HOUSTON—The intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with attempting to break Major League Baseball's all-time hit-batsman mark, a once-thought untouchable record that has stood at 287 for over a century, came to a head yesterday when Craig Biggio lashed out against the media, blaming an avalanche of news coverage and reporters' ceaseless questioning for his recent hit-by-pitch slump.
Biggio has not been struck by a pitch since July and has stalled at 285, while Hughie Jennings' awe-inspiring, much-revered record—set during a playing career that spanned the decade from 1893 to 1903—seems to be getting further and further out of reach.
"You guys perpetuated this by comparing me to Hughie day in and day out," said a chain-smoking Biggio, showing reporters from over 50 media outlets the bundles of hate mail he has received from baseball fans. "Listen to these people: 'Quit now before you break the hearts of fans everywhere, Craig.' 'Hey Craig Bitch, I'll kill you and your family if you break the record.' 'Jennings did it without an arm guard.' Do you think they had even heard of this guy before you people had my countdown on the front page every day? Jesus Christ!"
"More than anything, I just want to be hit by three more pitches so all of this will go away," said Biggio, who claims he has not slept in weeks and has developed multiple stomach ulcers. "Now I know why Don Baylor quit at 267."
Though Biggio has refrained from comment on what national media outlets have dubbed "The Chase" for the majority of the season, last night's outburst was more than likely a reaction to a special guest editorial in this week's Sports Illustrated. The Tom Verducci-penned piece stated that, no matter what numbers eventually appeared in the "total hit by pitch" column, Jennings and his "magical" 51 hit-batsman season of 1894 could never be dethroned as baseball's all-time hit-by-pitch king.
"Craig Biggio has played nearly 10 seasons more than Jennings—that means he has had the opportunity to be hit by hundreds of thousands more pitches," Verducci writes. "It's a regrettable fact that, like it or not, baseball fans will have to accept that Craig Biggio will ultimately be hit by a baseball more times than Hughie Jennings. But he will never, ever bring the same amount of excitement to being hit by a pitch that Hughie did."
The final line of Verducci's article read, "Craig Biggio: All-Time Hit-Batsman Leader. Just doesn't sound right."
According to ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian, the main difference between Jennings and Biggio is that, in Jennings' playing days, he was universally adored by fans in all eight baseball cities. Kurkjian notes that, perhaps unfairly, Biggio's attempt to break the record has only been embraced in Houston, evidenced by the enormous "Hit By Pitch" countdown sign in left field and by the fireworks that are set off every time Biggio is beaned.
"True, Biggio is booed in every major-league ballpark other than his own," Kurkjian said. "But this is not just a historic record we're talking about here. It's a fairytale of a record, a romantic ideal almost, a high-water mark set by one of baseball's most well-known figures. Naturally, there is going to be a backlash."
"And as far as I'm concerned, the arm-guard argument can be saved for a later time. The key for Biggio is to block everything out, play Craig Biggio baseball, and wait for his pitch. The wild fastballs and the non-breaking curveballs will eventually come if he's patient."
With over 50 games remaining, Biggio has ample time to break the record, though there are several tangible factors that can be blamed for his recent stall. Most significant is the simple fact that the closer he gets to the immortal mark, pitchers around the league have been throwing to, instead of at, Biggio.
"No one wants to be the guy who throws that record 288th bean-ball," New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine said. "From this point on, when Craig comes up to bat, he is only going to get pitches he can hit. Still, I am sure some pitcher will make a mistake, and serve up a wild pitch on a silver platter. When that happens, Craig will definitely know to lay into it."
"After all," Glavine said, "he is one of the all-time greats."