Bagwell's '94 MVP season part of HOF-worthy career
Hall of Fame candidate set dizzying pace in strike-shortened campaign
By Matt Kelly
It was perhaps the best two-thirds of a baseball season we've ever seen, and for Jeff Bagwell, it was just a preview of what was to come.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America will reveal its election results for the Hall of Fame Class of 2017 on Jan. 18, the night when Bagwell -- now in his seventh year of eligibility -- may receive the biggest phone call of his life. Over the last 50 years, 16 of the last 17 players who gained at least 70 percent of the BBWAA vote (as Bagwell did with 71.6 percent last winter) have been elected in their next year of eligibility, with Jim Bunning -- who was later elected by the Veterans' Committee -- being the lone exception.
"This year if I don't get in, I'll probably be a little disappointed," Bagwell said of his Hall of Fame chances in a recent interview with MLB.com, "but before that, more than anything else, I want to hear 'Yes' or 'No.' That's the bottom line. Get it over with."
With Bagwell on the doorstep of baseball immortality, it seems poignant to look back on one of his most impressive efforts: A 1994 season that ranks among the single-greatest offensive campaigns in Astros franchise history.
"It was just something special," Bagwell said of that season. "I really didn't have any slumps. It was crazy."
If you took Bagwell's final numbers in 1994 and prorated them over a full 162-game slate, he would have finished with an incredible 216 hits, 153 runs scored, 57 home runs and 171 RBIs. Over the history of baseball, not a single player has reached all of those totals in a single season.
But Bagwell never got the chance to reach those totals. On Aug. 10, a pitch from the Padres' Andy Benes fractured his left hand for the second consecutive year. Two days later, the season was over, due to the players' strike.
Though Bagwell's season was finished at 110 games, it still made history. How so? Let us count the ways:
• Bagwell finished with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 213 (where 100 is equal to league average at the time), which paired him with the great Rogers Hornsby as the only National League players in history to have posted an OPS+ that high (Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire would later join the club).
• Bagwell became only the fourth player in history to post a slugging percentage of at least .750. The other three -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Hornsby -- had all done it roughly seven decades earlier (Bonds and McGwire would later join those ranks, too).
• When Bagwell scored his second of three runs on Aug. 5, he became the fastest player in the Expansion Era (1961-present) to tally 100 runs and 100 RBIs in a season. He needed only 461 plate appearances to reach the benchmarks.
• That same day, Bagwell knocked his 38th homer and reached 112 RBIs to set franchise records. It was only his 107th game of the year.
• The Astros finished with 602 total runs in 1994 -- second among NL clubs -- and Bagwell either scored or drove in 37 percent of them.
All of these incredible figures helped Bagwell become only the fourth unanimous MVP Award winner in NL history, and the first Astros player to win the award. Though he claims to have not made any major adjustments heading into 1994, Bagwell did point to the advice he received from an all-time legend that helped him gain his consistency.
"As bad as my stance was, it was working back then," he said. "I have a bat signed to me from Tony Gwynn that says, 'Bags, keep the same stance.' He used to see that it was changed all the time, so I got consistent with that."
Gwynn's advice on hitting was spot on. Bagwell was in the crowd on a sunny afternoon in Cooperstown two years ago as his former teammate and good friend, Craig Biggio, became the first Astros player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. Now that he's knocking on the door himself, Bagwell says he still can't imagine what it would feel like to stand on stage alongside the greatest to ever play the game.
"Everybody is hoping for this year, and this is probably my best opportunity," Bagwell said. "I'm excited for it."
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.
Brian McTaggart contributed reporting to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.