Jeff Bagwell Misses The 2016 Hall of Fame Cut
“There’s always next year.” A phrase Astros fans know all too well. This morning, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America once again robbed Houston Astros legend Jeff Bagwell of a spot in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Bagwell finished with 71.6 %, just 15 shy of being elected. There’s always next year, so close.
To Astros fans, Jeff Bagwell is beyond royalty. Bagwell finished as an NL MVP finalist in 10 out of his 15 seasons, winning the award in 1994 and the Rookie of the Year in 1991. He is 64th all-time in career WAR with 79.6, ahead of Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Ozzie Smith, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Pud Galvin, and a slew of Hall of Fame players.
He is 38th all-time in home runs with 449, one spot behind Carl Yastrzemski but many spots ahead of Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, Mike Piazza, Duke Snider, and Al Kaline. All of them are Hall of Famers. He is 28th all-time in walks with 1,401, one fewer than Hank Aaron, reminding casual fans that there was far more to Bagwell than his devastating swing. He is 21st all-time in on-base plus slugging, ahead of Mel Ott, Ralph Kiner, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and many other legends.
The most common argument against Jeff Bagwell’s induction into the Hall of Fame is steroids. Bagwell, a self-proclaimed gym rat, noticeably bulked up during his fifteen-year career. In a must-read piece by Jerry Crasnick in 2010, Bagwell discussed steroid allegations at length. Crasnick himself sums up the steroid suspicion haze the best: “Bagwell has never been linked to performance-enhancers beyond hearsay and innuendo, yet he lives under the same cloud of suspicion as players who have failed drug tests, lied before Congress or admitted to steroid use.”
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In the Crasnick piece, Bagwell attributes his breakout 1994 campaign to adjustments suggested to him by Astros hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and pinpoints a post-divorce spring training in 1995 as the starting point of his extreme workout regimen. He said, “I know a lot of people are saying, ‘His body got bigger.’ Well, if you’re eating 30 pounds of meat every single day and you’re working out and bench pressing, you’re going to get bigger. You can go to every single trainer and they’ll say, ‘He was the first here and last to leave, and that dude worked his ass off.’”
Six years ago, when Bagwell was first eligible to be inducted, Astros fans knew it would be an uphill battle to see their icon enshrined in Cooperstown. Three years ago, when Craig Biggio was first eligible, Astros fans daydreamed about the idea of the two being inducted at the same time. The Killer B’s, number 5 and number 7, the greatest Astros of all time, stealing the show at Cooperstown and creating one of the most iconic moments in franchise history. There’s always next year.
When Biggio was inducted last year, he mentioned how he and Bagwell “changed the culture in Houston by making it a baseball town” in their 15 years with the Astros. Fifteen consecutive years of Biggio and Bagwell. The Oilers abandoned football-crazed Houston and left the city with no team. The Rockets won the city’s first championships and routinely teased repeat titles with a revolving door of NBA legends. The Texans slowly won fans with largely inconsistent play in their first few years as a franchise.
But for 15 years, you could go to the Astrodome or Minute Maid Park and see something enormous. The Killer B’s. Number 5 and number 7. Living legends in the flesh. Two East Coast kids who never returned to the hometown teams that coveted them or valued free agent fortunes over their intangible impact on the game. They understood what they meant to the city of Houston, to the Astros organization, and, as their careers concluded, to the game of baseball.
His career speaks for itself. Jeff Bagwell deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as much as any other candidate.
But there’s always next year.