On the same day that Frank Thomas hit 500 homers, Craig Biggio inducted himself into the 3,000 hits club - a pretty exclusive group to be joining, full of names that make you go "oh yeah - that guy! Yeah, he was good." But most of the names have faded from memory completely, 'cause singles hitters three-quarters of a century ago lack the snap of command that our home run hitters had. It's the flip side of the problem from my last post - we don't like our new sluggers who might've cheated because we love the ones who came before them: Ruth and Aaron and Mays and Mantle and Williams. Whereas I doubt before Biggio got there on Thursday most people could name 10 of those 26 players. Tris Speaker? Nap Lajoie? Cap Anson? When's the last time you thought about Cap Anson? That's what I thought.
Because this is becoming more of a prestigious club - outside of Rose, a lot of the names at the top of this list are people who have been dead for a long time: Cobb, Musial, Wagner, etc. So this moment has a decidedly different feel from Thomas' breakthrough. Really, there are a number of differences between the Thomas moment and the Biggio moment. The biggest one would have to be that I was there to see Biggio do it.
Steph, who moves into the group called "the most wonderful people I know" for this one, offered me a ticket to come along and see the game. I figured it was unlikely that Biggio would have a three-hit game and get to 3,000; but it seemed worth the chance. I blew off all my plans and went.
I was right, he didn't have a three-hit game. He had a five-hit game, and he did it in style. Forgotten in the midst of the theatrics of the evening was that Biggio hit in the tying run with his 3,000 hit - and it was he who got the first two-out hit in the 12th inning to start the rally that won the game for them.
The best part of the moment was Biggio himself - having successfully hit his historic single, he tried to stretch it into a double - a beautifully classic competitive moment: "it's my 3,000 hit, but I've got to get into scoring position, even if I didn't actually hit it anywhere far enough to be a double." He was out by a mile.
His teammates and family streamed out onto the field, and Biggio hugged and kissed his kids and his weeping wife before wandering through his the crowd around him hugging teammates and coaches. I'm an old softie sometimes, and the sight of a faithful athlete crying and waving to the fans that he's played in front of for twenty years brought a distinct lump to my throat. And up until that moment, I'd never particularly been a Biggio fan. But it was one of those moments, standing there clapping and yelling with 40,000 Houstonians. It made me say "y'know, I could get attached to this team."
Biggio made a dash for the dugout and grabbed Jeff Bagwell and bodily hauled him out onto the field to bask in the applause, and I suddenly got what the moment was about. These were two guys who had played their whole lives for these people, had never been disloyal or fought about money or done anything but toil every day to turn generally subpar teams into playoff contenders. And they'd never seen anything for it: there'd never been any those big contracts or World Series rings on big clubs that the more mercenary major league players had collected. Two Hall of Fame players working day in and day out for these fans, and this was their reward. The unabashed adulation from the throats of 40,000 local fans. The recognition that what they'd done had meant a lot to the people in this city. I started tearing up a little.
And then I noticed people leaving. And when I say people leaving, I don't mean "people with small children taking them home to bed." I mean "people who said 'eh, I saw history, screw the rest of the game.'" And not just a couple. 15,000 people left the stadium over the next ten minutes, a quick-moving, steady flood of fans disappearing even as Biggio continued to stand and wave on the field. More steadfast fans started standing up and yelling at them as they went by for being fickle, but everyone just kept their head down and didn't make eye contact.
I wondered if Biggio could see all the people leaving from where he stood on the field. I hoped he couldn't. I hoped he didn't know.
The Astros ending up winning in the 12th inning on a grand slam from Carlos Lee in front of a sparse crowd of about 10,000 people. Every time Biggio came up, we all stood up and gave him a resounding cheer, chanting his name as loud as we could in honor of what he'd done that day. But it sounded weak and hollow in comparison to the ruckus we were causing before, and I felt sad for Biggio that no one was watching him fight back in the bottom of the twelfth and score the tying run. I felt sad that even on the biggest night in his career, the night when everything was supposed to be about him, nobody had stuck around to cheer him on.
Cheering for sports is a silly thing, and everyone knows it. But it seems like if you're going to cheer for them, if you're going to believe in them, then you should stick around. You should chant your players' names and boo the pitchers who throw brushbacks and let the ump know that your boys are always safe when stealing second and he should know that.
It seems that if you're going to be involved in such a silly, ridiculous thing, you should do it for real. You should stick around. You should let your players know that it means something to you that they stuck around for you, that they ignored the money and the fame and kept on toiling right here under your nose. You should let them know it wasn't for nothing.
And you should stick around and see what happens when your boy tries to stretch a single into a double in order to win a game on a night where everyone would be fine if he worried more about his own statistics than the final outcome. You should stick around and root for a guy who's more about winning than ringing up big numbers. You should stick around because you're the reason he's trying so hard, and you owe him that. Just that one night. The night he finally got his reward.
Just that one night. You should've stayed.