Jeff Bagwell: Will changes in Hall of Fame voting help Baggy get in?
The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was sent out to voters earlier this week. It includes newcomers Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds and Billy Wagner, among others. While Ken Griffey is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall-of-Fame player. There is some question as to whether his will be the only new plague next July. For Astros fans, what that really means is – will Jeff Bagwell finally receive enough votes to be enshrined in Cooperstown?
The top holdovers from last year’s vote include Mike Piazza (69.9 percent), Bagwell (55.7 percent), Tim Raines (55.0 percent), Curt Schilling (39.2 percent), Roger Clemens (37.5 percent) and Barry Bonds (36.8 percent). The chatter among pundits has already begun and rarely do you hear Bagwell’s name mentioned as a likely new addition. However, there are some reasons for Astros fans to hope that Mr. Bagwell’s time is coming soon.
First, the ballot is no longer a logjam of deserving players stealing votes from each other. Seven former players have been inducted in the past two years, including the Houston Astros Craig Biggio. This allows the voters to focus on players that they may not have looked at closely before.
Second, the Hall of Fame made a change of voters (and ostensibly the quality of voters) by removing writers that have not been active in the game for the previous ten years. This eliminated approximately 150 voters. A player still needs to receive at least 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to be elected, but the change should mean that those casting blank ballots or out of touch with the recent eras will no longer be voting. These two occurrences should raise Bagwell’s percentage but will it be enough?
There are still many that do not appreciate how great Bagwell was, especially in the era in which he played. However, I submit that Jeffery Robert Bagwell was one of the four greatest first basemen of all time and is clearly deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.
First base is historically a position of power and Bagwell had plenty. He hit 449 home runs, none as a designated hitter. This is an important distinction from other players of his generation that extended their careers and numbers late in their careers by taking advantage of the rule allowing a player to not play in the field. Bagwell had 488 doubles, 1529 RBI, .540 career slugging and .948 career OPS. He also had 1,401 walks and a career on-base percentage of .408, with a career batting average of .297. He did all of this while playing only 15 seasons and all for one franchise; the Houston Astros.
Bagwell won a Rookie of the Year and an MVP Award. He finished in the top 9 in MVP voting six times and had three silver slugger awards and four all-star appearances. Bagwell also won a gold glove, which leads us to his defense.
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Defense and base running are two categories that should never be overlooked when determining a baseball player’s worth, especially not when deciding a player’s merits for the Hall of Fame. Bagwell was an elite defensive player and a great baserunner, mostly because he was always the smartest player on the field. Bagwell not only set an example of how to play major league baseball the right way for those in his clubhouse but for all those that came up during his time; see Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Sean Casey.
Bagwell had a stellar fielding percentage but beyond that he was a master at charging the bunt and throwing to bases (before his shoulder injury). While on the base paths, no one was a better baserunner during his time. He always took the extra base, ran first to third and made the perfect slide. He is the only first baseman with over 200 steals and the only first bagger to be a member of the 30/30 club. For all of these reasons, Jeff Bagwell proved to be one of the elite players of his time and one the greatest ever to play.
However, my favorite statistic about Jeff Bagwell is that he is the only player in the history of baseball to post six straight seasons of 100 runs, 100 RBI, 100 walks and 30 home runs. He is the ONLY person to ever do that, not Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, or even contemporaries like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols. Jeff Bagwell was a very special baseball player and extremely deserving to be in the Hall of Fame. Bagwell ranks 64th in career WAR, ahead of Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, and Derek Jeter. He was quiet and unassuming and played all of his home games in Houston, Texas, so neither east coast nor west coast writers give him his proper due but the even if you didn’t get to see him play in his prime, his numbers speak for themselves.
There are those who will speculate about steroids devoid of proof. However, others will ask legitimate questions about what his final numbers would have looked like had his shoulder not given up, or what his numbers might have been if he hadn’t played his first 9 major league seasons in the cavernous Astrodome. If you honestly look at it, Jeff Bagwell was the consummate professional and teammate, a community leader, an asset to a city and franchise short on heroes and of course, a Hall-of-Fame baseball player.
The results of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters will be announced on January 6, 2016. If I had to guess, I would say that Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza are the only two players that will be elected this year. However, I do believe that Bagwell will climb above the 60 percent range.
Next: Colby Rasmus: A look at WHY he accepted the Astros qualifying offer.
There are no worthy first-time candidates on next year’s ballot and that would leave Bagwell as the only obvious choice next year. I predict that Bagwell misses out on the Hall again this year but finally makes it next year.