While he fell short of the famed 500-homer or 3,000-hit plateaus, his numbers present the total statistical package. You won't find another first baseman in the game's history with at least 400 homers and 200 stolen bases. According to baseball-reference.com, you'll find only one other first baseman in the modern era -- Lou Gehrig -- with at least 12 consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS+ of 130 or higher.
Bagwell, who spent each of his 15 seasons with the Astros and is easily identifiable as one of the franchise's greatest players, had a career on-base percentage of .408 (seven points higher than Rickey Henderson, for what it's worth); ranks 27th all-time with 1,401 walks; drove in 1,529 runs; scored 1,517; was a Rookie of the Year and MVP; and was a valuable, if not instrumental, contributor to five playoff teams.
The reasons for snubbing Bagwell? Take one part first-ballot phobia and two parts fuzzy pharmaceutical logic and stir.
I'll give you the standard disclaimer that I don't possess a Hall of Fame vote. And quite frankly, given the increasingly complex moral dilemma it's become, I'm not sure I'd want one. More than 500 men and women vote for the Hall, and it seems each reads the Hall's decidedly vague voting guidelines in his or her own way.
The voting itself, like the game it celebrates, has become encumbered with unwritten rules, chief among them the rather ridiculous premise that only certain Hall of Famers are worthy of first-ballot induction. It's a premise that, in some percentage, hurt Bagwell this year.
The 2011 ballot features 33 candidates, with 14 returnees and 19 newcomers. (Years on ballot)
This is hardly a new phenomenon as just 44 of the 203 players in the Hall (counting the five members of its inaugural class) got in on their first tries. So my critique of the practice of making an obvious Hall of Famer like Robbie Alomar wait a year is not reserved for the present voting public. My point is that, until the Hall changes its voting guidelines and/or opens a new wing reserved strictly for those 44, a guy who is a sure-fire second
-ballot Hall of Famer ought to be a sure-first first-ballot Hall of Famer, too.
Now, granted, players get 15 years of ballot eligibility for a reason. Some are ushered in by the waves of time, or, more accurately, the peer pressure that comes from unending analysis and argument over long-ago results. The benefit of time can give us a newfound appreciation for their achievements. These are the fringe Hall of Famers, like the newly elected Bert Blyleven, who overcame 250 career losses (a number that irked many a voter for many a year) and finally got what an ever-increasing percentage of voters deemed to be his rightful place in the Hall. Such a wave might still exist for the likes of Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Jack Morris.
Bagwell, however, doesn't strike me as a fringe guy. Whether you personally watched him put together a remarkably consistent career or are judging his numbers from afar, his credentials hold up.
No, the primary reason Bagwell fell so drastically short of the 75 percent of the vote required for election this year is because he amassed his bloated numbers in the bloated steroid era and, like several sluggers due to arrive on the ballot in the coming years, will have his achievements viewed through many a skeptical eye.
In absence of a firm policy from the Hall itself, if the voters want to take a tough stance on steroids and deny entry to any player acknowledged or admitted to have used performance-enhancers, that is totally within their right. Certainly, that is the reason Mark McGwire (19.8 percent of the vote this year) and Rafael Palmeiro (11 percent) are barely in the conversation, at present.
But in Bagwell, who debuted in 1991, we have the first case of a guy with Hall of Fame numbers who is considered guilty by association in this damaged era.
Do I personally know Bagwell didn't
use steroids? Absolutely not. His body bulked up considerably early in his career. But that's all any of us know, and the tangible evidence against him is about as ample as it is against Frank Thomas, Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., which is to say that it doesn't exist at all.
To argue, as some voters have, that the premise of "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't exist in Hall of Fame voting as it does in the court of law is to dive into a murky moral and philosophical pool that, frankly, I don't think my fellow sportswriters have any business diving into.
At its core, the Hall of Fame is all about honoring the players whose performance stood, far and away, above that of their competition in their eras. In absence of tangible evidence that a player used PEDs, you should judge the player on the body of work he composed, not the physical body he inhabited while composing it.
These voters take their jobs seriously, and if they have reasoned, measured arguments for leaving Bagwell off their ballots because of his on-field performance, then so be it. I'd certainly love to hear them.
But several prominent writers have publicly stated that their objection to Bagwell rests in the suspicion that he used PEDs. And mere suspicion alone is not only a faulty reason to deny somebody induction but also a slippery slope of a precedent for future votes.
I think future votes will grant Bagwell the election he deserves. For now, he is a Hall of Famer in numbers only.