Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jeff Bagwell, Good Numbers - 7

Originally published Jan. 7, 2012
The Red Sox minor leaguer played well the previous season, but his prospects for advancement were slim. A third baseman, he had at least three players ahead of him, one of them being Hall of Famer and longtime Boston third baseman Wade Boggs.

There just didn't seem to be room for Jeff Bagwell, The Patriot Ledger News Service wrote in spring 1990.

"I really don't worry about anybody else," Bagwell told the news service. "I do what I have to do. If I keep putting good numbers on the board, something's going to happen."

The minor leaguer did keep put up numbers and something did happen. He got traded to the Astros and became a Houston legend.

Now, all the numbers Bagwell continued put up have him in a good position to become a Hall of Famer himself, if not in the 2012 balloting, in the coming years.

Bagwell's career, though, began with the Red Sox, taken in the fourth round of the 1989 draft, out of the University of Hartford.

He played his first year mostly at single-A Winter Haven, hitting .310. In 1990, he moved to AA New Britain, near his Connecticut hometown. He also hit even better, .333.

Then, in late August, the Red Sox felt they needed the Astros' reliever Larry Anderson, offering a third baseman in exchange - Scott Cooper, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote later. The Astros, though, wanted - and got - Bagwell.

"I was just looking for a chance to play everyday at the major-league level," Bagwell told The Sun-Sentinel in 1993. "The only way to gain experience is play everyday at the major-league level."

In 1991, Bagwell gained experience, and then some. He also moved to first base.

In an early glimpse at the player he would become, Bagwell hit a game-winning home run in just his sixth major league outing. To the Associated Press afterward, Bagwell called that shot a "confidence builder."

He played the entire season with the Astros, hitting .294, with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs. He also won National League Rookie of the Year honors.

"I never thought I'd do that well," Bagwell told The Associated Press after winning the rookie honors. "I got lucky. I got a chance to play and that was the main thing. After you get the chance, you've got to do well."

And Bagwell continued to do well. He hit .273 his second season, .320 his third. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Bagwell hit .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBIs, all in just 110 total games. His 1994 numbers earned him another title, MVP.

Bagwell played in a similar number of games in 1995, thanks to a broken hand, an injury that had happened before. But he still hit .290, with 21 home runs.

From 1996 through 2000, five seasons, Bagwell hit under .300 just once, .286 in 1997. He also hit more than 30 home runs each year from 1996 through 2003, hitting more than 40 three times.

In 1997, though, as the debate over the now-banned androstenedione raged, Bagwell admitted to to The Houston Chronicle that he used it, according to Sports Illustrated. Bagwell also later told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch he didn't use it long and didn't believe it helped him hit home runs, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Bagwell, though, has consistently denied using steroids.

In April 1999, Bagwell hit three home runs in one game, the second time he had achieved that feat. The first time came in 1994.

By 2003, he and teammate Craig Biggio had already been immortalized in statues outside Minute Maid Park, even though both were still playing.

Injuries, though, including a nagging shoulder injury, led to the end of Bagwell's career in 2005. The injuries also meant Bagwell could only play a limited role in his team's run to the 2005 World Series.

In 15 seasons, hit .297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and 202 stolen bases. He was a four-time All-Star, and won a Gold Glove.

In 2011, his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, Bagwell received 41.7 percent of the vote, numbers thought depressed by steroids speculation, according to AOLNews. Bagwell told reporters that such speculation was "ridiculous," according to the site.

"I'm just thank thankful," Bagwell told reporters then, "I'm even on the ballot, and we'll go on from here."

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