Looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot: Jeff Bagwell
Eric: There are a lot of similarities between Bagwell and Frank Thomas, not the least of which that they have the same birthday (May 27, 1968). Both players were slugging first basemen primarily known for their time with one franchise (the only one in Bagwell’s case). Both were incredible hitters in the 90s, and both won MVPs in the strike shortened 1994 season. Bagwell’s line for that year was .368/.451/.750 with 39 homers in 110 games. That was (as noted with Biggio) at the Astrodome, a big ballpark that did not favor hitters.
1994 was Bagwell’s breakout year, but he didn’t stop there. After a relatively down 1995 (if a 143 OPS+ could be considered down), Bagwell’s 1996-2002 (when he was ages 28-34) remained in the stratosphere, almost all of which helped contending teams. To give the numbers rapid-fire,
OBP by year: .451, .425, .424, .454, .424, .397, .401
HRs by year: 31, 43, 34, 42, 47, 39, 31
OPS+ by year: 178, 168, 158, 164, 152, 140, 135
Essentially all of those seasons were MVP-caliber or close to it at the plate. Bagwell would go on to have two more seasons of productivity after that, taking him through 2004 and age 36. He was declining, but that was to be expected, and the move to Minute Maid Park helped in giving him a much better home park to hit in. Unfortunately, an arthritic right shoulder ended his career very quickly after just 39 games played in 2005.
Again, this is an easy YES for me. The quick end of Bagwell’s career suppress his final counting stats, but at his peak (which again, in a solid decade) he was an absolute terror at the plate. The frustrating thing about Bagwell’s candidacy is it seems like the reason he’s not in is enough writers basically went “he had big muscle and hit home runs, so he must be a druggie.” There is no actual evidence Jeff Bagwell used PEDs, and at this point, it’s highly unlikely any evidence will come up. To deny voting for based on no evidence, not even flimsy evidence, is asinine.
WILL HE GET IN: He got up to 59.6% of the vote last year. This is his 4th go round, and while I’d love to see him go in with longtime teammate Biggio and kindred spirit Thomas, but I doubt it. My guess is with the crowded ballot (that’s a theme here, and it’s a theme for a reason), Bagwell’s total actually drops a bit. If he’s steady or even increases, it’ll be a very good sign. The slog with guys like Bonds and Clemens was expected. This slog is just dumb.
Pat: The Hall of Fame case for Jeff Bagwell is an easy one. Honestly, he's one of the guys who should have gotten inducted in his first year on the ballot, and every subsequent year he gets snubbed is just more egg on the faces of BBWAA voters.
Personally, I don't even care about PED use anymore. But even if I did, I'd still cast a vote for Bagwell. There's absolutely zero evidence of any untoward activity on his part, and any suspicion around him is based solely on his body type and style of play. Sorry, but that's just not quite enough.
There shouldn't be any question whatsoever about whether or not Bagwell's performance on the field is HOF worthy. He had 5 seasons with an OPS over 1.000, and his strike-shortened season in 1994 was one for the ages. Also, his 152 runs in 2000 was the most anyone has scored since Lou Gehrig in 1936.
Will he get in: Nope. It sucks, but I highly doubt he'll get in, thanks to the backlog. There are at least 12 players that are HOF worthy on the ballot right now, and thanks to the lack of a concrete method for voting for PED users, there will be a lot of bizarre vote combinations occurring. Once again, Bagwell will get snubbed. At this point, I'm just hoping he gets in at some point.
At some point Pat and I should disagree, but it hasn't happened yet. Tune in this afternoon where we move to pitching and Jack Morris.