One of the best all around position players in Astros history, Craig will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26–the first Astros player to receive this honor. We asked Craig about his journey, both as a ball player and as a father.
Interviewed by Sara G. Stephens
HFM: After last year’s disappointment of not being elected [to the National Baseball Hall of Fame], you said in an interview, “…hopefully next year we’re able to give it to the fans and the city and the organization and my family. I just can’t wait because they deserve it.” Why do you think the city of Houston, the Astros, and your family each deserve this recognition?
CB: Because it’s a monumental thing. There are only 215 players ever inducted, and for somebody who’s played his entire career in one city, that city becomes a part of you, and you become a part of that city. As far as family goes, you’re never home–that’s a sacrifice your family makes, and they deserve recognition for that sacrifice. You also have loyalties with the organization and with the fan base. I’ve been very fortunate to play with one organization and in one city.
HFM: That fact pretty much underscores your deep sense of loyalty, doesn’t it?
CB: Yeah, I’ve been very loyal,and I have no regrets in my career. I was a kid that came from New York. I came to Texas and fell in love with it. This is my home now.
HFM: So what do you think it means to your family to have this finally happen for you?
CB: I think they are extremely happy for me. When I speak for me, I speak for my whole family, because they understand how hard I worked in the big leagues and how much I loved the team, and how much I love the fans. It’s an exhilarating time for us.
HFM: You’ve obviously had a huge athletic influence on your kids–your sons both played for St. Thomas baseball team and then for Notre Dame, and your daughter is a 3-star athlete. Do you think your character, too, has influenced your kids?
CB: My big message to my kids is to try to treat people the way you want to be treated. It doesn’t matter what your name is or how much money you have or don’t have. That’s the way we live our lives–with moral standards. My kids are wonderful human beings. As a parent, the ultimate compliment you can get, especially when your kids are away from you, is a compliment about your kids.
HFM: You’ve been quoted as saying that your top two priorities in life are family and baseball, in that order. How did it feel to combine those two passions while coaching your sons at St. Thomas?
CB: I could have played a couple more years, but that wasn’t the most important thing to me–and it would have been for the wrong reasons. As a ballplayer, you have a professional job that you work in the summertime–that’s the same time your kids are off. So for me, I was never around. In all honesty, I had four years to be with my oldest son, and I was going to make the best of it. Once they leave and go to college, they go on with their own lives.
I enjoyed the heck out of St. Thomas. I had the opportunity to teach baseball, not just to my kids, but to all the kids who played there. I think of all of them as my kids. I got a chance to better know and understand kids of this generation. I think I’m a better father because of it.
HFM: What makes baseball such a great family sporting event?
CB: The big thing with baseball is that everyone has played it. Not everyone has played at the same level, but at some point in their lives, everyone has played baseball. It doesn’t matter how educated you are, everyone has an opinion about it, which makes it special. That’s why baseball is America’s passtime.
Baseball has lots of levels. It’s a very complicated, difficult game. That’s why it’s such a big deal when guys are able to get to the big leagues or sign professionally, because that’s such a short list of people. We just had the June draft, and it’s wonderful to see guys get a chance at their big dream.
HFM: What’s the best advice your parents ever gave you?
CB: I’m not sure if there’s one particular thing, other than to live your life normally, and that’s what I try to teach my own kids. As I said earlier, you need to treat others the way you want to be treated. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
HFM: What are the most important traits a person needs to succeed in baseball?
CB: Humility is number one. You gotta have it because, sooner or later, the game is going to humble you it. It’s the reality of the game. You also need a strong work ethic. You gotta try to work as hard as you can, and sometimes that’s not good enough. You have to work harder. With baseball, there’s no guarantee for tomorrow and no second chances.
HFM: The same lesson applies to life, does it not?
CB: Absolutely. Live your life like you need to live it, like there’s no tomorrow. Work as hard as you need to, so that at the end of the day, you don’t have any regrets if you don’t get a second chance.
Playing pro baseball has really driven that point home for me, because it’s a hard life. It’s an expensive life. People see the big leagues and think it’s a great life. They don’t understand the sacrifice it took for you to get there–a lot of times it’s the people around your life that keep you there. It’s hard.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice when you make it, but it’s hard to get there. And only one percent of the guys that play the game get into the Hall of Fame. Until this year, it was less than one percent, but this year with four inductees, it’s been pushed to one percent.
