Bagwell looking for bump in Hall of Fame support
Former Astros superstar finished third last year with 59.6 percent of the BBWAA vote
Jeff Bagwell is a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The Class of 2014 results will be announced exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 1 p.m. CT as part of a three-hour live show beginning at 11 a.m. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 10 a.m. CT.
HOUSTON -- After inching closer to being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the previous two years, Jeff Bagwell's fourth time on the ballot could be the one that pushes him towards baseball immortality.
Bagwell, who retired following the Astros' 2005 World Series run because of a degenerative shoulder condition, received the third-highest vote total last year by the Baseball Writers' Association of American with 59.6 percent. That was a slight increase from the 56 percent he received in his second time on the ballot in 2012.
Bagwell has said repeatedly through the years he doesn't expect to get voted into the Hall of Fame, but he certainly produced the kind of numbers during his 15 years with the Astros that could wind up seeing him bronzed in Cooperstown.
"To me, he's a Hall of Famer and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame," said longtime teammate Craig Biggio, who finished 39 votes shy of the Hall in his first time on the ballot last year.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. No player received enough votes to get elected last year, with Biggio's 68.2 percent leading the way. Jack Morris had 67.7 percent of the vote.
"The only thing I care about really is Wednesday is that Craig gets in," Bagwell told MLB.com on Monday.
Bagwell, 45, last appeared in an Astros uniform during the 2005 World Series, the crowning achievement in a career that included the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991, and the club's only NL Most Valuable Player Award three years later.
Bagwell played in four All-Star Games, had 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and helped Houston reach the playoffs six times. He was forced to retire after the shoulder condition made it impossible for him to throw a baseball and nearly impossible to swing a bat.
The early end to his career kept him from hitting 500 home runs, which almost certainly would have punched his ticket to the Hall, but he still has strong credentials.
"That's the thing that people are enamored with, power and RBIs -- and they're very important -- but this guy was one of the best baserunners I ever played with," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, Bagwell's former teammate. "Before his shoulder issue, he was one of the better defensive first basemen. He played the game the right way and led by example, and occasionally led by voice."
Bagwell has compared his Hall of Fame candidacy to Andre Dawson, a slugger with similar numbers who had to wait out nine years of eligibility to get the call from the Hall. Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010 after receiving 45.3 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility in '02. Bagwell got 41.7 percent of the vote his first time on the ballot.
"The thing about the Hall is, it's a process," Dawson said. "There's no protocol unless you have the automatic numbers they like to throw out. If you're a Hall of Famer, you're a Hall of Famer and should be elected when it comes time for you to seek election. Jeff Bagwell was a great ballplayer, a first baseman in the era I played, and undoubtedly put up Hall of Fame numbers."
Bagwell's case for Hall of Fame consideration goes beyond numbers and awards. He was one of the smartest players in the game and a tremendous baserunner, as well as a good defensive player.
"There's no doubt about it, he should be in the Hall of Fame," Biggio said. "His numbers speak for themselves when you compare them to other first basemen and other power hitters, in general. But the defensive side gets lost. To me, there's no doubt in my mind he deserves to be in there, and we'll cross our fingers and hope for the best."
The Astros acquired Bagwell at the Trade Deadline in 1990 in what will forever be remembered as one of the most lopsided trades in history. Houston got Bagwell, a skinny Minor League third baseman, from the Red Sox in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Andersen.
With Ken Caminiti established at third base, the Astros shifted Bagwell across the diamond to first base. Bagwell was in the Opening Day lineup in 1991, and he would be for 15 consecutive seasons. He hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 156 games in his rookie season, giving Houston a sign of things to come.
He had blossomed into one of the most feared sluggers in the league by 1994, hitting .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games, and winning his only Gold Glove Award en route to unanimously being named MVP in a strike-shortened season. Not that the work stoppage mattered to Bagwell, because his season ended Aug. 10 when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand two days before the players went on strike.
"Baggy had great hands, and that's why he was able to win a Gold Glove," said Biggio, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner. "They just don't give those things away." Bagwell -- who also missed the final 20 games of the 1993 season after being hit by a pitch on the hand and was on the disabled list for a month in '95 with his third such hand break -- averaged 34 homers and 115 RBIs in his career, and hit .297. He stole 202 bases.
Bagwell drove in at least 100 runs in all but one season from 1996-2003, and slipped to 27 homers and 89 RBIs in '04, though he hit .286 with two homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs. Led by Bagwell, Biggio, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, the Astros made it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history in 2005.
The pain from his arthritic right shoulder forced Bagwell to undergo capsular release surgery in May 2005, and caused him to miss 115 games. He returned for the final few weeks of the regular season and served in a pinch-hit role because of the difficulty he had throwing a ball. He was the designated hitter for Houston in the World Series, going 1-for-8 in the Fall Classic in his final appearance in an Astros uniform as a player.
"The Hall of Fame is a great achievement and all that kind of stuff," Bagwell said. "The biggest achievement in my career is the friends I've taken out of here."