Going to Bat for Bags

The Case for Jeff Bagwell to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Jeff Bagwell v. Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is a baseball writer’s ideal Hall of Fame candidate, an incredible combination of Hank Aaron’s raw power and Willie May’s fluid finesse; a young progeny that lived up to the hype and threatened, for long stretches of his career, to stake a claim as the greatest player of all-time.

As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Ken Griffey, Jr. will be a Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility.

And his candidacy is a big reason why Jeff Bagwell likely won’t be joining him; not this year, anyway. Scientists have not yet found a way to measure the minimal amount of time the overwhelming majority of the Baseball Writers Association of America will spend considering Griffey’s worthiness (save for the sanctimonious assholes who inevitably won’t vote for him – and yes, there will be some.)

Griffey smashed 630 home runs; he won 10 Gold Gloves. He was, for many years, the face of baseball, with a Nike-sponsored high profile and a 10,000-volt smile that made him almost impossible to dislike.

Bagwell is every bit the slam dunk Griffey is; maybe not as thunderous a dunk – but a slam dunk, nonetheless. He’s a far less OBVIOUS slam dunk, though. Bagwell requires a modicum of effort; like the man himself, his numbers weren’t flashy: he didn’t crack historically revered milestones; he didn’t bat .300; he didn’t appear in a slew of All-Star games…

Taken on their own, Bagwell’s numbers are impressive… they’re just not, “I don’t have to think about it…” impressive. In fact, Bagwell almost requires context to fully appreciate his greatness. In other words, it requires baseball writers to, you know, do their jobs, and it would seem, based on the voting habits, that they loathe doing their jobs.

Having to lift your finger – which used to be a figurative statement; now is a literal statement as the needed context for all baseball players is just a mouse-click away – should not disqualify a player from consideration. The job of the baseball writer, in fact, is almost exclusively, at least in terms of the Hall of Fame, to properly contextualize the game.

But that’s exactly where Bagwell finds himself – needing enough people to properly slot him among the all-time greats.

Many, many years ago (it’s been nearly 15), we started pushing the narrative on various message boards that Jeff Bagwell was the greatest National League first baseman of all-time. Granted, the assertion is a bit of a trick: uniformly, the best first basemen have been in the American League – Gehrig, Foxx, Killebrew, Greenberg, Murray… Bagwell’s closet competition was probably Johnny Mize, and his best days were undoubtedly pre-World War II.

Still, it’s the kind of easy, “I don’t have to think about it…” narrative that Bagwell’s campaign has always lacked. And then Albert Pujols had to come along and stomp all over it with giant, baseball-destroying feats of awesome. And justlikethat, Bagwell was now the *second* greatest National League first baseman of all-time –by a sizable distance, too – and, well – that doesn’t quite resonate the same.

But Bagwell shouldn’t be punished because too many writers are lazy. Yes, Ken Griffey, Jr. is a no-brainer. But so, too, is Jeff Bagwell – assuming you don’t take a use-no-brain approach to his no-brainer worthiness.

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HALL OF FAME VOTING

2017: 82.6% – BINGO!
2016: 71.6%
2015: 55.7%
2014: 54.3%
2013: 59.6%
2012: 56.0%
2011: 41.7%

BY THE NUMBERS

AVG .297
HR 449
RBI 1,529
R 1,517
H 2,314
SB 202
OB% .408
SLG .540
OPS .948
OPS+ 149
WAR 79.6

AWARDS

N.L. Rookie of the Year (1991)
N.L. Most Valuable Player (1994)
N.L. Silver Slugger Award (1994, 1997, 1999)
N.L. Gold Glove (1994)
N.L. All-Star (1994, 1996, 1997, 1999)

ALL-TIME RANKINGS

21st | .948 OPS
26th | .408 OB%
28th | 149 OPS+
28th | 1,401 BB
32nd | .540 SLG%
35th | 79.6 WAR
39th | 449 HRs
46th | 969 XBHs
47th | 1,517 R
48th | 1,529 RBI

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

(Tweet until your fingers bleed)

“There is nothing about (#JeffBagwell)’s performance that isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame.” – Buster Olney | @Buster_ESPN

