The call of a lifetime has come: Jeffrey Robert Bagwell you've finally reached baseball immortality! On a day when you finally "got the call" we're left to ponder "why" did it take so long to come?
If Hollywood had its hands on the perfect script, Jeff Bagwell would've joined Craig Biggio two years ago for joint enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame. You see, Biggio & Bagwell are as joined at the hip as Hall & Oates, or as Chicken & Waffles.....they're that good!
Now, it's only fitting (even with a short delay) that "Bags" takes his final place where he belongs. Fifteen years, 449 HR's, 488 doubles, 2,314 hits, 1,529 RBI's, 1,517 runs, 1401 walks, and 202 stolen bases. And now Bagwell & Biggio are reunited.
You cannot separate the two. A pair of dynamic stars who complemented each other so well. Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax only overlapped one season of a extended 20-year stretch with the Dodgers. Biggio & Bagwell landed on a lineup card in 1991 at the Houston Astrodome and continued through the 2005 season together. They played for a carousel of managers — Art Howe, Terry Collins, Larry Dierker, Matt Galante, Jimy Williams, and Phil Garner. They witnessed the closing of the Dome, and the ushering in of a new ballpark downtown. More than anything else, they became fixtures of the community.
I first met Bagwell at the 1996 All-Star Game at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the 67th annual Mid-Summer Classic. He was entering the prime of his career at the ripe age of 28, and the display of power at the batting cage was something to behold. Later that day in a home run derby, he launched a 460-foot towering blast which would validate "the power aspect" of what he brought to home plate every at bat.
That particular All-Star setting was centered mostly around Ozzie Smith's last hurrah. The grand wizard was making his 15th and final All-Star appearance that week, and much of the celebration was focused on him. However, in midst of Ozzie Mania, and dozens of other All-Stars over those two days, I was drawn to Bagwell above everyone else. Some All-Stars are simply not approachable, but Jeff was.
We struck up a conversation in the club house, and 20 minutes later he was dialing into our studio hotline to conduct a national radio interview. Several hours later, we crossed paths and he politely inquired, "Hey was that okay earlier today? Did you get what you needed?"
The following day Emmitt Smith and Cal Ripken Jr were shooting a Starter Jacket commercial on the field and, again, Bagwell was hanging around wondering why, being originally from Chicago, was I a Cowboys fan and following Emmitt's every move. That was the beauty of Bagwell; he took time to get to know you. Back then the era was filled with guys like Barry Bonds, Albert Belle, and Kevin Brown. Guys who made everything a challenge and combative. Bagwell was first class, and we'd meet up again in post season runs and two other All-Star games in the '90s.
The era of the '90s might begin to answer "why" we've had to wait. Although Bagwell was never named in the Mitchell Report, he's attached to that PED era and a tainted collection of players who cut corners to get ahead. Bagwell did it with sheer determination and hard work and had every justification to be a first-ballot entry. Even though the 3,000 hit club or 500 home run feats were not accomplished, the longevity of a 15-year career and the consistency throughout defines his legacy.
Worst trade in history
Roughly a decade later, I covered Bagwell during the 2005 World Series. Fox broadcaster Steve "Psycho" Lyons was part of the broadcast team and a former colleague of mine. He and Bags grew up together in the Pawtucket farm system with the Red Sox. I'm sure it's fair to say that Red Sox Nation is feeling a little blue today, wondering what if? Outside of Babe Ruth, the worst trade in the history of their organization was dealing Bagwell to the Astros in 1991 for a 37-year-old reliever named Larry Andersen, which resulted in one of the most lopsided deals in the history of the game.
Fast forward to Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, and there's Bagwell once again as gracious as ever as Lyons and I approach him a mere four hours prior to first pitch in the clubhouse. Lyons is laughing and reminiscing "how" he was ever considered good enough to be traded for Tom Seaver, and there's Jeff in his stall grinning ear to ear, even though he's trailing 0-2 in the series to the Chicago White Sox. Bags then immediately looks over to me and says, "You're only here because of the White Sox, and we're going to be sending this thing back to Chicago in a few nights."
Of course that didn't happen, and yes, as a kid from the South Side of Chicago, I had my allegiances. But in my heart, I was pulling for Bagwell. From All-Star Games, to trips to Wrigley, to the '05 Series, I've been honored to follow his career. This July, I'll be spending my summer vacation at the National Baseball Hall of Fame with my wife and kids telling them what an honor it was to cover him through adversity and triumph.
Cooperstown awaits. Finally!
Craig Larson Jr. is chief operating officer and program director of SB Nation Radio Network.