A generation ago, Jeff Bagwell would have been a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
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Bagwell’s resume for the 15 years he played with the Houston Astros is sparkling. Bagwell, however, is back this year on the Hall of Fame ballot for the second time.
A year ago, his first year of eligibility, he was named on only 41.7 percent of the ballots cast by veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, well below the 75 percent support needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Historically, Bagwell does have in his favor the fact that his first-ballot support is consistent with the likes of Jim Rice, Gary Carter and Bruce Sutter, who all overcame initial voter reluctance to be honored by the Hall of Fame.
Bagwell certainly has the stats to support his membership. A minor league third baseman whom Boston traded to the Astros for right-handed reliever Larry Andersen, Bagwell made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues, moved across the infield to first base and for 14 years was one of the most dangerous hitters and better-fielding first basemen in the National League. His career ended after an abbreviated 2005 season in which a shoulder injury forced him to take off the uniform.
A Gold Glove winner, he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 and won the NL MVP in 1994. He received MVP votes in 10 of his 15 big-league seasons and was a four-time All-Star. A career .297 hitter, he hit 449 home runs and drove in 1,529 runs. And he was a force in the Astros clubhouse, a key part of six postseason teams in a nine-year stretch, including helping the Astros to their first World Series in his final season.
Bagwell, however, has an extra burden. He was a part of the Steroid Era, and in his case, there is a faction that has taken the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach toward Bagwell.
Their evidence? He bulked up considerably in his career and was a prodigious home run hitter, despite spending his first nine big-league seasons calling the spacious Astrodome, a pitcher’s paradise, home. He has not been linked to use of performance-enhancing drugs, except by some members of the media who speak of their suspicions, not their knowledge, and the fact that several known PED users played with the Astros.
Forget about the fact he was a devoted weight lifter, which just might have had something to do with his build.
That suspicion is enough to have them try to shut the door to Cooperstown on Bagwell, who, in addition to six consecutive years of at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored, drew more than 100 walks in seven consecutive seasons.
It’s become chic to scream and yell about PEDs, which from what has been made public has shown that more pitchers actually used them than position players, although that is easily overlooked.
But let’s be honest. Throughout the history of sports, not just baseball, athletes have looked for a way to get an edge in competition. It’s just that in modern times the methods have become more high tech.
It is humorous to hear Pete Rose and his legion of fans moan about steroids and the fact that players who might have used them could be voted into the Hall of Fame while Rose, who admitted to gambling on the game, is banned for life for his misstep.
Funny, isn’t it, how Rose and his backers so quickly skim over how much he allegedly relied on amphetamines throughout his career? In the ’60s and ’70s "uppers" were readily available in big-league clubhouses, even though they were illegal.
The cocaine problems of the late ’70s and early ’80s have not been held against the likes of a Paul Molitor or current candidate Tim Raines.
The fact that Whitey Ford or Gaylord Perry or Don Drsydale doctored baseballs was not enough to keep them out of the Hall of Fame.
And what about the pre-1950s Hall of Famers? They never had to play night games. They never had to travel west of the Mississippi. That was pre-Jackie Robinson, which meant they never had to face the dominant athletes of the Negro Leagues who were denied big-league opportunity because of their skin color.
Bagwell and his peers, however, are held to a stricter standard, one where suspicions with no factual basis, only a writer’s assumption, is enough to try and bar him from the honor his career deserves.
Writers who have more than 10 consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA are allowed to vote each December for as many as 10 players for the Hall of Fame. To be elected, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast. Votes were to have been submitted before midnight Dec. 31. The results for the 2012 election will be announced Jan. 9.
Here’s one ballot:
1. Jeff Bagwell. Enough said.
2. Barry Larkin. Twelve-time All-Star was NL MVP in 1995, and in 1996 he became the first shortstop to have a 30-30 season, hitting 33 home runs and stealing 36 bases.
3. Jack Morris. Three-time 29-game winner, worked 200 innings in 11 seasons and made 14 Opening Day starts, tied with Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson and Cy Young for second all-time behind Tom Seaver, who made 16.
4. Dale Murphy. A catcher converted to a center fielder was a five-time Gold Glove winner and won back-to-back NL MVPs in 1982-83.
5. Tim Raines. A Gold Glove-winning outfielder, he was a seven-time All-Star known for his ability to disrupt a defense because of his base-running expertise.
6. Lee Smith. Suffers from a transient career (eight teams, 18 seasons) but was the game’s all-time save leader when he retired. A converted shortstop, he had 10 seasons of 30-plus saves.
7. Alan Trammell. A six-time All-Star who did everything on the field except turn somersaults but somehow wound up on only 24.3 percent of the ballots cast last year.
8. Larry Walker. Gets knocks for playing in Coors Field for a chunk of his career, but he was a five-time All-Star who was the 1997 NL MVP, hit 383 home runs, stole 230 bases and ranks 13th all-time with a .565 slugging percentage.