“There is little doubt that (#JeffBagwell) is deserving… unless you’re somehow unimpressed by his .408 on-base percentage and .540 slugging mark, not to mention his baserunning, defense at first base and leadership of the @astros during his 15-year career.” – Ken Rosenthal | @Ken_Rosenthal

“#JeffBagwell belongs in the HoF. Not on the 10th time on the ballot — he belongs on the podium in Cooperstown this summer.” – Peter Gammons | @pgammo

“#JeffBagwell is in that conversation as far as the best first basemen ever … there’s no way around that.” – Tim Kurkjian | @Kurkjian_ESPN

“(C)riminally undersupported… #JeffBagwell was, in a nutshell, one of the four greatest first basemen of the live-ball era.” – Jayson Stark | @jaysonst

“Does (#JeffBagwell’s) overall body of work warrant a plaque in the Hall of Fame? The answer to that question is yes.” – Jerry Cransick | @jcrasnick

“(L)et me say this as clearly as I possible can say it: #JeffBagwell, IMO, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.” – Joe Posnanski | @JPosnanski

“I didn’t vote for (#JeffBagwell) last year but thought later that it was a mistake. Career percentages of .408 (on-base) and .540 (slugging) put him in elite class.” – Tim Cowlishaw | @TimCowlishaw

“#JeffBagwell, by any statistical measure, ranks among the most productive first basemen in major league history.” – Andrew Baggarly | @CSNBaggs

“The pride of the University of Hartford was durable, consistent and productive. (#JeffBagwell) hit for power, showed great patience, played an excellent first base and even stole 202 bases. His WAR is seventh among first basemen all time…. he’s an automatic choice.” – Peter Abraham | @PeteAbe

“There is no evidence. There is no proof. There is just suspicion. I will vote for… #JeffBagwell. Rumours shouldn’t dictate who gets a vote and who doesn’t.” – Steve Simmons | @simmonssteve

“The blackballing of… #JeffBagwell is nothing short of shameful. Thumbs up from Senator McCarthy’s ghost.” – Bob Klapisch | @BobKlap

“(#JeffBagwell) was durable, accomplished in the field, and hit for power.” – Sean McAdam | @Sean_McAdam

“#JeffBagwell should not be denied his bid to Cooperstown merely because he developed video-game arms.” – Ian O’Connor | @Ian_OConnor

“I was a little slow to come around on (#JeffBagwell), but a reader’s persistence worked; I’m now a firm believer he’s a Hall of Famer and underappreciated in his day.” – Susan Slusser | @susanslusser

“#JeffBagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame. How can anyone argue otherwise?” – Richard Justice | @richardjustice

“I’ll be proud to cast my Hall of Fame vote for #JeffBagwell.” – Jose de Jesus Ortiz | @OrtizKicks

“He’s one of the top all-time offensive first basemen, with a ridiculous 149 OPS-plus (meaning he was 49 percent better than the average National League hitter of his time).” – Ken Davidoff | @KenDavidoff

“(A)fter listening to and reading compelling commentary from highly respected baseball writers, I decided to… cast a vote for (#JeffBagwell) this time around.” – Tom Haudricourt | @Haudricourt

“I see nothing but blind accusations. Nothing but gossip in the rumor mill. So, I am now giving #JeffBagwell the vote I feel his career record deserves.” – Geoff Baker | @GeoffBakerTIMES

“(#JeffBagwell)’s incredibly well-rounded game makes him a blatantly worthy HoFer… and his exclusion from the HoF will remain a black mark against voters until they put him in.” – Jonah Keri | @jonahkeri

“His career WAR ranks 7th, his peak WAR ranks 5th and his overall JAWS ranks 6th. To mix sporting metaphors, that’s a slam dunk; #JeffBagwell unequivocally belongs in the Hall of Fame.” – Jay Jaffe | @jay_jaffe

“#JeffBagwell (is) one of the six or eight greatest first basemen who’s ever played this game.” – Rob Neyer | @robneyer

“(#JeffBagwell is) the perfect ballplayer: power, speed, on-base ability, terrific baserunner, durable, excellent defender.” – Dave Schoenfield | @dschoenfield

“Let’s hope the idiocy of not voting for #JeffBagwell based on evidence-free associations between him and PEDs ends this year.” – Joe Sheehan | @joe_sheehan

“Jeff Bagwell was one of the five to ten best first basemen ever.” – Emma Span | @emmaspan

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