MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Hall-worthy Bagwell fighting uphill battle

Justice: Bagwell fighting uphill battle to Hall

Hall-worthy Bagwell fighting uphill battle
Sure, Jeff Bagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame. How can anyone argue otherwise?

OK, I know the answer to that one, and you probably do, too. So does Bagwell.

As he once said, "Are you telling me that every player of my generation who did great things is going to be suspected of using steroids?"

Yes, Jeff, that's the world in which we now live.

"What if a guy worked his tail off and did things right?" he asked.

Life is not fair, etc.

Some voters see only that Bagwell added slabs of muscle and hit a bunch of home runs.

Because many of his contemporaries were exposed as steroid users after doing those two things, some voters are connecting dots. Voters long ago sent the message that any player who used steroids won't get in the Hall of Fame.

Who wants a steroid user standing on that stage with Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron in Cooperstown anyway?

Problem is, we are never going to know all the players who used steroids. We may know a few of the names, but there's no way we're ever going to know them all.

That's the hideous nature of performance-enhancing drugs. No testing program -- and baseball has the best in all of professional sports -- can rid a sport of the suspicion.

This attitude is unfair to the players who worked hard and played by the rules, but no one has come up with a sensible alternative.

Some voters say they're ignoring performance-enhancing drugs and voting for the best players of their generation regardless.

Many others -- like the ones who didn't vote for Bagwell last year when he appeared on the ballot for the first time -- are excluding players they suspect may have used steroids whether there's real evidence or not.

Plenty of others don't like either alternative. They've sought guidance from both the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball.

Several years ago, Commissioner Bud Selig assigned then-MLB historian Jerome Holtzman to look into cheating, drugs and the like. Holtzman, who died in 2008, learned that there was nothing new about players looking for shortcuts or competitive advantages.

As long as there are competitive sports, there'll be a few people who allow their ambition to overcome their judgment.

One of the concerns voters apparently have is that they'll induct a player into the Hall of Fame, then later learn he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

Who cares? If it happens, it happens. There are all kinds of rascals already in the Hall of Fame.

If someone disgraces the Hall of Fame, reasonable people will know how to deal with the problem.

I'd prefer that discussion to excluding deserving players from the Hall.

Bagwell never tested positive for steroids, and his name has not been mentioned in any of the federal investigations into performance-enhancing drugs.

It would be silly for anyone to say they know he never used steroids because perhaps only Bagwell himself knows.

All that's absolutely certain is that he played the game with distinction for 15 years.

He was beloved by teammates, respected by both the managers who had him in their dugouts and those who played against him.

His career was cut short by a bum shoulder, but in his 15 seasons, he helped his team make the playoffs six times. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1991 and the NL Most Valuable Player in 1994.

He finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting five other times and was a four-time All-Star and a Gold Glover.

His OPS is the 22nd-best of all-time. He's 35th on the all-time home run list, 28th all-time in walks. He's in the top 50 in RBIs, extra-base hits and on-base percentage. He was a terrific baserunner and someone who understood the plays that separated winning teams from losing teams.

Bagwell and his buddy, Craig Biggio, were the heart and soul of the Astros for their 15 years together. They were leaders in just about all the ways leadership can be defined.

Biggio played with more edge, more anger. He approached his role in the clubhouse that way, too. Bagwell was the softer one, the one teammates believed they could call in the middle of the night if they were in trouble.

They'll be forever linked in the hearts and minds of Astros fans, and they're both proud of that fact.

Biggio will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year for the first time, and with 3,060 hits, including 668 doubles, fifth-most all-time, he has a solid chance to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He averaged 17 home runs in his 20 seasons, and while that's not the number he's most proud of, it's actually one that could benefit him with voters.

If he didn't hit home runs, he must not have used steroids, right?

In a perfect world, Bagwell and Biggio would go into the Hall of Fame doors together. But in his first time on the ballot, Bagwell got just 242 of the 436 votes needed for induction.

It seems unlikely he'll make up a dramatic amount of ground between his first and second years (this year's voting will be announced Jan. 9, live at 1 p.m. CT on an MLB Network simulcast on MLB.com).

Beyond this year, there are real questions whether he'll ever get in. Would that be fair? Of course not. But it's one of the lingering impacts of steroids.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.