HOUSTON (AP) — Jeff Bagwell spent a career putting up huge stats, the kind that often get posted on plaques in Cooperstown. In a few days, the former Astros slugger might well hit the big number he needs to reach the Hall of Fame.
Whether he’s elected or not, Bagwell says he’ll feel something other than happiness or disappointment when the results are announced Wednesday.
”Honestly,” he said, ”relief, both either yes or no.”
This is Bagwell’s seventh try on the ballot – he got just 41.7 percent of the votes the first time, and was up to 71.6 percent last year in selections by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It takes 75 percent to make the Hall.
”I just want to get it over with,” the 48-year-old Bagwell said. ”This is the first year I’ve kind of been keeping track of it and just kind of looking. So I’m excited about it.”
The 1994 National League MVP and four-time All-Star spent his entire career with Houston. The first baseman holds the Astros records of 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. In 15 seasons, he had a .408 on-base average, a .540 slugging percentage and batted .297.
If he’s elected, he’ll join longtime teammate Craig Biggio, who was elected in 2015, as the only players to go in as Astros.
”It would be wonderful,” he said. ”Was so proud of him when he got in. If I can get in, too, and have two of us there, especially two guys that played together for 15 straight years. That would be very special.”
Biggio has said that there’s “no doubt” Bagwell is a Hall of Famer and has lobbied for him to get in for years.
Bagwell knows the wait on Wednesday will be a long and angst-filled one for him. Far different than how he imagines Ken Griffey Jr. felt last year when he breezed in with a Hall-record 99.32 percent.
”I always laugh at (the) thought last year of Ken Griffey Jr., who probably had the best time ever,” Bagwell said. ”Probably just hung out in the hot tub and waited to get a phone call. Not quite like that with me.”
Modesty aside, Bagwell certainly has a strong case for election.
As one-third of Houston’s famed ‘Killer B’s’ with Biggio and Lance Berkman, he helped build the Astros from a last-place team to the first club from Texas to reach the World Series in 2005. They were swept by the Chicago White Sox in what would be the last of his six postseason trips.
Bagwell was picked in the fourth round of the 1989 draft by the Boston Red Sox and was traded to Houston for reliever Larry Andersen on Aug. 30, 1990. Bagwell was just 22 and a Double-A player at the time of the deal – in his first two seasons of pro ball, he hit well over .300, but with just six home runs in 710 at-bats.
Astros manager Art Howe moved Bagwell from third base to first base to accommodate the late Ken Caminiti. Bagwell made his major league debut the following season and found immediate success, becoming the NL Rookie of the Year after hitting .294 with 15 homers, 26 doubles and 82 RBIs.
Bagwell had two more solid seasons before earning the NL MVP in his spectacular 1994 season. In just 110 games during a strike-shortened year, he hit .368 with 39 homers and an league-leading 116 RBIs. His 104 runs scored, .750 slugging percentage and 1.201 OPS that season also led the NL. That season he also earned his only Gold Glove award and picked up the first of three Silver Slugger trophies.
The next year his numbers were down when he hit 21 homers with 87 RBIs. He got back on track in 1996 and hit 31 homers with 120 RBIs in the first of eight straight seasons where he had at least 31 homers.
The first of his three 40-homer seasons came in 1997 when he hit 43 with a career-high 135 RBIs and made his first trip to the playoffs. The Astros were eliminated by Atlanta in the NLDS in the first of three straight postseason appearances.
He hit 42 homers in 1999 and had a career-best 47 homers in 2000. His 152 runs scored that season were the most of his career and gave him the most in the NL for the second straight season. Bagwell’s last season with more than 30 home runs came at age 35 in 2003 when he hit 39 homers with 100 RBIs.
Bagwell drew under 50 percent of the vote in his first year on the Hall ballot in 2011, got 56 percent in 2012, 59.6 percent in 2013, 54.3 percent in 2014 and 55.7 percent in 2015 before moving up a lot last year.
Bagwell played at a time of power hitting and power pitching, and the cloud of the Steroids Era covered many players who had Cooperstown-caliber statistics. Whether a player later admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs, was accused of using them or never even directly mentioned in the swirl of tainted numbers, there’s been a toll when it’s come to the Hall voting.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are among the former stars still on the ballot who have never gotten close.
Bagwell was extremely durable during most of his career and played all 162 games in four seasons. He began struggling with an arthritic shoulder in 2001 and played just 39 games in his final season in 2005 because of it. The year he could bat but couldn’t throw and went 1 for 8 with an RBI in the World Series – in their only appearance, the Astros fell to the White Sox.
Bagwell, who finished with 2,314 hits, tried to play in 2006 and was in spring training with the Astros, but started the season on the disabled list because of his chronically injured right shoulder. He never appeared in a game that season, but didn’t officially retire until December of that year.
Houston retired his No. 5 jersey in 2007 and in July 2010 he was hired to be the Astros hitting coach after Sean Berry was let go. He worked in that capacity until the end of the season but chose not to return the next year.
While he’d love to get into the Hall, Bagwell said he doesn’t feel like it’s necessary for his career to be complete.
”It’s not going to change me,” he said. ”I’m still going to have to do the same things I do every day. My career is not unfinished. I did the best I could. I played three years, which were very difficult, with my shoulder. I played with so many great people, so much diversity in the people that I played with and all the people that I’ve met in this game, I can’t think of anything better.”