It’s a hard business. There are so many things you have to deal with, besides your ability level. Sometimes people write a bad article, just because they feel like it, and you have to take it. You have to develop a thick skin. That’s why you have to be humble. It’s a humbling game.
HFM: What makes the sport itself humbling?
CB: I’ve had really good weeks and really bad weeks. It’s just part of the game. Think of it this way: Three out of ten times you’re successful in the batter’s box. That’s seven times you’re not. That’s stressful. But everyone pretty much has to just rise above it. You gotta keep playing. You have to remind yourself that if it were easy, everyone would do it.
HFM: Humility aside, what has been your proudest moment as a pro ball player?
CB: It’s hard to pick a proudest moment. I think 3,000 hits had to be a very magic time for the organization, my family, and for everyone involved. I think being the first Texas team to get to World Series was significant, too. Growing up in New York, I mean, that’s what you fought for. The only downside is that we didn’t win. That is my only regret is that we didn’t win the World Series. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. It just wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes you can try your best, and you still don’t win, for whatever reason. You can’t get stuck trying to figure it out. It’ll make you crazy. It just wasn’t meant to be.
HFM: What’s your proudest moment outside of baseball?
CB: Having three children, obviously, is something I’m very proud of. My wife and I are huge family people. We love our families. That’s what it’s all about–just living every day and watching every day as our kids turn into the people they’re going to be is a powerful thing.
HFM: Celebrities these days, more than ever, can pay a great price for their fame. How do you manage to stay grounded and not caught up in the more negative aspects of being a celebrity?
CB: You remember who you are and where you came from. That never changed me. When I went to work every day, I went as if it were my last day. In baseball, the next day is never guaranteed. Being grounded comes from your upbringing and from your parents. We lived in a nice, little house growing up. My parents were supportive of sports and of my sister and me.
People are a reflection of their parents. Parents need to know that they are role models, whether they like it or not.
I should add that fame, for me anyway, can also be a great thing. You have the opportunity to have a big impact on a lot of people.
HFM: So what’s the next chapter or challenge you look forward to in life?
CB: I still work with the Astros. I’m special assistant to the general manager. It covers a lot of areas. I love my role, being around the guys, watching them succeed. Watching a 5’ 6” baseman win the batting title. He’s a super man, and it makes me feel good to watch someone put on an Astros uniform and experience success.
My one son has graduated, and I want to see what happens there. My other son is still playing with Notre Dame. And my daughter is a 3-star athlete. I’m eager to see where that leads her.
HFM: What, in your opinion, makes Houston such a great place to raise a family?
CB: I love Texas, other than heat in the summertime. Living in Texas lets you do anything you want to do–fishing, hunting, white water rafting. And there are great schools here. The opportunities are here and present themselves in a fun environment to raise your family. We love it here. The restaurants are fantastic, too. But the water’s different.
HFM: The water’s different?
CB: Yeah. I had a restaurant guy tell me about it. He tried to make a cannoli like they do in New York, but it just doesn’t taste the same. It’s because the water’s different.
HFM. That makes sense, I guess. Craig, when Houstonians talk about you, they speak not only of our athletic skills and contributions to the game of baseball, but also of your giving back to the Houston community. Can you tell us about your work with the community and what it means to you?
CB: There’s a lot of different things. My wife has been involved in a women’s shelter for a long time. We have always felt that if you are in a position to help and give back, you should. Our involvement with the Sunshine Kids started since I’ve been here, close to 30 years now. The Sunshine Kids are part of our family. We’ve had some tragedy, and we’ve had some amazing stories, and it’s personal to us. We love being a part of the lives of these kids who suffer with cancer. It’s been an unbelievable marriage between us. Most athletes, in general, they all give back in some way. I’m proud to be a small piece of that.
HFM: What should Houston do with the Astrodome?
CB: I love the Astrodome, and I’m like everyone else. What do you do with it? You can’t name something the 8th Wonder of the World and then do away with it. You have to try to preserve it. I spent 12 years in that building–a lot of time. A lot of great things happened in there. I would hate to see it go away. We just need to find a cost-effective way to keep it. There’s a lot of smart people in town who can figure it out. We just need to give them time. Sometimes you just need to sit on an idea for a while and wait for the right answer to come to you.