JEFF BAGWELL

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.297/.408/.540, 449 HRs, 1,529 RBI, 202 SBs

Jeff Bagwell was one of the elite hitters of the 1990s and early 2000s. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 and MVP in 1994. He had nine 30-homer seasons (including two 30-30 campaigns), and was one of the best power-patience combos of all-time. He accomplished all of this despite playing much of his career in the Astrodome, a pitcher’s haven.

Bagwell did not hit 500 home runs, in part because of the home park and because his body broke down. While his contemporaries have excelled into their late 30s and beyond, Bagwell’s last great season was at age 35 and he was done at 37. His name has never been linked to steroids, but he could be one of the poster boys for sluggers kept out of Cooperstown because of playing in the Steroids Era.

Our panel saw beyond the career home run total and rewarded Bagwell for his overall offensive efforts. It will be interesting to see if the BBWAA writers do the same.

YES: 5 NO: 2

YES

Patrick Stevens: Let’s see, a slugging first baseman who won a NL rookie of the year award and later a unanimous vote for an MVP award in a truly bizarre season. Orlando Cepeda, ye of the amazing performance in the Year of the Pitcher (1967), this is your life! Oh wait, it’s Bagwell‘s, too. His MVP came in a strike-shortened season, and who knows if he would have won it even if Matt Williams (remember him?!) stayed on pace to obliterate Roger Maris’ then-home run record.

Bagwell is the prototype for the guy who could pay dearly for playing in the steroid era, a truly dominant slugger for 12 years (1991-2002) whose body didn’t permit him to chase any of the hallowed (and now slightly diminished) magic numbers. But for those dozen seasons, it’s tough to come up with an offensive player not named Bonds who so thoroughly ravaged the National League.

There is one nugget that sways my thinking quite a bit. Everyone thinks of the Astros playing in a crazy little band box with a flag pole in center field and a choo-choo on top of the wall in left. Bagwell played nine of his 12 best seasons in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, a facility with the vastness wilderness of Yellowstone that turned such mortals as Darryl Kile, Mike Hampton and Jose Lima into All-Stars (and rich beyond the dreams of the most avaricious of men, of which Hampton may well be one) during the 1990s. In that environment, Bagwell put up five seasons of .400+ on-base percentages, .550+ slugging percentages and 100+ runs scored. Toss in six top-10 finishes in the MVP voting, and Bagwell’s excellence puts him a step above many of the suspicious sluggers who were his contemporaries.

KEVIN BREWER : Jeff Bagwell is overqualified for the Hall of Fame.

Bagwell played 14 full seasons, plus 100 at-bats in 2005. He was among the top 10 players in the league in seven seasons — 1992, 1994, 1996 to 1999 and 2001. In 1994, 1996 and 1999, he was the best player in the league. In his other seven seasons, including his rookie year, he played at an All-Star level. Bagwell hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage, a .500 slugging percentage, 30 home runs and 100 RBI in five seasons. He scored 100 runs nine times, including 143 in 1999 and 152 the next season. He had 100 RBI in eight seasons, including 130 three times. He drew 100 walks seven times, including 135 in 1996 and 149 in 1999.

Finally, in The New Bill James Historical Abstract (2001), James rated Bagwell as the fourth best first baseman of all time and the 45th best player of all time.

JOHN TAYLOR: Think for a moment about the truly great first basemen over the years: Lou Gehrig, Willie McCovey, Haron Killebrew, Jimmy Foxx, even Mark McGwire if you like. Some folks, such as baseball numbers guru Bill James, place Jeff Bagwell’s name right in that mix. I tend to agree. (James also has Bagwell ranked among the top 30 players of all time)

Check out Bagwell’s 1994 season, which was shortened by the strike and by another broken hand (that quirky batting stance left his wrist and hand exposed over the plate and landed him on the DL three times before he started padding it more): 39 homers, 116 RBI, 65 walks, .451 OBP, .368 batting average, 15 stolen bases … all in 110 games. Let that register for a moment. It earned him the only MVP award of his career, just three years after taking rookie of the year honors.

His career numbers add up as well. He never topped 500 homers (finishing with 449), but injuries played a large part in shortening his career. Bagwell, who didn’t make it out of spring training in 2006, finished with a .297 career batting average and a .408 OBP, and his 202 stolen bases jump off the stat sheet. His 1,529 RBI rank him ahead of Eddie Mathews, Jim Rice, Brooks Robinson and McGwire, to name a few; his 1,401 career walks place him among the top 25 all-time, just a few short of Hank Aaron, Wade Boggs and Frank Robinson.

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