JEFF BAGWELL: THE BEST ASTRO?

By Andrew Curry

The first thing I think of when I think about Jeff Bagwell is that batting stance. Feet spread wide apart, legs bent deeply...it looked so awkward and yet so awesome, all at the same time. Every Astros fan from the Bagwell years has an impression of that stance. But like a free hand drawing of the state of Texas, it's not easy to get it just right.

Watching him dig in at the plate, you wondered how Bagwell could hit at all, much less with all that power. But, man, did he have power. Towering, majestic home runs, and lots of them. And once the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park – Enron Field at the time – one couldn't help but wonder what his home run numbers might have been if he hadn't spent all those years in the cavernous, pitcher-friendly Astrodome.

Thinking back to the Astros' only appearance in the World Series (so far), it’s easy to forget that Jeff was even a part of that team. These were the Astros of Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt, of Lance Berkman and, yes, Jeff’s old friend, Craig Biggio. By 2005, injuries had left Bagwell a shell of his old self. Shoulder damage severely limited his offensive abilities and left him virtually unable to throw a baseball. As a result, he spent much of the season out of commission. But that couldn’t take away the legitimate thrill of seeing him dig into the batter’s box during that year’s Fall Classic. The Astros were swept in that series, and Jeff didn’t do much to speak of during the four games, but it just wouldn’t have been right for him not to have been involved.

With all due deference to Craig Biggio or Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell is the best player in Astros’ franchise history. His combination of speed and strength, his base running skills and defensive abilities were all remarkable for the era in which he played. That the Astros flat out stole him from the Red Sox in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history makes it all even better. He was a joy to watch, and he spent his entire career in Houston. He spoiled us, in other words.

Is it possible to be a four-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, and now, finally, a Hall of Famer, and still be underrated? Because I'd argue that that's just what Jeff Bagwell is. He’s like the great restaurant that all the locals rave about, but that you just can’t ever seem to get your out-of-town friends to go try. But that’s all right. Houstonians know. And now, so will visitors to Cooperstown, where the great Jeff Bagwell will forever be remembered. Here’s to you, Bags.

 From the author's 1994 letter to  Sports Illustrated .

From the author's 1994 letter to Sports Illustrated.

James Glassman