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Tony La Russa thinks “new metrics” are keeping Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame

Feb 22, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals Getty Images

137 plate appearances with a 1.078 OPS will have an impact on an opposing manager. Among players with at least 100 PA against the Cardinals between 1996 and 2011 (the years in which Tony La Russa managed the red birds) former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell has the sixth-highest OPS against the Cardinals.

Bagwell’s Astros were rivals of La Russa’s Cardinals throughout the mid-2000′s. The Cardinals defeated the Astros in the 2004 NLCS, an epic seven-game series. The Astros exacted revenge the following season, taking out the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS in six games. La Russa has a lot of respect for the players who made life difficult for him as a manager, and believes that Bagwell and Biggio are worthy of the Hall of Fame. But he thinks “new metrics” are part of the reason why Bagwell only got 54 percent of the vote in his fourth year of eligibility.

Via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

“Houston, in our division, Bagwell, Biggio and [Lance Berkman], they had good surrounding characters the couple of years you had [Carlos] Beltran and [Jeff] Kent,” La Russa said. “So I saw Bagwell as a huge influence, not just on the field but off. One of the best players of our generation.”

La Russa said he doesn’t understand the criteria members of the BBWAA use to vote for the Hall of Fame.

“Otherwise, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame,” La Russa said. “The new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.”

La Russa is off the mark with the reason why Bagwell is not in the Hall of Fame. Sabermetrics actually bolster his case for enshrinement. According to Baseball Referece, Bagwell’s career 79.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks 37th all time among position players, and third among Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-eligible first basemen (min. 75 percent of games played at first base). He ranks ahead of Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Hank Greenberg. In the years Bagwell played, 1991-2005, only Barry Bonds (122.0) and Alex Rodriguez (80.5) posted more WAR. To boot, FanGraphs’ version of WAR is slightly more kind, putting Bagwell at 80.3. Bagwell is a slam dunk Hall of Famer according to the most well-known and most often cited “new metric”.

The real reason why Bagwell isn’t in the Hall of Fame? Baseball moralists.

Exhibit A, Murray Chass in December 2013:

The boxes next to these 10 names will not get an X: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa.

These non-exes won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated. I have not voted for any player in those categories and am not prepared to start doing so now.

Bagwell never tested positive and his name never surfaced in any PED-related investigation. The only rumors that included his name were baseless, like that of Chass.

Exhibit B, Bob Brookover in December 2011:

For the second straight year, I look at Jeff Bagwell’s name and wonder if he beat the system while he was also pounding baseballs out of ballparks all across the country. I’d love to vote for him, because he was always a class act whenever I had to interview him and his numbers scream Hall of Famer.

Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmeiro remain on the ballot as documented cheaters, and I don’t vote for them even though their numbers also are Hall of Fame-worthy.

I’ve listened to the argument that Bagwell should be a Hall of Famer because there is no proof he used the same performance-enhancing drugs that inflated the heads, bodies, and resumés of some of his peers. I suspect, however, that there are a lot of players who cheated and never were caught. We’re going to see many of those names on the Hall of Fame ballot in the near future.

Exhibit C, Howard Bryant (and others) in January 2013:

As it turned out, I sent my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot in blank.

This wasn’t science. It wasn’t a clever attack in the three-front culture war among the players, the SABRs and the BBWAAs. It wasn’t a protest either. It was just one voter’s inability to reach a comfortable verdict on a colossal mess that for years no one wanted to take responsibility for and that isn’t going to get any less complicated as time goes on.

The voters were handed a basket of rotten vegetables called the steroid era by the players, the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball and told to make a chef’s salad.

Chass and Brookover weren’t the only ones to exclude Bagwell with baseless suspicion of PED use, and Bryant hasn’t been the only one to submit a blank ballot. They are merely examples.

If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with Saber-minded voters, Bagwell would probably get in with 95-plus percent of the vote. If you emptied the BBWAA ranks and replaced them entirely with baseball moralists, Bagwell would likely struggle to reach 40 percent.

  1. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 22, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    Go home Tony, you’re drunk

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:59 PM

      This the Evening of Managers Saying Dumb Things, is it not? Do we not have Mattingly going off about his #2 hitter with a partial season under his then 22 year old belt “not being a good RBI guy”? And now we have LaRussa with a completely tone deaf Bagwell/SABR comment. Oy

    • 78mu - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:50 PM

      Are his senses so dulled he can’t hear the whispers? I mean, they aren’t even whispers anymore when it comes to Bagwell, Piazza etc. It has nothing to do with “new metrics” and everything to do with writers that, like Mr. Hand, think everyone’s on dope.

