There has been a lot of debate across the internet, television and radio regarding Jeff Bagwell's candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame. What has surprised me thus far is how much traction this story is getting in the national spotlight considering how undervalued Bagwell was during his career by that same national media. Now, this may be tinged by my hometown bias, but it always bothered me that the national media tended to find another star to focus on rather than the guy who put up such big numbers in the cavernous Astrodome for so many years.
I'm not going to re-invent the wheel trying to explain why I feel he's a first ballot HOF'er. Smarter and more eloquent writers like Jerry Crasnick and Peter Gammons have put out all the data and reasoning needed to convince any sane person that Bags deserves the vote. I'd just like to point out a few things that remain etched in my memory through all these years.
First of all, there was the raw power and strength that Bagwell unleashed with each swing. It was an awesome sight to see that swing start, wind up like a corkscrew and then explode through the ball. There was always a positive and negative to this effect. When he swung and missed, it was an unmitigated disaster... oh but when he connected, it was a thing of beauty. It was not a swing that could be replicated (believe me, my little league career was probably ruined by trying to mimic that swing) but it was the perfect swing for Bagwell in the dome. There was enough to power in it to push the ball out over the fences or get it into the gaps when he would just barely miss. Every at bat seemed full of drama, because he was capable of blasting one out every time, even in the last few years when the shoulder kept him from being a full-time player.
Second, there is his base running. Many players, coaches and reporters have said that Bagwell was one of the best base runners they played against and it wasn't all about stealing bases either. His secondary leads and anticipation was unrivaled. He knew exactly how far he could push an outfielders arm and his own speed. Also, his sliding skills were just awesome. I remember a game against the Texas Rangers, Bagwell is heading home and the throw looks like they'll have him by a mile. However, he charges HARD about 3-4 feet wide of the plate, slides at the last second past home plate but sticks his arm back to swipe the plate; all the while barely avoiding the tag. It was just another example of a play Bagwell makes and 99% of other players fail to make.
Finally, his defense. Have you ever seen anyone charge a bunt as hard as Bagwell used to do? He had supreme confidence in Biggio to cover 1st base. He had no fear in charging the bunt to try and get the runner out at second and ruin the sacrifice bunt. He had a knack for being in the right place, and as much as a liability he would become in later years due to the aforementioned shoulder, he still found a way to make plays. I was always surprised at how few teams challenged him in the later years, knowing he was barely able to throw the ball. It was his defense that made him a complete player, in my opinion.
I would leave this post alone at this point under normal circumstances. However, there is the lingering suspicion continuing to follow Bagwell well after retirement: PED's. I firmly WANT to believe that Bagwell did not use steroids, HGH or any other PED. However, as I feel with all baseball players of this era (I repeat, ALL PLAYERS), I believe that every one of them would use whatever they needed to use to continue their careers. I think there is a big difference between the 15-year minor leaguer using steriods to get his one shot at the majors vs. an already complete player (Bonds, Clemens, et. al.) allegedly using PED's to take their talents to new heights. I feel that the only fair way to judge the players in this era, and that is to put them all under the same umbrella. Just as players in the 20's & 30's have a stigma against them for playing during a segregated era, and with the "dead ball", I also view the players of the 70's, 80's and 90's with a certain stigma. There's no way to say who benefited and who was hurt by PED's; I feel everyone kind of knew it was going on, but cheered on all the home runs, strikeout numbers and record-breaking performances. In some respect, we as fans are partially responsible for the mess of the era. All of that said to say that I would vote for Bagwell even if he came out tomorrow and said he did steroids. He's denied it all along and as I said, I want to believe but the skeptic in me can't ignore the facts that are out there. There was no testing system in place until it was too late, the drugs were readily available, the consequences were lacking and there was no incentive for players to stay clean. We can't retroactively and blindly punish whomever we suspect might have used by destroying their HOF candidacy.
Alright, that was long-winded, but if I had a vote here's who I think should get in: Bagwell, Alomar, and Blyleven. All were great players who are head & shoulders above their peers in terms of accomplishments and ability. Blyleven is the only one I'm even close to iffy about. But in the end, the teams he played on did him more harm in his overall stats than he did to himself. He deserves the call.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to fill the comment box with your own rants.