Bagwell keeps perspective about Hall candidacy
Astros legend earns optimistic 41.7 percent of vote in first year
HOUSTON -- The news that he didn't get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first appearance on the ballot Wednesday didn't seem to bother former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who has been telling reporters for months he didn't anticipate being elected.
Bagwell, who retired following the 2005 season as the Astros' all-time leader in home runs and RBIs, admits he has the numbers to get into the Hall of Fame eventually, but he believes it's going to take a few years to get the call to Cooperstown.
The long-time Astros first baseman received 41.7 percent of the vote in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which is a decent first-year total but well short of the 75 percent required for induction into the Hall of Fame. Second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven were the only two players to get enough votes -- 90 percent and 79.7 percent, respectively -- and will be inducted this summer.
As for Bagwell, he says life goes on.
"I was not real shocked," Bagwell said in a conference call with reporters. "Obviously, I've told you guys [the media] before I did not expect to get in, and that's OK. I don't feel bad. I'm thankful that I'm even on the ballot. We'll go from here. Guys like me, they're not going to get in real easy. I'm happy for Robby and Bert to get in."
Players can stay on the ballot for 15 years, as long as they receive at least five percent of the vote. Bagwell would appear to have a better chance to get elected next year when a thin group of first-timers are eligible, but the list of 2013 Hall of Fame-eligible players includes heavyweights like longtime teammate Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza.
"I think he'll get in eventually and I think he deserves to get in," said Brad Ausmus, Bagwell's close friend and former teammate. "There are quite a few great players who have plaques hanging in the Hall of Fame that weren't elected on the first ballot."
Bagwell, 42, last appeared in an Astros uniform during the 2005 World Series, the crowning achievement in a terrific 15-year career that included the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and a unanimous NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1994.
Bagwell made four All-Star Games, hit .297 with a .408 on-base percentage, amassed 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and made six trips to the playoffs. He was forced to retire after a degenerative shoulder condition made it impossible for him to throw a baseball and difficult to swing a bat.
"If you look at [the numbers] and post them up against a lot of others, they're pretty good numbers," Bagwell said. "Unfortunately, that's not what goes into the Hall of Fame [voting] sometimes."
|Roberto Alomar (2)||523||90.0|
|Bert Blyleven (14)||463||79.7|
|Barry Larkin (2)||361||62.1|
|Jack Morris (12)||311||53.5|
|Lee Smith (9)||263||45.3|
|Jeff Bagwell (1)||242||41.7|
|Tim Raines (4)||218||37.5|
|Edgar Martinez (2)||191||32.9|
|Alan Trammell (10)||141||24.3|
|Larry Walker (1)||118||20.3|
|Mark McGwire (5)||115||19.8|
|Fred McGriff (2)||104||17.9|
|Dave Parker (15)||89||15.3|
|Don Mattingly (11)||79||13.6|
|Dale Murphy (13)||73||12.6|
|Rafael Palmeiro (1)||64||11.0|
|Juan Gonzalez (1)||30||5.2|
|Harold Baines (5)||28||4.8|
|John Franco (1)||27||4.6|
|Kevin Brown (1)||12||2.1|
|Tino Martinez (1)||6||1.0|
|Marquis Grissom (1)||4||0.7|
|Al Leiter (1)||4||0.7|
|John Olerud (1)||4||0.7|
|B.J. Surhoff (1)||2||0.3|
|Bret Boone (1)||1||0.2|
|Benito Santiago (1)||1||0.2|
|Carlos Baerga (1)||0||0|
|Lenny Harris (1)||0||0|
|Bobby Higginson (1)||0||0|
|Charles Johnson (1)||0||0|
|Raul Mondesi (1)||0||0|
|Kirk Rueter (1)||0||0|
Bagwell, who spent the second half of last season as the Astros' hitting coach, was asked repeatedly during Wednesday's conference call about voters being skeptical of his numbers because of suspicion he used performance-enhancing drugs. He has vehemently denied using any illegal substances and has never been linked to any such activity, but some voters publicly acknowledged they were hesitant to vote for him because he played in an era of frequent steroid use.
"I can't change people's opinions on how they see my career," Bagwell said. "I'm OK with that. Whatever. People are going to think what they want to think, and if they don't think anybody was good in this era [without using performance-enhancing drugs], that's fine. I'm one of the first players that have come up [for induction] in that era. I'm OK with that. It's not going to change my life and not going to change my day today."
But others were quick to rush to Bagwell's defense.
"That's a bunch of baloney," said former Astros manager Phil Garner, who managed Bagwell at the end of his career. "If that's the reason people didn't vote for him, that's bogus. That makes no sense at all, unless someone has some information he's withholding and not giving to anyone else. I've never seen his name mentioned in any of these reports. Just because he was a great player doesn't mean he did anything."
"I don't think you can punish a player with no link to steroids just because he played in the steroid era," he said. "If you're going to punish one player with no link, you have to punish all the players in the era."
Bagwell maintains the suspicions about the legitimacy of his numbers don't bother him.
"If I get into the Hall of Fame or if I don't, it's not going to change my life," he said. "My life is what it is. I wasn't shocked that people are going to have suspicions when you play in the era I played in. I had a good career, but didn't have 500 homers, 600 homers and all that kind of stuff. As I've always said, the only thing I care about is what my teammates thought of me."
Bagwell has occasionally compared himself to Andre Dawson, who was elected to the Hall of Fame last year in his ninth year of eligibility. Dawson had 45.3 percent of the vote when he hit the ballot in 2002 before tallying 77.9 percent last year. Dawson, an outfielder, played six more seasons than Bagwell and had 11 fewer home runs, 62 more RBIs and 460 more hits.
"His numbers and mine are fairly comparable, and it took that long for him to get in, which is absolutely disgusting and awful," Bagwell said.
Six former Astros have reached the Hall of Fame, but none has worn an Astros cap: Nellie Fox, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Robin Roberts, Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan. With Bagwell coming up short this year, the Astros will have to wait on a Hall of Famer they can call their own.
"I think he's a Hall of Famer," Garner said. "I guess I don't know all the criteria for a Hall of Fame, but I look at, for over a decade and a half he was one of the most dominant players in the game. He was a dominant hitter, a dominant defensive player and a dominant baserunner. What's the other element? A good guy? He was off the charts."
Biggio, who along with Bagwell was a charter member of the Astros' Killer B's, will make his first appearance on the ballot in two years, and with 3,060 career hits should be a shoo-in for induction. Going into the Hall of Fame together would be fitting, Bagwell says.
"I can think of nothing better," he said. "That being said, I'm going to be in Cooperstown in 2013 because I'll be there for him."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.