The Strange Vendetta Against Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell Baseball Card.jpg
Should make the Hall of Fame today
​Back when I was in law school, I was taught a basic strategy for handling a trial, or any type of legal argument. If you have the facts in your favor, but not the law, argue the facts. If you have the law in your favor, but not the facts, argue the law. If neither is in your favor, then argue emotion. That brings us to Jeff Bagwell and his case for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame which will be revealed today.

The stats on Bagwell more than speak in his favor for selection, as eminent baseball writers and Hall of Fame voters Joe Posnanski and Peter Gammons have made clear over the past several weeks. He was Rookie of the Year, a MVP. He was one of the best defensive first basemen ever. He was a fantastic base runner who was known as one of the smartest players when he played.

Gammons notes that Bagwell's career OPS is higher than that of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, and his Win Above Replacement number is fourth highest all-time among first basemen, behind only Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Fox and Albert Pujols. But though they feel that Bagwell should be a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer, it's become evident that that probably won't happen.

Some writers are basing their votes on his stats and saying that while they think he should probably make it, they don't think he should make it on the first ballot. Now I'll admit that I've never understood this thinking. If you're a Hall of Famer, you're a Hall of Famer. But I'm willing to give these voters a pass because they've said they're basing their view on Bagwell's stats and that they're willing to revisit their vote next year.

But then come those voters basing their votes on emotion. Those voters going with the we-can't-prove-it-and-there's-absolutely-no-evidence-to-support-it excuse that Bagwell used steroids or HGH, and as such, he shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame.

Bagwell Card 3.jpg
The stats say he ranks among some of the greatest ever
​They acknowledge that he has the stats, and that he should be in the Hall of Fame. But they're convinced, without any doubt, that Bagwell used steroids. They can't present any evidence to support this allegation, of course. Nothing. Sure, his body got bigger. But so did the bodies of Carlton Fisk and several other players who have never been associated with steroids but discovered the joys of lifting weights.

They suspect his stats because he played in the age of steroids, and since he spent most of his career in the Astrodome, his stats can only be explained by steroids. Once again, they have absolutely no support for any of this. Bagwell was not named in the Mitchell Report. Jose Canseco never named or accused him. Andy Pettitte didn't rat him out. Miguel Tejada didn't give him any B-12 shots. He never failed a drug test. He's never had a grand jury investigating him.

But that's not enough. No. Even if he didn't do steroids, and there's no evidence that he did, writers like Jeff Pearlman still say that Bagwell doesn't deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he never spoke up about how steroids was ruining the game.

"But, as the game was being ruined in his very clubhouse, where was Bagwell's voice of protest?" Pearlman writes. "Where was Jeff Bagwell, one of the best players in baseball, when someone inside the game needed to speak out and demand accountability? Answer: Like nearly all of his peers, he was nowhere. He never uttered a word, never lifted a finger. (Now, once he retired, he was more than willing to defend himself and speak up for the sport. Once he was retired.)

"This, to me," he continues, "is why we are allowed to suspect Jeff Bagwell and, if we so choose, not vote for him."

So let me see if I understand this. It doesn't matter that Jeff Bagwell didn't use steroids. He didn't speak up and denounce it, and as such, he is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. There's no factual argument here. There's no logical argument here. There's just emotion.

Now if you support this argument, here are some names you can't vote for in upcoming years: Greg Maddux, who played with Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, and Gary Sheffield -- all big names on the steroid/PED violator lists. Or Derek Jeter, who has played with Sheffield, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch, Kevin Brown, and David Justice, all names heavily linked to PED use -- for that matter, how do we know that Jeter has never used steroids or HGH? His clubhouse has been full of users, and he's put up big offensive numbers. Sure he doesn't have the look, but hey, neither did Andy Pettitte.

Tom Glavine is one of the game's great pitchers. He's never been linked to steroid/HGH use. But not only did he play with the likes of Caminiti and Sheffield, he was a leader of the players union, and the players union fought drug testing throughout the '90s and the early part of the '00s. By the logic Pearlman applies to Bagwell, you can't vote for any of these players, especially Glavine, because he never spoke up about steroids, and he fought testing that would reveal users.

Bagwell Card 2.jpg
But he's guilty until proven innocent
​But we all know the truth. There's no way that Maddux, Glavine and Jeter aren't making it into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, and those speaking of how they can't support Bagwell because he didn't speak up against steroids will utter not a word about this when it comes to those three.

There's no logical reason not to vote for Bagwell. Greater, more respected commentators than me have made the argument and provided the evidence. But they don't like Bagwell. They don't like how he looks, how he bulked up and put up decent numbers in the Astrodome.

They have no facts. They have no law. They just have misplaced emotion. For that, Jeff Bagwell and his reputation have to suffer. And until somebody offers up some actual evidence, something besides he bulked up or suffered a career-ending injury, then there's nothing, nothing (other than a misguided judgment of his stats) to prevent a vote on Jeff Bagwell for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal