HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio was feeling pretty good about himself by the end of the 1991 season, and who could blame him? He was finishing off his third full season in the big leagues, had appeared in his first All-Star Game and had enjoyed a bit of a breakout year offensively, reaching highs in both hits (161) and batting average (.295).
And he was holding his own behind the plate as well, getting high marks from a pitching staff that was feeling its way through the season as part of a massive rebuilding project the Astros started the previous winter.
And then … it happened. The talk.
"What would you think about moving to second base?" bench coach Matt Galante asked Biggio.
This was September, the month when contending teams make a push for a playoff berth and the lesser teams start "evaluating." The consensus by this point of the 1991 season was that the 26-year-old Biggio was an extremely talented player who could have a long career in the big leagues -- as long as he didn't continue catching.
The Astros wanted to do two things: Preserve Biggio's best asset -- his legs -- and then exploit them for the next decade. This couldn't be done, they concluded, with Biggio crouching behind the plate 150 games a year. A position change was necessary, a fact that made sense to everyone -- except Biggio.
"When you're a catcher in your comfort zone, and all of a sudden you're starting to figure that out, and then you have to play a new position that you never played in your life before?" Biggio said. "That could have been a career-ender for me."
Galante didn't come to Biggio without reinforcements. The position switch was also endorsed by Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who was at that time finishing up his coaching career with the Astros and was, as a fellow northeasterner and voice of reason, one of Biggio's closest confidants.
When Berra talked, Biggio listened. "Smartest baseball man I've ever been around," he said of Berra during his Hall of Fame news conference on Tuesday.
As a tag team, Galante and Berra had Biggio's ear. This helped when they approached the idea of changing positions, but Biggio was still hesitant, if not suspicious.
It also didn't help that a brief experiment during a series against the Giants in September 1991 went awry. Manager Art Howe decided to give Biggio something of a dress rehearsal at second base, to, as Galante put it, "see what happens."
What happened wasn't pretty. The first ball hit to Biggio went right under his glove.
"He didn't touch it," Galante said. "I turned to Artie and said, 'We're done. It's never going to happen.'"
But it was too late. The decision was made, and, regardless of his consternation, Biggio was moving to second base. He had one offseason and one Spring Training to learn the position, and he wasn't going to go it alone. That winter, Biggio and Galante met in New Jersey, close to where they both lived, and got to work. The training continued in Kissimmee, Fla., that spring, on an unfinished half-turf field in the very back of the Astros' Spring Training complex.
The work went on for hours, with Biggio using a paddle glove to field grounders. The glove was a flat, round piece of foam attached to the hand by finger slots in the back. The only way to catch the ball was to use two hands, which is key for a second baseman.
Hundreds of grounders turned into thousands, with neither Biggio nor Galante wishing to find an easier route to take than to simply put in the work. Howe, slightly less patient, was itching to try Biggio at second during a real Spring Training game.
"Can I put him in a game yet?" he'd ask Galante. "Not yet," Galante would respond. "You can DH him. But don't put him [at second base]."
After a three-inning stint at DH, Biggio would come out of the game and head to the tiny backfield with Galante for more hours of work.
Finally, one day, Galante said to Howe, "Yes. Start playing him."
Galante and Berra weren't the only Biggio cheerleaders throughout this process. Two teammates -- one current, one former -- jumped in to help, including one who knew that Biggio's position switch meant he was about to be out of a job.
Casey Candaele had appeared in 109 games at second base in 1991, but by the end of that season, he had started to hear the rumors that Biggio was moving positions, either to second base, or center field. Candaele, a happy-go-lucky type whose legacy is more tied to his sense of humor than his baseball prowess, had his own opinions on the matter.
"I was like, 'Center field! Center field!'" Candaele said. He even weighed in with the decision-makers: "You know, he could be a great center fielder," he'd tell them.
"They made the right choice to move him to second," Candaele said. "I knew my career was in danger after that."
Still, Candaele availed himself to Biggio as a mentor.
"I love Craig," Candaele said. "He played so hard, and he was going to be a great player for a long time. Anything I could do to try to make him feel comfortable there, that was the objective. I told him, 'It'll be a tough transition, but you're talented enough to do it.'"
Another former teammate who offered to help was Bill Doran, who patrolled second base for the Astros for years before moving on to the Reds in 1990. He flew in to Houston before Spring Training in '92 and, even with the rodeo in full force at the Astrodome, he carved out a space for the two to work.
"We drew bases in the dirt," Doran recalled. "He was a friend, a teammate, and he was going to change positions and play a position that I played. I just wanted to be there to help out the best I could, because I cared about him."
Unwavering support helped Biggio through the process, as did his fierce, almost defiant, stubbornness. The mere suggestion that he can't do something is all he needs to make sure that he can.
"It was probably 95 percent of the people out there, the experts, who said it was never going to work," Biggio said of the position change, which turned out to be the first of two he'd make in his career. "I tried to take that motivation that I had from all of those people who said it wasn't going to work and turn that into, 'It's going to work.'"
Twenty years and 3,060 hits later, clearly, it worked. A trip to Cooperstown isn't needed as proof, but it sure serves as a nice reminder.
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Alyson Footer is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a national reporter for MLB.com.