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Why would voters want to “wait” on Jeff Bagwell?

Dec 20, 2010, 5:33 PM EST

Jeff Bagwell

I promise: this is my last Hall of Fame post for the day. If there is other big news I’m neglecting, please let me know. In the meantime:

I’ve seen a few references to voters wanting to “wait and see” on Jeff Bagwell’s Hall of Fame case. Or to give it more time. Or to think it over more or what have you.  While I’d normally applaud such thorough consideration, Bagwell strikes me as not a particularly close case for election. He should be in on the first try.  The same went for Roberto Alomar last year too. We get one like this every once in a while and when we do, I ask myself why people think we need to wait to pull the lever in the guy’s favor when, by almost any objective standard, the guy is far above typical Hall of Fame standards. With any given voter, I’m guessing it usually comes down to one of two explanations (or a combination of them):

  • People don’t want  to elect the guy on the first ballot because they consider that to be an extra-special honor and they see the guy as a less-than-inner-circle Hall of Famer; or
  • There was something about the guy, be it an incident in his career, or this manner with the media or something in his personal life that rubs the voter the wrong way.

In the past voters have explicitly said that they didn’t think someone was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and have deferred their vote for another year.  I find this totally unacceptable because the rules that accompany a voter’s ballot explicitly say that there is no distinction between first and later-ballot inductees.  I think some people will always withhold “the honor” of a first-ballot election, however, because the voting pool is huge and unwieldy and some of them don’t have a lick of sense.

The second category can be anything.  I think Alomar fell into it with some because of the spitting incident. I wonder if Jeff Bagwell falls into that category because people want to wait and see if his name comes up in association with steroids.

No one has accused Bagwell of juicing that I know of. He certainly hasn’t come up as part of any of the official steroids investigations or reports. No Hall of Fame voter has said that they won’t vote for him because they suspect he took PEDs. But at the same time, he was an elite power hitter in the 1990s with big-ass arms.  Unless you’re Frank Thomas and you’ve been highly vocal about the matter, at some point someone is going to suspect you of something if you fit that description. I wonder if any Hall voters suspect Bagwell, even if they’re too polite to admit their suspicion.

I take an innocent-until-proven guilty approach to such matters. And as I said before, I don’t think PED associations should disqualify someone from the Hall of Fame even if they are proven guilty. But I’ve been accused of being a steroid apologist in the past, probably with some good reason.  Others aren’t as forgiving as I am, however, and I wonder if they aren’t (silently) holding Bagwell’s candidacy in abeyance to see if history catches up to their intuition.

  1. professorperry - Dec 20, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    “If there is other big news I’m neglecting, please let me know.”

    Favre upgraded to Questionable!

    • Utley's Hair - Dec 20, 2010 at 5:44 PM

      Philly sports teams dominating New York sports teams in embarrassing fashion recently.

  2. scatterbrian - Dec 20, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    “…I wonder if they aren’t (silently) holding Bagwell’s candidacy in abeyance to see if history catches up to their intuition.”

    I think that sums it up right there. While “innocent until proven guilty” is the preferred (and correct) approach, it appears some view voting for a player who is eventually proven guilty to be potentially more embarrassing than simply not voting for the player.

    • Detroit Michael - Dec 21, 2010 at 9:29 AM

      “innocent until proven guilty” is a paraphrase of a legal standard, not a cultural norm. We act all the time based on partial information that falls well short of proving something beyond a reasonable doubt.

  3. stankfinger - Dec 20, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    Look at the arms, chest, forehead. There’s your reason.

    • stankfinger - Dec 20, 2010 at 6:12 PM

      To put it another way…Bagwell was Ken Caminiti with a little longevity.

  4. ramsbladdercup - Dec 20, 2010 at 6:57 PM

    Maybe it’s because if you took away his best 5 years, he’s really just Erubial Durazo.

    /sorry couldn’t resist

    • jhorton83 - Dec 20, 2010 at 11:18 PM

      Erubiel Durazo? (cue Obi-Wan voice) Now, that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.

