“I was 10 years old when I saw Reggie Jackson hit a home run in the World Series for Oakland,” Bichette recalled after the 1998 season. “I said, ‘That’s what I want to do for a living.'” But it wasn’t until he joined the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993 — his tenth season in pro ball, and his fifth in the majors — that Bichette became a bonafide slugger.
Bichette saw his first major-league action at the age of 25 with the California Angels in 1988, but despite a well-respected throwing arm he proved too streaky a hitter to push his way into the regular lineup. He was eventually traded to Milwaukee in March 1991 for an aging Dave Parker and became the Brewers’ Opening Day right fielder, but his .238 batting average and 107 strikeouts forced manager Phil Garner to give more playing time to Darryl Hamilton the following year. Despite a respectable .287 average in 1992, Bichette’s 5 homers and 41 RBIs weren’t enough to justify his unimpressive totals of 74 whiffs and 16 walks. He was dealt to Colorado on the day of the expansion draft for the Rockies’ fifth selection, outfielder Kevin Reimer.
Perhaps in anticipation of the homer-friendly conditions at Mile-High Stadium, Bichette focussed on intense weight training over the winter in an effort to increase his home run totals. It worked. In the Rockies’ second game of the season, Bichette hit the first round-tripper in franchise history into a stiff wind at Shea Stadium against the Mets’ Bret Saberhagen. By the end of the year, he set a personal best with 21 homers — to that point, he had only once hit more than 15 homers in a season at any level. He also hit .310, the first time in his major-league career he had topped the .300 mark. But Bichette’s added bulk at times affected his performance on the basepaths and in the outfield. “I’m gonna send him anyway,” manager Don Baylor once joked after Bichette was caught stealing against the Dodgers in late May. “Maybe that will get him in shape.”
Even if his defense and baserunning were stagnant, Bichette’s easygoing style and impressive offensive numbers in 1993 (.310, 21 homers, 89 RBI, 43 doubles) won him a regular job in the Rockies’ outfield. He missed the last twenty-one games of the season after a Doug Jones pitch fractured his wrist, but recovered nicely in 1994 (.304, 27, 95), appearing not only in all 116 of the Rockies’ contests but also his first All-Star Game.
Bichette, who had been chastened during spring training by manager Don Baylor when he showed up badly in need of a haircut, christened Coors Field on Opening Day 1995 with a game-winning round-tripper in the fourteenth inning off the Mets’ Mike Remlinger. It was the first of his league-leading 40 homers that season — 31 of which were hit in the new stadium. (As a team, the Rockies hit more than twice as many homers at home than on the road.) Bichette was unhappy about moving to left field — manager Don Baylor wanted future Gold Glover Larry Walker in right — but it didn’t affect his hitting; Bichette also topped the NL in RBI (128) and finished third in the league with a .340 batting average. To the disappointment of Rockies fans, Bichette fell just short of Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin in the MVP voting.
Problems with an ailing left knee slowed Bichette in 1996, but he still was a force to be reckoned with at the plate, socking 31 homers (22 at Coors) with a .316 average and 141 RBI. He also set a career mark with 31 steals, but was caught 12 times. After undergoing reconstructive surgery during the offseason, Bichette’s mobility dropped dramatically.
Nevertheless, he played in 151 games in ’97 and hit .301 with 26 homers and 118 RBI. His swift recovery gave the Rockies flexibility to bid adieu to free-agent first baseman Andres Galarraga after the season, making room for phenom Todd Helton at first base.
1998 was another solid season for the right-hander (.331, 22, 122) who heard a multitude of trade rumors at the end of July but was rewarded in September with a three-year, $21 million contract extension. On June 10, Bichette became the first Rockie to hit for the cycle; the Cardinals’ John Mabry had been the first to accomplish the feat in Coors Field in 1996.
Bichette became involved in the late-season controversy surrounding home run champ Mark McGwire when a Denver sportswriter’s press credentials were revoked for removing a bottle of androstenedione — McGwire’s muscle enhancer of choice — from Bichette’s locker. At the time, Bichette was a national spokesperson for a company that produced similar nutritional supplements.
In 1999 — constantly changing his stance to break out of minor slumps — Bichette slugged 34 homers and drove in 133 runs with a .298 batting average. It marked the first time in his Rockies career he’d hit below .300. After the season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds and reliever Stan Belinda as the Rockies tried to rebuild with speedier players and a more flexible lineup. He had been the only player to be on the Colorado roster every day of their first seven seasons.
By 2000, Bichette’s play in the field had deteriorated to the point that Reds fans booed him early in the seasons for his miscues in right field. To work on his glovework, Bichette planned to build a full-sized baseball diamond on his 47-acre property outside of Orlando for extra practice.
As it turned out, Bichette’s Reds career didn’t last long. In late August, he was sent to the Boston Red Sox for two minor-leaguers in a cost-cutting move.
An avid ping-pong and table soccer player, Bichette has appeared in foosball world championships and also has a soft spot for video games.