No. 7 proved lucky for Hall of Fame inductee

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — One of the many distinctions Mickey Mantle had in his legendary career was that for 45 years he was the only player who wore No. 7 to have his number retired. That changed this year when the Astros retired No. 7 in honor of Craig Biggio, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday alongside Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

I chatted with Biggio, a native New Yorker from Smithtown, Long Island, who has made Houston his home, on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel here about that situation. I asked him if he wore the number because of Mantle.

“No,” he said. “Actually, I sort of got the number by accident.”

Biggio recalled that in his second spring-training camp he asked for a number lower than the 67 he wore the previous year as a late-season callup.

“I had worn No. 44 when I played baseball and football in high school and hoped to get that number again,” Biggio said. “But the equipment manager said I was too thin to wear a double number. So I asked him if I could have ‘4.’ The problem was that another infielder had that number — Steve Lombardozzi, who was senior to me and had played on a World Series championship team [1987 Twins]. So they gave me No. 7, the only single digit that was available at the time.

“The irony is that Lombardozzi was cut just before we broke camp, and I made the team. I could have taken ‘4,’ but since I made the team wearing ‘7’ in camp, I figured I better keep it.”

Biggio would have made Mickey proud. He was an All-Star at three positions (catcher, second base, center field) and banged out 3,060 hits, of which 668 were doubles, the fifth highest total in history and the most by a right-handed batter. The only players in front of him are left-handed hitting Tris Speaker (792), Stan Musial (725) and Ty Cobb (724) and switch hitter Pete Rose (746). The active leader among right-handed batters is Angels first baseman Albert Pujols with 574. Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez has 532.

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