(Updated Jan. 6, 2015)
Craig Biggio will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a career member of the Astros after rejecting a chance to become a Cardinal in his prime.
Biggio was recruited aggressively by the Cardinals when he became a free agent after the 1995 season. At age 30, he had a chance to be their second baseman at the start of the Tony La Russa era and become part of a franchise that would reach the postseason nine times in La Russa’s 16 seasons as Cardinals manager.
Instead, Biggio remained with the Astros and continued to torment Cardinals pitching.
Biggio had regular-season career bests of 280 hits and 131 RBI against the Cardinals in 20 years (1988-2007) with the Astros. Versus St. Louis in the regular season, he batted .298 (280-for-939) with a .378 on-base percentage, 22 home runs, 58 doubles and 31 stolen bases. In the postseason (the National League Championship Series of 2004 and 2005), Biggio hit .250 (14-for-56) against the Cardinals.
After the 1995 season, Biggio weighed offers from the Cardinals, Rockies, Padres and Astros. La Russa, who had just been named Cardinals manager, and general manager Walt Jocketty met with Biggio, his wife and agent Barry Axelrod in California in an effort to convince the player to become a Cardinal.
“We were received well,” Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story published Dec. 5, 1995. “He likes Tony a lot and would enjoy playing for him. It’s important for him to go to a place where the team is going to be competitive. I think he would enjoy playing here. He’s a guy who would be very important to our program.”
Four days later, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote “Craig Biggio would own this town” if he signed with St. Louis.
The Cardinals offered Biggio a five-year, $25 million contract, the Associated Press reported at the time. But Biggio took the Astros’ four-year, $22 million deal. “I consider myself a loyal person,” Biggio said. “… I want to win in an Astros uniform.”
Twelve years later, when Biggio was finishing his playing career in 2007 with 3,060 hits, La Russa told MLB.com, “Walt and I put a full-court press on Craig (in 1995). I thought we put together a charge that had a chance, but I know … his teammates were also talking to him. He made a smart decision to stay there.”
Biggio told St. Louis writer Rick Hummel in 2007 that a few years earlier La Russa had told him, “I’m still ticked at you for not signing with us.”
“Tony said it in a good way,” Biggio said, “but I was their guy. But I never wanted to leave Houston.”
Biggio, who played most of his career as a second baseman, faced the Cardinals for the first time on Aug. 17, 1988, when he entered the game at Busch Stadium II in the ninth inning as a catcher. Boxscore
In 108 regular-season games at Busch Stadium II (which was the Cardinals’ home through 2005), Biggio batted .314 (128-for-408) with 30 doubles, 11 home runs and 60 RBI.
Biggio faced the Cardinals for the final time during a September 2007 weekend series at Busch Stadium III. Before the middle game of the series on Sept. 22, 2007, Jocketty presented Biggio with a check for $3,053 (his hits total at the time) during an on-field ceremony. (Biggio donated the money to a charity.) Cardinals fans gave Biggio an ovation during and after the presentation, MLB.com reported.
“I’ve always said the Cardinals fans are the classiest fans in the game because they appreciate a good play,” Biggio said to the Post-Dispatch.
In remarks to reporters, La Russa called Biggio “the perfect pro.”
“He’s tied for first among guys you respect for all the years I’ve been here,” La Russa added.
Wrote Alyson Footer of MLB.com: Craig Biggio always appreciated the city of St. Louis, the Cardinals organization and Cardinals fans, and during an on-field pregame presentation on Saturday the admiration was reciprocated.
Biggio appeared in the game that night as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and singled off Tyler Johnson. Boxscore
The next day, Sept. 23, 2007, Biggio, batting second and playing second base, went 1-for-4 in his final game against the Cardinals. The hit was a seventh-inning single off Russ Springer. When Biggio batted again in the eighth, he received a standing ovation that he acknowledged with a tip of his batting helmet. After flying out to right field, he was removed from the game. Boxscore
Biggio is one of 10 players to reach 3,000 hits and spend his entire career with one team. The others are George Brett (Royals), Roberto Clemente (Pirates), Tony Gwynn (Padres), Derek Jeter (Yankees), Al Kaline (Tigers), Stan Musial (Cardinals), Cal Ripken (Orioles), Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox) and Robin Yount (Brewers).
In a 2011 interview with the New York Times, Biggio said he “absolutely” could have played another two or three years longer than he did, but he wanted more time with his wife and three children. “I couldn’t look my family in the eyes anymore and justify (playing),” Biggio said. “It was time to go.”