Astros Fans, Again, Are Collateral Damage In Hall Of Fame Voters' Temper Tantrum
Craig Biggio and his fans will have to wait another year.
It's been a tough few years for Houston Astros fans. After finally making it to the World Series in 2005 (and losing in four games), they've been on a sharp decline. The best players retired or were traded away, disbanding the fan favorite "Killer Bs" — Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Derek Bell, and Sean Berry (and later, lovable Lance Berkman). The team spent several years pretending it could compete, overpaying for washed-up pitchers while letting their farm system waste away. Then the Astros' owner agreed to move them to the American League beginning in the 2013 season, taking them out of their division and causing thousands of Houston fans to feel confused about the All-Star Game. Our new owner is putting work into building up the farm system, but in the meantime we must endure one of the worst and cheapest baseball teams in recent memory, losing more than 100 games for the last three consecutive seasons and finishing up the 2013 season with H-town's worst season ever, topped with an end-of-season 15-game losing streak.
It couldn't get worse, right?
The Houston Astros have never won the World Series, and a player has never been inducted into the Hall of Fame as an Astro. Three years ago Jeff Bagwell became eligible and received only 41.7 percent of the vote, despite having once been named by the legendary baseball statistician Bill James as the fourth greatest first baseman of all time. Some writers who shared their ballots explained that Bagwell just seemed like someone who'd used PEDs, even though he was never indicted or failed a drug test. He was bulky in the '90s, a crime unto itself in the eyes of the dusty old men who fill out so many of the Baseball Writers Association of America ballots for the Hall. (An institution already filled with men who played in a segregated league that excluded many of the era's greatest players, a group that includes documented racists, cheaters, drunks, liars, and many users of various drugs.)
Still, what about Craig Biggio, who played alongside Bagwell during the Astros' own golden era of the late '90s and early '00s? Never a well-built slugger, he was more of an on-base man (he reached base after being hit by a pitch 287 times in his career, the second most of all time). He was beloved by the fans in Houston, a leader on the team, and dominant in his era. He is part of the elite 3,000-hit club, a group of 28 players who've almost all been inducted into the Hall of Fame when they became eligible, mostly on their first ballot (the only exceptions are Biggio, Pete Rose — ineligible due to his ban from baseball for gambling — and known PED user Rafael Palmiero).
Biggio was first eligible for the HOF last year, and he didn't make it. Speculation has it that a large chunk of writers chose not to vote for anyone on the ballot that year to protest the new inclusion of known PED users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Biggio was not one of those — no one has ever seriously accused the man of using steroids, outside of claiming that "everyone" in the era was part of the problem — but he didn't make it either. No one did, a punishment not to the players who were swept up in the PED era, but for the fans who'd waited so long for one of their own to be immortalized in the Hall.
But this year would be the year, everyone said. I made tentative plans to visit Cooperstown for the induction ceremony, my second visit. The first time I went to see the Hall of Fame, I was so inspired that I started a personal art project, drawing every Hall of Famer ever inducted in chronological order by induction year. I've been waiting ever since I began that project to know that I would get to sketch a "H" for Houston on the cap of one of the beloved Bees. I couldn't wait, and last night I had tears in my eyes just picturing the moment I'd read about it and call my Houston-born boyfriend, post Biggio pictures on Facebook, and celebrate with my family and friends who've been waiting for a reminder of why we love baseball so much, and why sticking with the Astros through all these years was finally worth it for this moment.
See you next year, #7.