Is Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Famer? Indeedy.
Anyone who on a daily basis watched Jeff Bagwell play during his 15-year career has no doubt that he is worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.
And I truly believe he’ll get there — eventually. But on the first ballot? Probably not.
Before you fire off angry emails filled with statistical data to back up the argument that he is a first-ballot candidate, let me say that I totally, completely, 100 percent agree with you. He is one of the best first basemen ever to play the game, and he played for a long time, and his numbers are tremendous. That, by definition, merits Hall of Fame election. And if he’s a Hall of Famer, then logically, he would be elected this year by the more than 500 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who recently received their ballots. But that isn’t how it works.
Most players, save for the ultra elite, have to wait more than one try to be inducted. And I doubt Bags will be the exception to the rule.
It’s too bad, really, because this notion that you’re a Hall of Famer but have to wait a while to be recognized as such is just silliness. Is there a separate category — “Hall of Famer, at some point, when we decide it’s time”? To me, it’s black and white. You are either a Hall of Famer, or you’re not.
And in Bagwell’s case, he most certainly is. I’m going to list some of the stat-based criteria that support this argument. But then, we’ll look at this from the perspective of what Bagwell did other than hit a lot of home runs and pile on the RBIs. More on that later.
First, the bare facts:
*His .948 career OPS ranks 22nd in Major League history and 10th among right-handed hitters. Four of the nine right-handed hitters ranked ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, while four others are not yet eligible for induction.
*His .408 career on-base percentage ranks 15th all-time among right-handed hitters and ninth all-time among first basemen (third among right-handed first basemen).
*He is the only first baseman in history and one of 12 players all-time to reach 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.
*He is one of five players in history to collect 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001). Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols are the others.
*He is the only player in history to record 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 100 walks in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001).
Clearly, not only was he the best first baseman of his era, he was one of the best, ever, in history.
But Bagwell wasn’t just a force at the plate. I doubt you could find a smarter all-around ballplayer, one who played his position and ran the bases flawlessly, one who had instincts so keen that it seemed as if he knew what was going to happen 10 seconds before it did. He perfected the 3-6-3 double play, knew exactly when and how quickly to run up on bunters (who would subsequently be nailed at second base after a flawless throw from Bagwell) and rarely received a throw in the dirt from a fellow infielder that he couldn’t pick.
I asked him once why he wasn’t given more credit for his defense. His reasoning: “I’m not left-handed.” So is that to mean that just because left-handed first basemen have an easier time fielding their position, that automatically makes them better? Of course not.
He downplayed his baserunning by stating simply, “I’m not that fast.” He had much better speed than he gave himself credit for, and with over 200 stolen bases, he was clearly doing something right. That’s where the instincts came into play. His timing was flawless. He could read a pitcher better than anyone. Heck, he stole home three times in his career, which is three more times than most players have on their resume. Quite simply, Bagwell was nearly perfect as a ballplayer.
You know a player was good when you can distinctly remember the rare time that he wasn’t. I recall one game in St. Louis in 2004 when, with one out, Bagwell took off from first base on a fly ball. He was halfway to third when the ball was caught by the center fielder and thrown to first for the easy double-up. After the game, I said to him, “I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know how to phrase the question.” Bags: “I’ll make it easy for you. Obviously, I’m a complete moron.”
I can’t count the number of times I’d watch Bagwell play and think to myself “this is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen.” Over 14 seasons, there were three players who repeatedly floored me with their abilities: Roy Oswalt when he pitched, Adam Everett when he played shortstop, and Bagwell, when he did anything.
So yes, if you watched Bagwell play every day, you grew to appreciate just how superior of a ballplayer he was. A Hall of Famer in every way imaginable. But a few elements will work against him this year: His 449 homers falls short of the 500 that usually guarantees first-ballot election; his shoulder injury ended his career prematurely and prevented him from going over the top in some of the offensive categories; and most of the voters did not watch him play on a regular basis and therefore will judge him only on the offensive numbers. He was so much more than a hitter, but, in some cases, that is not a point of interest when it comes to election time.
And, simply, some voters just like to make players wait. First-ballot Hall of Fame election is reserved for those players whose numbers are so gaudy, so off the charts, that you don’t even need to have watched them play a single game to know there were few — if any — who were better.
Bags was great. Really great. Hall-of-Fame great. But in terms of waiting for that call to Cooperstown, we might have to wait a while longer. And I really, really hope I’m wrong on this one.
(I also think there are enough writers out there who would be tickled pink to have Bagwell and Craig Biggio go in together. Biggio will be eligible in two years, which will be Bagwell’s third time on the ballot.)
Odds and ends as we shift our focus from eating too much pumpkin mousse cheesecake during Thanksgiving to eating too much at the office Christmas party…
Hunter Pence All-Star Camp 2010
Your favorite right fielder is hosting a baseball camp for kids ages 6-18 that will offer one day of training with Pence and other professional ballplayers. Campers can participate on either Dec. 18 or 19 and the cost is $200.
For that cost, you will receive:
HP Play Dri Reebok Camp Tee
HP Reebok Drawstring bag
HP 2010 Camp Bracelet
Instructors and Sponsorship Program
Personalized autograph and picture
Autographs from all instructors
To sign up, visit hunterpencebaseball.com or call 713-254-7520.
Speaking of Pence, he and several other Astros were in the weight room bright and early Tuesday morning, as they are every Monday through Thursday throughout most of the offseason.
Under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman, the crew — Pence, Humberto Quintero, Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Bogusevic and Ross Seaton — spent most of the morning hitting the weights, the exercise bikes, and several other pieces of workout equipment that I don’t know the names of. In other words, it might be the offseason, but the players are still working. (And more will join the morning routine in the near future, including Bud Norris, Chris Johnson, Jason Bourgeois and Brett Wallace.)
Bogusevic, Coleman, Wandy
Wandy, Coleman, Pence
And finally, here’s an updated photo of the big empty hole formerly known as the Astros dearly departed (and outdated) scoreboard. The new version will be delivered later in December and will be installed, hopefully, in January. Stay tuned…