Jeff Bagwell was a five-tool force who absolutely, positively, without any question, deserves election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Our sincere hope is that this blog will raise such awareness, not blood pressure; open communication lines, not close them; spark debate, not end it. Ultimately, everyone is entitled to their own opinions; their own perspectives; their own conclusions, and we have the utmost respect for that. But with Bagwell unfathomably languishing on the Hall of Fame ballot, someone needs to step to the plate and champion his cause. And it looks like that someone is… (Any volunteers?… No?) Us.
But first, you might be wondering why we’re doing this… we’re glad you hypothetically asked.
There are unfortunately far too many members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the men and women entrusted with annually selecting candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame, who believe Jeff Bagwell belongs to a hoary old cliché known as the Hall of Very Good; players who are not worthy of baseball’s ultimate individual honor.
Generally, these writers tend to trust their gut and use the eyeball test; they don’t do a lot of research because they know a Hall of Famer when they see one, and their memories are impenetrable vaults of voluminous baseball perspective and information that has never failed them, not once.
Jeff Fletcher, a writer for the Orange County Register, used to belong to this group. In 2010, Fletcher wrote this of Bagwell’s candidacy:
Applying the eyeball test to Bagwell, which is usually all I do with players before it’s actually decision time, my instinct was that he was not a Hall of Famer. I don’t remember at any time through Bagwell’s career thinking that this was a guy who deserved to be enshrined with the likes of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
But then Fletcher did something extraordinary; two things, actually. Rather than trust his gut, the eyeball test or his own fuzzy memory, Fletcher actually dug into Bagwell’s statistics. And not to confirm his own bias, either. He did so with an open mind and a refreshing thirst for getting it right. And Fletcher was amazed at what he found. Picking up the story several years later, Fletcher recalls:
When (Bagwell’s) name first came on the ballot a couple years ago, I didn’t plan to vote for him. He didn’t have the sexy career that screams Hall of Famer. After I dug into his numbers more, he stood out. His OPS of 149 ranked third among all first basemen in his era, behind Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire and ahead of Jim Thome. That’s a HOF group.
By exerting a modicum of additional effort, Jeff Fletcher had an incredibly rare change of heart and, perhaps even more shocking, wasn’t afraid to admit it. He has voted for Bagwell each year of his eligibility.
Barry Bloom, an MLB.com writer, also used surface-level knowledge of Bagwell’s career to justify leaving him off his ballot in 2011. According to Bloom, Bagwell’s:
…numbers are very similar to Steve Garvey — Bags .297 batting average to .294 for the Garv, 2,314 hits to 2,599, 449 homers to 272, 1,529 RBIs to 1,308.
Mathematicians among you will note that there’s nothing similar about the numbers Bloom provided. Bagwell hit 177 more home runs and drove in 221 more batters. Not mentioned but also dissimilar: Bagwell scored 374 more runs and stole 119 more bases. Bagwell also bested the Garv in on-base percentage (.408 to .329), slugging percentage (.540 to .446), OPS+ (149 to 117)… we could do this all day.
Not surprisingly, Bloom’s admission drew scorn and derision, so much so that he promised to vote for Bagwell the following year.
He did not vote for Bagwell the following year.
When we took up the cause and called him out on his broken promise, and continued exclusion of Bagwell, Bloom did something every bit as extraordinary as Fletcher: after another round of us extolling the greatness of Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bloom included him on his 2013 ballot. And in doing so, Bloom cited our passionate back-and-forth:
Certainly, our lengthy discussion had a lot to do with re-evaluating my position.
Ultimately, the Baseball Writers Association of America has been tasked with preserving and promoting the game of baseball, in large part because their experience makes them more qualified to tell a better, more accurate account of the sport’s history. To not vote for Jeff Bagwell risks telling an incomplete history of America’s pastime as he is clearly one of the best players of all-time. And to cast his character under a dark shadow of nothing more than rumors, innuendo and science that actually lacks a drip of science, unfairly sullies his reputation and legacy.
So that’s why we’re doing this. If more writers would challenge their own perceptions and conclusions and demonstrate the necessary humility to constantly evaluate and reevaluate their own opinions (with guys like Fletcher and Bloom as leading examples), especially amongst a brethren that has demonstrated a monstrously contagious case of close-mindedness, there’s a chance, just maybe, that we can help Bagwell pick up momentum and reverse what was an unfortunate regression last year in his Hall of Fame support.
Two down, far too many to go, unfortunately.
And that’s where you come in. We need Bagwell ambassadors. We’ve set-up this blog along with a Twitter account and plan to fill it with an avalanche of Bagwell-related numbers, rankings and perspective. Please reuse and retweet any of the data and help us – respectfully – spread the word.