Jeff Bagwell fell short of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Again. For the sixth time. This time, though, Bagwell came as about as close as possible to getting in, without actually getting in as he ended up 15 votes shy of the required total.
The denial for Bagwell no longer angers me. Just as Ken Griffey Jr. not getting 100-percent of the vote doesn’t anger me. The only thing that matters is that Bagwell gets in. After all, is Craig Biggio any less of Hall of Famer for not making it in on his first try? It shouldn’t have taken Mike Piazza four attempts either, but the guy’s now in the Hall and there’s no distinction on the plaques for those getting in on the first ballot and those who got in on third ballot.
Bagwell should get over the hump next year and it’ll make for a great Hall of Fame class when he’s announced along with Tim Raines (who’ll go in on his last time allowed on the ballot) and possibly Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero. Will it detract any that it took seven years for Bagwell to get in? Or that it’s going to take ten tries for Raines? Did it make it that much worse that Biggio went in with a bunch of guys who were inducted on the first ballot? No.
Jeff Bagwell is the greatest player ever to put on any of the Astros' varied uniform combinations. He was a graceful defender who was the best that I’ve ever seen pulling off the 3-4-3 double play. He was fearless when it came to storming the lines on bunts. Craig Biggio’s reputation as a defender results from Bagwell’s ability to get his glove on anything thrown in the general ZIP code of first base. And none of this even accounts for what Bagwell did with the bat, or how he was the best base runner the Astros have had in decades.
That Bagwell’s not already in the Hall of Fame rests on two things, the suspicions that he was a PED guy — fueled by non-Hall of Fame voters like Jeff Pearlman — and that he didn’t hit either of the two magic numbers for hitters — 500-plus homers or 3,000-plus hits. Those punishing him for the numbers have always failed to take into account that the first half of his career was spent hitting in the cavernous Astrodome and that if his whole career is spent at Minute Maid Park, then he probably gets close to 600 homers (then he’d probably be punished for hitting cheap homers to the Crawford Boxes).
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The magic numbers debate is mostly now wiped away by the voter purge after last year’s Hall of Fame ballot that saw a large number of voters stripped of their ballots because they either no longer covered baseball as a primary beat (so long to guys covering soccer and the Olympics) or have long been retired and are no longer around the game. These are primarily the type of voters who keyed on the magic numbers, and in their stead are younger voters, many of whom are more familiar with and more willing to rely on things like WAR, which has Bagwell as being the best first baseman since Jimmie Foxx, or who know that his career OPS was higher than those of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson.
The voter purge also helped to purge many of the voters who were the most anti-PED, who didn’t care that there was no evidence that Bagwell didn’t use PEDs but who felt that he must have used because his body bulked up. This purge is also why Piazza was able to get over the top this year, and it helps to explain the increase in voting percentage for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, two of the greatest players ever to put on a uniform.
Gary Carter wasn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody thinks any differently of Carter. Yogi Berra didn’t go in on the first ballot, either, nor did Carlton Fisk. Joe DiMaggio also didn’t go in on the first attempt. All of those guys are Hall of Fame baseball players, and they’re among the greatest players ever to play the game. Not going in on the first ballot hasn’t diminished their reputations. So all that matters is that Jeff Bagwell gets that phone call.
So there should be no anger about Jeff Bagwell. Hell, he doesn’t even sound upset. It’s going to happen. It’ll be next year and he’ll go with Tim Raines, who’s another of those great players the old-time voters couldn’t figure out because he didn’t have the magic numbers, and Astros fans and Expos fans will flood Cooperstown and it will be a joyous weekend.