PLUNKED; RECORDS DEPT. Series: 3/5

By McGrath, Ben | The New Yorker, June 13, 2005 | Go to article overview

PLUNKED; RECORDS DEPT. Series: 3/5


McGrath, Ben, The New Yorker


The absence of Barry Bonds from this baseball season has put on hold the home-run-record watch. Smaller, less glamorous achievements will have to do. Fortunately, there is Craig Biggio, who comes to town with the Astros this week for a three-game series at Shea. Biggio is closing in on an all-time record that, while not much celebrated, reflects an impressive fearlessness and durability--masochism, even. He is soon to become the batter who has been hit by the most pitches: the beanball king.

"I've been very lucky and very fortunate," Biggio said the other day, practicing his victory speech on the visitors' clubhouse phone in Milwaukee and reflecting on the passive art of the hit-by-pitch as he stood just six plunks shy of Don Baylor's career two hundred and sixty-seven. "Obviously, to get hit, what, two hundred sixty-something times during the course of my career--and I'm not really all that big; I'm, like, a hundred-eighty-five-pound guy, so--if you would've told me eighteen years ago that this would be happening to me, I would have told you that you're crazy."

His parents and his doctors presumably would have agreed, although, remarkably, Biggio has never been sent to the disabled list by a beanball; nor, in this era of inflated egos and easy umbrage, has he ever charged the mound. He simply takes his lumps--again and again and again.

There have been close calls, of course, and, when it comes to absorbing projectiles, some body parts are better than others. The worst? "I guess the face," Biggio said. "I got hit right in the face on an 0-2 pitch by Jeremi Gonzalez when he was in Chicago, and that was the scariest one, because all I could think about was Dickie Thon." In the annals of the beanball, there are the crowd favorites, such as Baylor and the old Met Ron Hunt, and the grim reminders, such as Ray Chapman, who was killed by a sidearm fastball to the temple, in 1920, and Tony Conigliaro and Dickie Thon, who suffered partial loss of eyesight after beanings in 1967 and 1984, respectively. Biggio fared comparatively well with his facial disfigurement: "Right below my eye socket, I had a nice little welt there, yeah." He's also been struck in the helmet four times. "I think the best place to get hit is with a curveball at about sixty-two miles an hour, probably right in the butt," he said.

Despite Biggio's stoicism and relative good fortune, it would be a mistake to think that he enjoys being a target dummy. "Oh, it hurts like hell," he said. "I'm not going to lie about it. …

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