During the day of his induction ceremony at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Craig Biggio was joined alongside his loving family and friends, devoted Houston Astros fans, fellow Seton Hall Pirates and a man who helped get him to this special day.
That man is former head coach of the Seton Hall baseball team, Mike Sheppard.
After the ceremony on Sunday, Coach Sheppard told the Setonian, “When I heard Jane Forbes Clark announce that only 215 out of over 18,000 players are elected into the Hall of fame and Craig is one of those players, I felt great and got choked up. A lot of coaches don’t get to see their players go on to be the best of the best.”
Biggio, who was joined by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in the class of 2015, played for Sheppard at Seton Hall from 1985-1987. In his acceptance speech on Sunday, Biggio mentioned the influence that Coach Sheppard had on his baseball career.
“Coach Shep’s motto was ‘Never lose your hustle,’ which is something I took to my pro career,” Biggio said. “I’m very grateful to have played for you, Shep. Thank you.”
The baseball reputation at Seton Hall and in Essex County grew stronger as Sheppard took over as head coach of the Pirates in the late ‘70s. In 1983, he was named the Chairman of Essex County American Legion Baseball, a position he still holds to this day. As far as his coaching success goes, he recorded 998 wins, was named the Big East Coach of the Year three times and led the Pirates to the conference tournament title in 1987. He also reached the NCAA Tournament 12 times and had appearances in the College World Series in 1974 and 1975.
Biggio credited Sheppard’s history when asked why he chose to play for Seton Hall.
“I think what happened with Seton Hall was really the history of it,” Biggio said during Saturday’s Inductee Press Conference. “It was an opportunity to come in as a freshman and play every day.”
Biggio was a part of the squad that Sheppard led to the Hall’s first conference championship in 1987.
“He was tough, he was a marine,” Biggio said of his former coach. “He kept you in line. When you’re a young kid and you go away to college, you think you know it all but you haven’t even scratched the surface on life yet. You need a person to keep you in line and be a disciplinarian. You look at the coaching staff we had there and they were great. Shep’s a great man and I was pretty lucky to play for him.”
The thoughts Sheppard has toward Biggio show the same admiration as Biggio’s toward Sheppard.
“He plays at 100% because he knows why we play the game of baseball.”
Sheppard was able to pick up on each of Biggio’s talents once he arrived to play in South Orange. Biggio was set to be an infielder, but Sheppard decided to put him at catcher. The catcher at the time, Tony DeFrancesco, was drafted by the Red Sox in 1984 and since Biggio had experience behind the plate, it was Sheppard’s only choice to put the newcomer in the position.
“Tony DeFrancesco was our catcher and he left and signed with the Boston Red Sox,” Sheppard told The Setonian back in January. “Then another guy, of all things, took off and got married. He left us and went to Texas. So, here we were without a catcher. I say to Biggio ‘Hey, I heard you caught when you were a young kid. Guess what? You’re going to catch again.’”
This toughness Sheppard used on Biggio and the experiences he had at Seton Hall shaped him into not just the player, but person he is today. “Craig told me once that when he came to Seton Hall he was a boy, and left a man all because of me,” Sheppard said.
Biggio wasn’t the only star under Sheppard. More than 80 of his players have gone on to sign professional contracts, 30 of them in the major leagues. Biggio is, however, the first Seton Hall Pirate and Houston Astro to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Some of the last words Biggio gave on Sheppard were in his post-ceremony press conference:
“He was part of the journey. And like I said in the beginning, how do you get to the Hall of Fame? You got to have a little bit of talent and a lot of people to help you along the way, and Shep was one of those people.”
The Sheppard legacy continues at Seton Hall as he serves as the head coach emeritus for the Pirates while his son, Rob Sheppard, serves as the current head coach.
“To be able to have Shep and his family there is a proud moment for Seton Hall baseball, and also him, his family and his legacy,” Biggio said. “I think that he’s had a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives.”
The Sheppard family has a lot to be proud of through its involvement with Seton Hall baseball. Biggio himself even stated, “I compare it and rank it up there with some of the greatest programs in all of baseball.”
Olivia Mulvihill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @OliviaMulvihill