      Utter BS Tony.

    • jberlat - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      Bagwell and Frank Thomas had the same numbers up until 2005. Frank snuck in 3 more years as a DH and got in first ballot. You can’t tell me Frank Thomas wasn’t using as well

      • stlouis1baseball - Feb 24, 2014 at 5:14 PM

        I can’t tell you Frank Thomas wasn’t using. But Frank will!

    • metroplexsouthsider - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:10 PM

      Even worse is his thinking that Black Jack is a HOFer. A few years ago, I thought TLR might make a decent GM in the future. Now? I wouldn’t wish him on any team.

  2. mzim2756 - Feb 22, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    These writers are an embarrassment and need to lose their ballot

  3. stex52 - Feb 22, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    If these jerks actually had any evidence, it might (I say “might”) be a different story for me. As it is, they are moralizing without evidence. The kindest thing you can call that is gossip-mongering. More likely it is a petty exercise of power for no other reason than the fact they can. We certainly know Mr. Chass has no problem stooping that low.

    The BBWAA is poorly served by these men. But they don’t seem to care.

    • ptfu - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:56 PM

      A similar thing is happening to Mike Piazza, for what it’s worth. Both Bags & Piazza need to be in the Hall or else the whole thing is stupid**. Both were among the very best to ever play, and no reason to suspect either did anything wrong. Having an over-active imagination is not legitimate enough to keep these guys out.

      **Don’t even get me started on Bonds & Clemens, though anyone hung up by PEDs will object.

      • jeffa43 - Feb 23, 2014 at 1:26 AM

        Social idiocy is the only thing keeping Bags out.

        If you ever saw him play, or talk about baseball integrity….
        You know he is all class, and defines a Hall of Famer.

  4. plmathfoto - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:31 PM

    Typical LaRussa however, turning the blind eye to roids, or possibility of them. He’s a smart guy (if you don’t believe me, just ask him) and as was clearly stated in the article, the new metrics argument is completely baseless. But hey, what does the original manager of the roid brothers/bash brothers supposed to say or think?

    • cohnjusack - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:57 PM

      Again I bring this up:

      Cox managed Justice, Rocker, Stanton, Neagle and others…
      Torre managed A-Rod, Pettitte, Knoblauch and many others

      Yet, LaRussa is always the one who people call a fraud for having steroid users on his team?

      • paperlions - Feb 23, 2014 at 8:49 AM

        More than that, it is highly unlikely that anyone that managed for more than 5 years from the 60s through 2005 didn’t manage dozens to hundreds of steroid users, and have a clubhouse in which daily amphetamine use was an open and sanctioned activity.

      • plmathfoto - Feb 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM

        LaRussa is extremely and blatantly arrogant. He will always be regarded as extremely intelligent. Torre (not sure about Cox) is probably an a great example of humble. In any case, LaRussa has the Roid brothers from day 1, and has claimed to have never seen nor suspected any one being on roids. Seriously? And then he went ahead and hired McGwire as a coach later. Can you imagine if the Mets (not sure how old you are/how much you’d remember this) hiring Dave Kingman as a hitting coach? That’s McGwire (on a good day, not even sure if he was on roids in college). Anyway, maybe this might show you why LaRussa is “singled out” about the roids issue, probably not though, guessing Cardinals fan, usually can’t reason with em cause they’re like LaRussa, always right.

      • cohnjusack - Feb 23, 2014 at 10:54 AM

        Sorry, this is idiotic. Torre and Cox get a pass on having numerous steroid users because they were…humble?

  5. chunkala - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    Out for now, which is not a bad thing.
    He played during the time of cheating, he may be penalized for that.
    Life isn’t always fair as many will tell you.
    It’s hard to feel bad for him as well, he is a mega-millionaire after all.

  6. billybawl - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    Seriously, you should send this blog post to Tony LaRussa. If he really believes that sabermetrics is hurting Bagwell’s cause, he needs to be informed that the reason he’s being excluded from the HOF is because of sportswriters who can test for PEDs with their minds. Then Tony can take up the cause and maybe the process will change. He has some influence.

  7. paperlions - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    Tony is a perfect example of a guy that was on the leading edge of his field at one point, but convinced himself that there was no value new information and stopped learning. He really should just be quiet when it comes to “new metrics”, at least, until he takes some time to learn about them so that he doesn’t come across as wholly ignorant about the subject.

