Here in St. Louis--birthplace of the ballpark hot dog and brewer
of the nation's beer--are two other timeless American verities:
Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, the longest-tenured teammates in
major league baseball. They sit in the visitors' clubhouse at
Busch Stadium, on the Mississippi River, another treasure that
just keeps rollin' and don't say nothin'. "Growing up, even
though I didn't like the Yankees, I knew their lineup inside and
out," says Biggio, "because it never changed." Neither, for 13
seasons now, have two names in the Astros' lineup, where Bagwell
and Biggio have so selflessly excelled that, even in Houston,
Bags is frequently mistaken for Beege, and Beege for Bags.
"People will say, 'Hey, Bags, how's it goin'?'" says Biggio, the
37-year-old centerfielder. "I tell 'em, 'No, I'm the good-looking
"I'm always like, 'Naw, man, I'm the taller one,'" says Bagwell,
the 35-year-old first baseman who at 6 feet has an inch on his
teammate. "'I'm the one who can grow facial hair.'"
Only two active teammates in all of major league sports have
played together longer than these Astros, and that pair--Brian
Leetch and Mike Richter of the New York Rangers--have appeared in
half as many games as Bagwell & Biggio, who are not-so-fast
becoming a latter-day Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, teammates
on the Tigers for 19 seasons. Now, nothing comes between the
Houston pair but an ampersand. "It's been like a marriage more
than anything else," says Bagwell when asked for the secrets of
successful teammatery. "You go through the same emotions."
Indeed, last June, while protecting a one-run lead in the ninth
inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs, Bagwell--with the
bases loaded and one out--found himself chasing a high fly ball
into foul territory beyond first base. He was nine months removed
from surgery on his throwing shoulder. "It was killing him," says
Biggio, who was playing second base that night. "He couldn't
throw the ball as far as my 10-year-old."
Which is how it happened that Bagwell, after fielding the foul,
saw an extraordinary sight: his second baseman standing three
yards away, calling for the baseball, which Bagwell duly flipped
to Biggio, who in turn held the runner at third. "He knew exactly
what my ability was," Bagwell says now, a year later, "and he
made the effort to get over there." It was an intimate act,
voyeuristic to watch, and so unexpectedly moving that both
players received punishing fines from their teammates. "It did
cost us a lot of money in kangaroo court," says Biggio. "It's not
often you see a 3-4-5 relay to third."
Bagwell & Biggio met in 1991, at the AstroFest fan festival in
the Astrodome. Biggio already had spent three seasons with
Houston; New Englander Bagwell had arrived from the Boston system
in a notorious trade for journeyman righthander Larry Andersen.
"I remember [Biggio] was trying to grow a mustache and wasn't
very good at it," says Bagwell.
"He came in as a third baseman," Biggio says of Bagwell. "That
was [Ken Caminiti's] position." And so in spring training of '91
an oracular Astros instructor suggested Bagwell try first base
instead. "It was Yogi Berra's idea," says Biggio. "They gave him
two weeks to learn the position."
Twelve years later Bagwell is still there, while Biggio has gone
from catcher to second to centerfield, working his way through
the center of the diamond like a splinter surfacing to the skin.
In baseball, only six individual players have been with one team
as long as Bagwell & Biggio have been together on the Astros:
John Franco (Mets), Barry Larkin (Reds), Edgar Martinez
(Mariners), John Smoltz (Braves), Frank Thomas (White Sox) and
Bernie Williams (Yankees).
Few phenomena in sports are more dispiriting than the civic
institution--Unitas, Montana, Jordan--who ends his career out of
town. Next fall, in Arizona of all places, Emmitt Smith will wear
Cardinals crimson, as if his entire uniform is blushing. But even
stars who want to stay with one team for eternity are seldom
invited to do so. "I mean, Mark Grace going to the Diamondbacks?"
asks Biggio. "I'll always think of Gracie as a Cub."
So, of course, will Gracie. But countless other athletes can't
wait to flee for free agency, for all the familiar rationales.
"Whenever a guy says, 'It's not about the money,'" says Bagwell,
"the one thing we know for sure is, it's about the money."
As two teams of mercenaries play on a clubhouse TV, Bagwell says
of the back of his baseball card: "It takes both sides, players
and management, working very hard to make that happen."
In March, outside Minute Maid Park, the Astros unveiled bronze
statues of Bagwell and Biggio, twin monuments to professional
loyalty. "I thought I'd be a catcher," says Biggio of his career
aspirations all those years ago. "And I'm sure Bags thought he'd
be in a Red Sox uniform, playing at Fenway Park."
Their dreams did not come true, and for that, Biggio and Bagwell
are forever grateful. "Next thing you know," says Biggio, "you're
two guys from New York and Connecticut living in Texas for the
rest of your life."
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
"It's been like a marriage," says Bagwell of his 13-year run with
Biggio. "You go through the same emotions."