Role models still exist

Friday, August 3, 2007

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to read any newspaper sports section, listen to sports talk radio, or watch ESPN or other sports TV channels without coming across (or being hit by) stories about the off-the-field activities of sports figures. I'm not sure a day goes by without at least one "nasty" item, usually involving alcohol or drug abuse, possibly in combination with domestic abuse or physical abuse of somebody.

There probably aren't many major college sports programs or professional franchises these days which have never had one of their athletes, coaches, or wealthy alumni involved with the law.

One day last week, though, really topped them all. Every source for sports news that one checked that day had the same three lead stories - 1) The charges filed against NFL player (former NFL player?) Michael Vick, regarding his allegedly running a dog-fighting operation at a home he owned in Virginia; 2) The allegations that a referee in the National Basketball Association had been involved in some big-money gambling - on games he had officiated - and had some kind of connection with the "mob;" and 3) Whether or not baseball commissioner Bud Selig was going to be present when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's hallowed record for career home runs - in doubt because of Bonds' suspected use of steroids or human growth hormone. Finding sports stories about the actual playing of games was very difficult that day. The number four sports story was probably the Tour De France cycling race in Europe - and the suspected "doping" done by the race leader and others.

One very positive story did appear though (besides the Cherokee Braves baseball team, that is). The Houston Astros' Craig Biggio announced his retirement at the end of the current season. No, that's not the good, positive part. The positive part is the great things that virtually everyone had to say about Biggio, probably regarded as one of the most underrated players in baseball history.

He has played his entire 20-year career for just one team. He began as a catcher - a speedy catcher who could steal bases. His manager at the time, fearing for the 5-11, 180 - pounder's health, asked him to play second base.

Biggio complied without complaint, and the All Star catcher became an All Star second baseman. He continued to play every day, collecting hits, making plays in the field, and hustling all the time.

After a few years at second, Biggio was asked to switch poistions again - and became an All Star outfielder. A couple of years ago, he moved back to second base.

In his outstanding career, the Astros' lead-off hitter has collected over 3000 hits- including 661 doubles, 55 triples, and 287 home runs. He has scored more than 1800 runs and driven in more than 1100. He has stolen 413 bases, succeeding on 71 percent of his attempts. Oh, and by the way, a couple of hours after he announced his retirement, Biggio slammed a Grand Slam home run to help lead his team to victory.

At all times, Biggio has been considered a real "team player," and if nothing else drives that home, consider this - Biggio is the all-time leader in HBP, which stands for "Hit By Pitch." The slight Biggio has "taken one for the team" an incredible 285 times. He is also characterized as a "good guy" by most people, and is very active in charitable work.

Two other "good guy" baseball players with stellar "stats" and sterling reputations and long careers with but one team were inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Sunday July 29. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken jr. will probably be joined in Cooperstown in a few years by Biggio - good players, good citizens, good family men, and nice guys all.

The kind of "sports heroes" to whom young people should be paying attention