Ouch!

Plunked for a record 268th time, Craig Biggio is the new king of pain

Baseball

June 30, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

Craig Biggio stood by his locker recently and solo-danced the hokey pokey.

The Houston Astros' second baseman put his left elbow in and his left knee out. He put his left forearm in and shook it all about.

He was pointing out faded bruises and bumps that he has received in his 18-season career - one that achieved baseball immortality yesterday when Colorado Rockies starter Byung Hyun Kim threw a 1-2 pitch that nicked Biggio's left elbow.

The Astros' second baseman calmly trotted up the first base line and into the record books - passing former Oriole Don Baylor for first on the modern-day list of being hit by a pitch with No. 268.

Everyone together now: Ouch.

With his aggressive, win-at-all-costs attitude and his plate-crowding batting stance, Biggio knows he's going to be hit from time to time.

But 268 plunks, dings, pops, bops, beanballs, wearing ones and taking one for the teams? It's a record Biggio has called "the purple heart of baseball."

Here's some perspective: If you combine all the times he has gone to first base after being hit by a pitch, Biggio has walked up the line roughly 4.57 miles in throbbing pain.

It certainly is an accomplishment, chronicled on the Internet by plunkbiggio.blogspot.com - which incidentally, has had more hits than Biggio's elbow as the record neared.

The blog correctly shows that though Biggio has set the modern-day record, he still trails the all-time leader by 19. And that's important because the original King of Pain was an Oriole, hon.

Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings was hit by a pitch 287 times during a 17-year career that spanned from 1891 to 1918. In 1896, when the Orioles won the National League pennant and the 27-year-old Jennings batted .401, he was hit a record 51 times.

Tough-guy Biggio's seasonal ache apex was 34 in 1997 - just ninth all time. And Biggio estimates he was only hit above the shoulder four times in his career.

Pansy.

Jennings admitted he tried to get hit - in the noggin.

"I doubt if any man ever took more bumps on the head than I did," Jennings told The Evening Sun in 1925.

Jennings would make the other team pay, too. In one game against Pittsburgh, he was plunked in the forehead, took first and then stole second, third and home.

Oh, how those Birds have changed.

A few seasons ago, Melvin Mora was at the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and dived out of the way of an errant pitch that - if it had hit him - would have scored the winning run. Later in the at-bat, Mora walked and the Orioles still won the game. But then-second baseman Jerry Hairston commented that the next afternoon the team was going to give Mora "hit-by-pitch practice."

Just imagine, hit-by-pitch practice. An absolutely crazy concept, right? Well, Cerritos (Calif.) College manager Ken Gaylord estimates about 15 schools in Southern California use hit-by-pitch drills occasionally to teach players how to relax their bodies and roll their hips properly to absorb a pitch.

Gaylord said he only throws at his players about "once a year now."

Sheepishly, he admits he's also taught players how to lean into a pitch without being obvious and to "act like they are [mad] or like they are real hurt."

In addition to being strategic, the drill and the overall willingness to be hit by a pitch fosters team unity, said Gaylord, whose clubs routinely lead the conference in being hit at a rate of about two per game.

He has refrained from teaching his teen-age sons the lost art, though, because "with my luck they'd get drilled in the face and my wife would be all over me for six months."

But apparently the apple doesn't get plunked far from the tree. Gaylord said he looked at his one son's high school stats recently and noticed something interesting.

"He must be watching my teams," Gaylord said, laughing, "Because he seems to get hit a few times."

Sun staff writer Mike Klingaman contributed to this article.

HBP leaders

Hit-by-pitch leaders among major leaguers whose careers began after 1900:

1. Craig Biggio 268

2. Don Baylor 267

3. Ron Hunt 243

4. Frank Robinson 198

5. Minnie Minoso 192

6. Jason Kendall 183

7. Andres Galarraga 178

8. Fernando Vina 157

9. Brady Anderson 154

10. Chet Lemon 151

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