  5. alara07 - Dec 20, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    Jeff Bagwell was a MVP ELITE type of player during the 94-2004 seasons during boom of PEDs. I would not be surprise if he did PEDs simply because of his hitting stance could drain most baseball player during game and much more during a career. I always loved the way bagwell played the game. For me bagwell should be a Hall of famer. **** But where do players that played during height of PEDs fit in the hall of fame? ****who was on that list?***What about other greats during that era for example: players like my favorite Ken Griffey Jr, Frank Thomas,Craig biggio,Albert Belle,Mike Piazza,Andres Galarraga,Larry Walker,Jeff Kent,Juan Gonzales,Edgar Martinez,Tony gwynn, and of course Sammy Sosa and Mark Mcgwire
    How and Who will be sorted out from Hall of Fame Status??????

    • BC - Dec 21, 2010 at 10:55 AM

      Kent will be a VERY interesting test case.

  6. mrfloydpink - Dec 20, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Craig:

    I wonder what your feelings would be if a marginal Hall of Famer got in, and THEN was shown to have used steroids. For example, let’s say Raffy got in before his positive test came out. Would that change your thinking at all? That is to say, would you view that as an unfortunate error, and continue to feel that marginal+PED use means no Hall? Or would you at that point accept all PED users as if they never used PEDs, so as to be consistent and fair?

    This is not meant to expose some inconsistency in your arguments, because I see none. I’m just curious, given that you have very nuanced thoughts on the issue.

    • plivengood - Dec 20, 2010 at 7:47 PM

      For me, Raffy is one of those guys who is borderline for me on the merits (mostly because I value peak over longevity, and quality over quantity, and making some “magic number” plateau is not enough for a free pass), but I know for me the answer is this:

      Although baseball fans pretend that the beauty of baseball’s statistical history is that players can be compared across eras, that really isn’t so. For example, was the quality of baseball, pre-integration, really the same as it is today, when not only are blacks and whites both eligible to play, but the best players from around the world? In the 20s and 30s, rule changes ushered in an offensive era that makes the steroid era seem devoid of offense. And so on….

      The bottom line is, players have to be judged against others from their own era. The ones who come out on the short end of the stick are always going to be those who were clean – but since we can never truly know who those players were, we have to do the best we can. I think Craig has taken a sensible position. If you are already proven to or have admitted taking PEDs (or even if there is some *reasonable* suspicion of use), it shouldn’t disqualify you but neither should it have to be ignored. It’s a tie-breaker, for sure, and something of a demerit. But in the end, it should suffice to say that if a player was one of the dominant players of his era, he should be in the HoF, in my opinion.

  7. plivengood - Dec 20, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    Craig,

    At least one voter, Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant, has specifically said he is withholding his vote at least for this year because of a suspicion of steroid use:

    “As a Connecticut guy, I’d love to vote for Bagwell. In arguing on his behalf, Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle cited 12 core years in which he averaged .300, 34 homers, 111 RBI and .414 OBP. Yes, Bagwell’s numbers are similar to Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Orlando Cepeda, but Bagwell played in the era of greatly inflated numbers. And besides never leading the Astros to postseason success, those inflated numbers and that inflated body lead to inevitable whispers of steroids. He has always denied it. He wasn’t named in the Mitchell Report. The suspicion, however, postpones my support.”

    Also, I haven’t read any of these articles in a while, but if you Google “Bagwell + Kelly Blair” you will see some articles on an alleged association between known PED dealer Blair and Bagwell, including quotes from witnesses. There is a least a little smoke out there on Bags (although like you I presume innocence, and it would not be enough for me to withhold my vote, if I had one). As for others, if you were named in the Mitchell Report, or been caught in a test, are subject to court proceedings that prove your PED association, or already admitted it, I think you are in a different category than somebody like Bags – big forearms or not.

    That takes care of a LOT of the best hitters of the 1990s and early 2000s, though some – like Griffey, Martinez, Thomas, and Walker, to name a few – have never had their names associated with any serious accusation of PED use that I have ever seen. I agree with what you wrote the other day: in the case of close calls, those guys should get the benefit of the doubt, and those on the other side should have a “mental strike” or two against their case when compared with guys like these.

