Going to Bat for Bags

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

Jeff Bagwell v. PEDs

It’s time to tackle the ‘roided-up elephant in the room: PEDs. We understand each and every voter has their own opinion (and that changing it is virtually impossible) but we’d like to point out that Jeff Bagwell has never, to our knowledge, tested positive for a banned substance; he wasn’t named in Jose Canseco’s book, the Mitchell Report, the BALCO investigation, the Biogenesis investigation, or any other high-profile, PED-related scandal. And he hasn’t been implicated by a former teammate, friend and/or trainer. Heck, he has two ex-wives and was involved in a high-profile, contentious divorce trial… Nada.

Many writers – not scientists, not doctors but baseball writers – have boiled the PED issue down to “muscles = steroids,” and that’s disappointing both for its simplicity and, honestly, ignorance. The impact of performance enhancing drugs is complicated and multi-faceted. After all, did Lance Armstrong develop incredibly large muscles? Think about this: before steroids were an issue, which would you consider least likely: an athletic 22/23-year old packing on muscles; or an athlete maintaining above-average production into their late 30s/early 40s? Greg Maddux (deservedly) sailed into the Hall of Fame without a hint of suspicion, despite the fact that we know, from the players themselves, that steroids improved recovery time, increased endurance and prolonged careers. So why not be suspicious of Maddux? Because he didn’t pack on muscles? Again, take a long look at Lance Armstrong and tell us PEDs are as easy as “steroids = muscles.”

The other precarious link to Jeff Bagwell’s alleged PED use is the late Ken Caminiti, a teammate and friend who, in many ways, is ground zero for the steroid era in baseball. In a now infamous Sports Illustrated article, “Totally Juiced” (originally published June 3, 2002), Caminiti copped to doping, claiming, “At least half the guys are using steroids.” Boom. In terms of seismic impact, Caminiti’s statement shattered the Richter scale, exposing, for the first time publicly, baseball’s rampant drug problem.

But here’s the thing – and in a game of nothing more than innuendo, conjecture, and lazy guesswork, it’s a mighty big thing: Caminiti didn’t start using steroids until 1996; two years after Bagwell and Caminiti were teammates. From the article:

Spurred to try the drugs by concern over a shoulder injury in early ’96, Caminiti said that his steroid use improved his performance noticeably and became more sophisticated over the next five seasons.

That’s not to suggest Bagwell is, by extension, innocent. It certainly isn’t to suggest that, once they ceased being teammates, they never spoke again – we know they were friends and that someone “spurred (Caminiti) to try the drugs.” (Though Caminiti would later frame that possible influence by stating, “When you play in San Diego, it’s easy to just drive into Mexico (to obtain steroids).”) But it does throw some cold water on an already tenuous link, doesn’t it? And the numbers would seem to back up Caminiti’s claim.

Between 1991-1994, Caminiti hit 57 home runs and slugged .422 in 541 games as an Astro. In 1995 (his first as a Padre), he hit 26/.513. In 1996 (the year Caminiti claimed he started using steroids): 40/.621. More specifically – after trying steroids “to get me through the second half of the season,” Caminiti went 28/.760 post-All-Star break. His second half home run pace was 55, which would have been a 111% increase over the previous year.

Bagwell? Here are his numbers with and without Caminiti:
’91-‘94: .309/.394/.520/.914; 92 HRs; 155 OPS+; 2,435 plate appearances
’95-’99: .300/.432/.564/.996; 129 HRs; 163 OPS+; 2,684 plate appearances
(Note: we picked 1999 because it was Bagwell’s last year in the Astrodome.)

Bagwell hit 28 more home runs in 249 more plate appearances; or, roughly, 5.6 more per year. His slugging percentage rose 44 points. As a means of comparison, Caminiti, from 1995-1999, hit 64 more home runs (12.8 more per year) and his slugging percentage rose 118 points. And that was in just 114 more plate appearances.

Creating flaccid connections to denigrate someone’s accomplishments and character is a terrible waste of time. And it’s a dagger that’s too often wielded irresponsibly. Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine have shared a locker room with Caminiti. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez have shared a locker room with Derek Jeter. If the standard is that the entire era was dirty and thus no one’s above suspicion… while remarkably small-minded, at least it’s consistent. But to arbitrarily draw unfounded, specious conclusions to fit your own narrative while a degree in journalism hangs from a nearby wall displays a total lack of integrity.

We’ll end this section where it began: Jeff Bagwell has never, to our knowledge, tested positive for a banned substance; he wasn’t named in Jose Canseco’s book, the Mitchell Report, the BALCO investigation, the Biogenesis investigation, or any other high-profile, PED-related scandal. And he hasn’t been implicated by a former teammate, friend and/or trainer.

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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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