school like this is challenging in itself. Being a student-athlete here, you’re here for four years but Notre Dame is all about a 40-year program. (Notre Dame) is a part of the rest of your life. We’re lucky. We’re humbled. This is a great place and we couldn’t have decided on a better place, that’s for sure.
It’s really fun now to see them start going down the path and finding their own way and their own direction and turn out to be the people you want them to be. The compliments that I receive from other people about how well-rounded my kids are, that’s the best feeling.
Q: What does baseball mean to the Biggio family?
CB: Everything. I owe everything to the game of baseball. Everything I have is because of baseball. I love the game. I respect the game. I appreciate the game for all the right reasons. I was a very lucky man to put a big-league uniform on for 20 years. I just loved to play. It was always enjoyable. I would have played it for free because I just loved it. That’s the way it was when you grew up as a kid on Long Island, and I got to do it for 20 years against the greatest athletes in the world. Pretty lucky.
Q: You played in an era when a lot of guys are getting held out of the Hall of Fame for speculation (of steroid use). What are your thoughts on the process now?
CB: That’s kind of a loaded question. Look, it didn’t apply to me, and what other guys decided to do, that was there decision. All I know is that I played the game the way you’re supposed to play the game, and I can’t comment on anybody else.
Q: Your teammate (Jeff Bagwell) has been among the (steroid) rumors, although nothing has been proven. Do you talk to him about how tough it is…
CB: He’s trending in the right direction (vote-wise). He’s starting to go up in the polls. Listen, Jeff Bagwell is a Hall-of-Famer. You look at his numbers offensively and what he did defensively. He and I played side by side for 15 years. We had so much fun together. I was the leadoff guy; he was the three-hole hitter. He’s a Hall-of-Fame guy. Getting four guys off the ballot will increase the total for some other guys. Maybe next year is another magical year for another Houston guy.
Q: What are your thoughts on this Hall-of-Fame class?
CB: It’s incredible. I have history with all those guys. Pedro (Martinez)…I had a lot of at bats off John (Smoltz). Randy (Johnson) was a teammate and I had some at bats off him. I didn’t have any success off him, other than I had one hit in spring training. I count it. But in general, he came over in that ’98 trade. He went 10-1 or 11-1. It was insane. We had a team that could have beaten the Yankees. We just never got past San Diego to prove that.
These guys were amazing. It was awesome to compete against them. It’s also really cool that they’re great people. They’re role models. To go in with these guys, it was pretty special.
Q: Have you started writing that speech yet?
CB: You start thinking about a lot of different things, but you want to make sure you thank the people that need to be thanked. You don’t want to sit down and say, ‘Uh, oh, I forgot a couple people’ because you’re not going to get a second chance.
We haven’t started writing it. We haven’t had the time. There have been too many things going on. But hopefully we’ll have it all done by then.
Q: Does the Hall provide you with some guidelines for the speech?
CB: Yeah, they give you a time limit. I’m okay with the time limit.
Q: How long is it?
CB: Ten or 12 minutes. I kind of believe it’s like a homily. If you go too long on a homily, people start drifting off a little bit. If you stay in that 10-to-12 minute parameter, I think you’ll keep everybody’s attention.