Monday, October 26, 2009

Brush with greatness: Craig Biggio

This isn't so much a post about Craig Biggio as a post about the almost daily process a sportswriter goes through in tracking down the person he/she needs to interview.

If you're a regular beat writer for the team, it's a fairly routine process. You get to know what the players look like and where they will be at certain times. But if you're going into a situation cold -- and there are many too many of those instances as a writer -- it's very awkward.

Biggio was the first major league player at a major league game that I ever interviewed. He is probably going into the Hall of Fame, which would make him the other Hall of Famer I've interviewed (I posted on Phil Niekro earlier). With credentials like that, you'd think he would be easy to track down.

Unfortunately, this was very early in Biggio's career, his second year as a starter. Also, I never saw the Astros living in the Northeast, unless they were in the playoffs. So it took a long time to recognize young players from Houston. Especially back then before the internet. And as you'll see, I didn't know who this Biggio guy was.

My assignment was to go up to Montreal to do a story on Jim Deshaies, who was pitching in a game against the Expos. And I needed information for a more in-depth follow story on him. So, I knew I would want to talk to the manager, the pitching coach and the starting catcher.

So, I wandered through the visitors' locker room trying to track down each of those people. The manager and coach was easy enough. But the players were scattered everywhere and half of them weren't in their uniforms.

I decided on the most dangerous tactic to ferret out Biggio. I found a cluster of players near some lockers and announced that I was looking for him. However, I made one, major mistake. I pronounced Biggio's name wrong. Like I said, I wasn't very familiar with him, and as a new reporter I probably should have been more prepared.

So I said, "BIG-ee-oh" instead of "BEEJ-ee-oh." Oops.

That drew an immediate snicker from the player on my left. Then he said derisively, pointing to a player in front of him: "That's him right there."

I didn't know who the player was that laughed at me, but I made sure to find out later in the day. It was this guy:

I just love ballplayers who barely pan out in the majors and take out their frustrations on sportswriters, don't you?

It annoys me to this day, even though it shouldn't. After all, you get the same crap from some high school athletes who think they're the smartest people on the planet. I barely let it register anymore, sometimes retorting, sometimes simply filing it under, "OK, smart-ass, you just showed a complete stranger that you're both stupid AND unlikeable. Nice first impression."

Anyway, I knew the player he pointed to was not Biggio, both because of his attitude and because I immediately recognized the player he pointed out.

It was Rich Gedman, who had joined the Astros that season. Growing up in the Northeast, I saw plenty of Red Sox games, and Gedman was part of those teams all throughout the 1980s. I must have watched 100 games that featured Gedman.

Gedman was seated, facing away from me, in front of the lockers. Barely looking up, or turning around, he pointed to the room behind me and said in a semi-disgusted tone, "No, it's not; he's over there."

Sure, enough Craig Biggio was seated in a chair watching television. I think he might have been watching game videotape. I don't remember. Biggio graciously took about 10 minutes to answer my questions and was as professional as could be, even just a couple years into his career. I thanked him and headed upstairs to watch the game.

I'm appreciative of both Gedman and Biggio for helping a young guy out that day. Gedman was a veteran, so perhaps he had learned how to deal with things the right way. But Biggio was as young as I was that day (we're the same age), and he knew the right way to deal with the media, too.

Thanks, Craig. My editor liked the story I wrote.


  1. I have always admired Biggio. Nice to hear he was a quality guy on and off the field. I like you hope that someday we can call him a Hall of Famer.

  2. I have run into many Eric Yeldings over the years and I still hold grudges... Great story!

  3. Very cool story. I do a lot of phone interviews with musicians, and it's always a pleasure to talk to the ones who are actually interested in promoting their material, not looking at their watch every few seconds hoping that the interview is almost done. Of course, I can't see them doing that, but sometimes you can hear it in their tone of voice.