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COREY MASISAK: Will Jeff Bagwell’s candidacy for Cooperstown prove that voters realize there is more than just home runs when it comes to hitters, even at first base? I hope so. Bagwell does not have 500 home runs, and given the era he played in, that could be the number his detractors lean on. But Bagwell spent most of his career playing 81 games per season in the cavernous Astrodome. He would certainly have approached 500 if he played in a more neutral park. He also would have if his body had not failed him. Bags was known as tough, hard-nose guy, but that also often led to playing through pain or shelving him because of injury. He was not able to thrive after age 35 like many of today’s sluggers. His name has never been tarnished with steroid suspicions, either.
Regardless of all that, he was easily one of the game’s most feared hitters in the 1990s. He possessed power and patience (and even tossed in 202 steals, including two seasons of 30+), and would have finished his career as a .300/.400/.500 guy if not for his final two seasons when he couldn’t raise his right arm above his head. He is 23rd all-time in OPS, and there is only one guy ahead of him who is eligible for the Hall and not in - Mark McGwire. There are a couple others (Larry Walker and Jason Giambi) who won’t get in either, but Jeff Bagwell is most certainly deserving.
LACY LUSK: Jeff Bagwell was certainly every bit the player of his long-time teammate, Craig Biggio, and then some. He was a force from 1994 through the early 2000s — a long enough period of dominance, in my opinion — who could hit for power, draw walks and even steal bases. Most of his career was in a pitcher’s park, which he made look like a hitter’s park.
MARK ZUCKERMAN: I went into this thinking he was a pretty safe bet to get in, but the more I looked at it, I’m not so sure. Bagwell’s career numbers (.297, 449 homers, 1,529 RBI) are solid, but his individual accomplishments don’t blow you away. He won the 1994 MVP (which only covered two-thirds of a season because of the strike). He won Rookie of the Year in 1991. But did you know he only made four All-Star rosters? Here’s what ultimately swayed me to decide he’s not in the Hall: It’s hard to argue that he was ever the best at his position, or possibly even one of the top 2-3 at his position. First base in the 90s was loaded with HOF candidates: Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Fred McGriff. Now, obviously some of those guys’ numbers may have been inflated by a certain something, but not all of them have been linked to steroids. And even so, if we’re supposed to judge a player against his contemporaries, Bagwell just isn’t head and shoulders above the rest. Forget about steroids, and I’d probably rank him fifth out of that group of first basemen, behind McGwire, Palmeiro, Thomas and Thome. That’s just not quite good enough for me, though I may be in the minority on this one.
TIM LEMKE: Jeff Bagwell had several of the best offensive seasons in recent memory, and was one of the most consistent power hitters of the late 1990s. The problem, however, is that he did everything in an era clouded by steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Power numbers were so inflated during his career that his numbers look relatively average by comparison. If he had stayed healthy and continued to hit homeruns into his late 30s, his career totals might give him a better case for the Hall of Fame. But as it stands, he falls just shy.
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