Players do not reach their 3,000th hit very often. Nor do they reach 500 home runs in their career. Without contacting the Elias Sports Bureau, Thursday night was perhaps the most famous in baseball history. Craig Biggio lined a 2-0 fastball from Aaron Cook to center field to achieve his feat, while Frank Thomas stroked a home run to left field to join the record books.
Biggio began his major league career as a backup catcher to Alex Trevino in 1988. The Houston Astros drafted him out of Seton Hall University and put him through all of 141 games in the minor league system. It takes players a lot more time to get “seasoned,” but Biggio was hitting .344. Why not see what the kid could do at the major league level?
Once he earned an every day job, splitting time behind the plate and in the outfield, Biggio began to hit. In his first season of collecting 500 ABs, he banged out 153 hits. After that, he did not look back, despite switching positions more times than Shea Hillenbrand changes teams.
“I'm older, slower and wiser,” says Biggio. “I think it's harder now than it probably was then. You're too dumb and young to realize it back then. Now, you're older and wiser, and understand the significance of everything and how hard it is to [hit 3,000]. I mean, that is such a massive number and it's just crazy, really thinking about it. I mean, to get that number and my name's next to it, I can't believe it right now, to be honest with you.”
Biggio is now the 27th player in major league history to collect his 3,000th hit, only the ninth to do so with his original team. To add to his Hall of Fame résumé, he has been an All Star seven times, won the Silver Slugger (an award given to the player with the best offensive contributions at their position) five times, and netted four Gold Gloves. He holds the record for most hit by pitches with 282.
The Astros second baseman has proven himself about as well-rounded as any player can be. Biggio has a solid career batting average of .283, on-base percentage of .367, and slugging percentage of .436. He has stolen over 400 bases and hit nearly 300 home runs. Those are the numbers of a player who has spent the majority of his career playing the defense-first positions of catcher, second base, and center field.
Not to be forgotten, Thomas clubbed home run number 500 in the same ballpark that he hit number one. He became just the 21st member of that category. For those who believe this accomplishment is diluted due to the number of players approaching this round number, remember there have been more than 16,000 players to have stepped into a batter’s box. Twenty-one is a very small number compared to that.
“You can't upstage 500 home runs. It's hard to do,” says Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who has 181 career homers. “I’ll be lucky if I hit 300.”
The Big Hurt reached the major leagues in 1990 at the age of 22, just like Biggio. Unlike Biggio, however, he was given an every day job from the beginning and began earning his nickname. He hit .330 in 60 games, and it was eight years until that batting average dipped below .300 again. It took until an injury plagued 2001 before his on base percentage dropped below .380. His career slugging percentage is an amazing .566. When healthy, Thomas has produced with the best players of the 1990’s.
His career, however, has been one that has seen a couple of DL visits. In 1999, he played in only 135 games and in 2001, 20. 2005 was his last season with the Chicago White Sox, and he finished with a scant 105 ABs.
Sensing a bargain, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane gambled on Thomas, and that wager paid off. He responded with 39 homers and a .381 on base percentage. Thomas parlayed that success into a two-year deal with the Blue Jays.
“Now that I'm healthy again I would love to get to 600,” says Thomas. “It'll take a lot of luck to get there, but I really got to have a strong second half and really prove that I can still play this game.”
Not matter how much longer Thomas decides to play, he has likely earned himself a trip to Cooperstown five years after he retires for induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
“It means a lot to me because I did it the right way,” says Thomas of his career. “I busted my butt since college and worked hard in the weight room to stay strong. I could care less about what others have done. I know what it's taken me to get 500 home runs.”
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