  8. blingslade - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    Ah, the roid manager opens his trap once again.

  9. creek0512 - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    Gotta love the holier-than-thou baseball writers who looked the other way for decades and now parade around as some sort of morality police.

  10. cohnjusack - Feb 22, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    So, we’re finally certain. Tony LaRussa has doesn’t actually know what sabermetrics is.

  11. zackd2 - Feb 22, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    Was he face down in a steering while at a green light when he made these comments?

    Love how people mindlessly hate ‘new stats’ and make BS up to make them look bad

  12. happytwinsfan - Feb 22, 2014 at 9:35 PM

    yeah, larussa is inconsistent, in this case uninformed, and dumbly lashing out, but cut him some slack. he was a doer not a thinker, thinkers.

  13. jrob23 - Feb 22, 2014 at 10:04 PM

    If Bagwell had been better in the postseason…like a defining performance..he’d get more consideration despite the obvious roid use. But he didn’t, so he will have to wait a few years when there aren’t any other viable candidates one year. Absent proof he did roids he will eventually get in.

    • joeduck1 - Feb 23, 2014 at 2:35 PM

      Post season has nothing to do with consideration.

  14. shutupbrees - Feb 22, 2014 at 10:32 PM

    Larussa is like a mafia lawyer, he’s defended the lowest of the low in the sport. At the same time, he’s gone and tried to sully the character of friggin Ozzie Smith.

    I’m not sure if I dislike Larussa or “sabermetrics” more.

    • ltzep75 - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:28 PM

      For whatever reason, I pictured the opening scene of the movie “The Client” with LaRussa in the driver’s seat trying to kill himself.

    • okwhitefalcon - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:48 PM

      He’s not the mafia lawyer, he’s “Don Tony”.

  15. straightouttavtown - Feb 22, 2014 at 10:34 PM

    Bagwell JUICED and people on the inside know. La Russa is also the same guy who said Mark McGwire is the hardest working player in the weight room he had ever seen and defended Big Mac from the steroids allegations.

    • brazcubas - Feb 23, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Since one of the main benefit of steroids is to allow the user to work out longer and more frequently, it’s very possible McGwire is the hardest working player in the weight room La Russa ever saw.

    • jberlat - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      You can’t prove it….

  16. ltzep75 - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:27 PM

    You know, I remember Jeff Bagwell day at my high school. Half of us wanted to ask him the million dollar question. Fortunately, they kept the mic out of the hands of us ‘ner do wells.

  17. Bob - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:48 PM

    Howard Bryant is an idiot. Plain and simple. No way you can waste 10 spots on a ballot when there are plenty of Hall-worthy players out there.

    When you submit a blank ballot, you are submitting it as a protest. So don’t lie about it. Man up and fess up. And then turn in your voting privileges because you don’t know the first thing about baseball.

  18. moogro - Feb 23, 2014 at 12:26 AM

    Thanks Bill for correcting the record on Bagwell and Lynn.

  19. agent0027 - Feb 23, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Too bad Chass would never vote for Paul Lo Duca, that could have been the difference-maker. At least now we know why he hasn’t made it.

  20. therealraider - Feb 23, 2014 at 3:21 AM

    Barry Bonds is a slam dunk Hall of Famer.. Why the charade of ” he was dirty” .. everybody and anybody was in his era.. There are so many joke hall of famers in Cooperstown.. True Legends like Clemens and Bonds have to sit out because nerds at a desk say so?.. Stupid.

  21. rjc32586 - Feb 23, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    I was wondering since I read this last night how in the hell Bagwell only had 137 plate appearances against the Cardinals. It was 137 games, over 600 plate appearances.

  22. earpaniac - Feb 23, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    I guess you can “rationalize” keeping a player out who was mentioned in one of the myriad of reports that came out. But how can you do it to guys for the simple reason they hit or pitched well in that “era”?

  23. joeduck1 - Feb 23, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    I think if they earned the right to vote, and then turn in empty ballots, they should lose their rights. And if all it takes is a rumor that a player was juiced, no one will be in again. They put in 2 known spitters ( Ford and Perry ) without blinking an eye. You cheated, your done. A cheater is a cheater no matter what the situation is.

  24. deep64blue - Feb 23, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    I wonder how many games he would have won if Tony La Russa understood baseball, unbelievable to have such a good record and have such basic mis-comprehension!

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