    • plivengood - Dec 21, 2010 at 11:58 AM

      Paul Leume’s promised follow-up to his inconsistently-considered ballot of players he is thinking of voting for, with his take on PEDs, is here:

      http://www.athbaseball.com/2010-archives/december/does-it-even-matter-if-jeff-bagwell-was-on-steroids-or-not.html

      He concludes with:

      “So I ask you the reader the same two questions that were posed to me last night by two other voters…

      1) “For the Jeff Bagwell’s of the world, where we have no proof that they took steroids, are we still doing the innocent until proven guilty thing? Because that’s getting old….”

      2) “If so many players were doing it, pitchers and hitters alike, does it even matter?”

      I’d like to hear what you think. – Paul Leume”

  8. Glenn - Dec 20, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    Look at his high school pictures, take some cranium measurements, talk to some of his high school friends, etc. It’s only a matter of time before someone talks. Too bad, he is by all accounts a pretty good guy – all would agree except the long term girlfriend whom he dumped after he made it. Maybe she’ll spill the beans like Barry Bonds’ mistress did.

  9. aious - Dec 20, 2010 at 8:22 PM

    HOF voting has always been idiotic. People vote STRICTLY so some don’t get 100% which makes absolutely sense.

  10. pbannard - Dec 20, 2010 at 9:55 PM

    While I think Bagwell should be in, I can see why people might hesitate to vote for him, even without bringing steroids into the picture.

    First of all, he only played 15 years, basically 14 given that he was injured most of the last season. This means he does not have the counting stats that people expect, especially for someone who played in the offensive boom of the 90s and 2000s. For example, he hit 449 homers in an era when 10 other players passed the 500 home run mark.

    Secondly, he played alongside a number of other similar 1B/DH types who all have possible Hall of Fame cases. He, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome all came up within a year of each other, and have very similar offensive numbers (Thomas’ OPS+ is 156, Bagwell’s is 149, and Thome’s is 147). Add to that group McGwire, McGriff, Palmeiro, and Edgar Martinez, and I can understand the voters’ hesitation to pick Bagwell out of there. Now, given his overall offensive and defensive contributions, he’s probably one of the top 2 or 3 candidates in there (he’s first in FanGraphs WAR and 2nd to Thomas in Baseball Reference WAR), but he’s 6th out of 7 in HRs and 4th in RBI, the stats which many voters will gravitate towards.

    Because I was curious, I looked at the NL OPS+ leaders in 2000, when Bagwell finished 9th with an excellent 152 OPS+. There is a legitimate HoF argument that could be made about 8 of the 10 players on that list (Bonds, Sheffield, Helton, Kent, Guerrero, Sosa, Piazza, and Bagwell), and that’s only looking at NL hitters that had a very good year. Extrapolate to all of baseball, and you could easily be looking at 30+ players with a legitimate Hall of Fame case in the prime of their careers at the same time. That must be very difficult for a voter to sort through (especially when they’re taking into account newer stats that don’t always agree with either the traditional stats or each other, and which, in the case of fielding stats, may be based on questionable data especially for earlier years), and so I have little trouble with a voter hesitating on a player like Bagwell who, though great, is by no means an “Inner Circle” Hall of Famer.

  11. Detroit Michael - Dec 21, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    Adding to the list from above, there also was Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, Mark Grace, John Olerud and Will Clark. There were an awful lot of Bagwell’s contemporary first basemen with Hall of Fame cases. I would vote for Bagwell now, but I can understand someone hesistating to try to sort out where the dividing line should be.

  12. BC - Dec 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    This is the question I’m asking. Thank you Craig.
    I’d vote him in, but I think he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting in. Just a feeling, but I don’t think he wowed enough people and voters will just not flock to vote him in.
    Current case in point: Todd Helton. His numbers are sick. He most likely won’t get in either.

  13. bigleagues - Dec 21, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Craig its not being a PED apologist that bothers me so much as someone whom blogs for an NBC Sports owned website using the terms PED’s and steroids interchangeably. They are not equal in meaning. A steroid is a PED, but a PED is not necessarily a steroid. Pretty simple rule.

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