Jeff Bagwell v. Good News/Bad News

The Case for Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell was not elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday, despite an overwhelming Hall of Fame worthy resume. That’s the bad news, and as far as bad news goes… it wasn’t terribly surprising and thus not wholly disappointing.

In fact, several rays of light managed to break through the gloomy clouds – no, it’s not a day of celebration by any means (as it’s related to Bagwell) – but there’s ample reason to be cautiously optimistic as Bagwell unfathomably faces his sixth year on the ballot.

Before we dive headfirst into the Bagwell ramifications, however, we need to pause and congratulate Bagwell’s longtime teammate, Craig Biggio, on his induction; it is much deserved and a terrific honor for the organization.

This has, at times, been a frustrating team to follow over the years, especially lately. But not today.

Today, we should appreciate that it fought like heck-fire to keep Bagwell and Biggio in Astro uniforms their entire careers and we all get to reap a tremendous reward for their commitment and loyalty with Biggio’s induction.

Beyond that, six months of celebrating Biggio and his accomplishments, which will always be inextricably linked to Bagwell, provides a terrific foundation to make a more urgent push for Bagwell as we turn our attention to next year’s ballot. Imagine if Bagwell is given the honor of inducting Biggio this summer? Or, at the very least, be a visible part of the celebration? In terms of putting together a PR campaign for Bagwell, that would be a terrific way to kick it off.

And it would build on the momentum Bagwell somewhat regained with this year’s vote. The final tally wasn’t terribly inspiring – but after his total dipped in 2013 (from 59.6% to 54.3%), Bagwell did rebound (55.7%) in 2014 on a packed ballot; not, “He’s in!” strong but he was never going to make-up the roughly 115 votes that he needed for enshrinement in a single year, anyway (something he won’t do next year, either, by the way). His final total represents an improvement from last year (which beats last year’s news) and keeps him well-positioned to eventually be enshrined.

The big takeaway is that it looks like his story is being told and, more encouragingly, heard. In fact, generally speaking, with the rise of social media, a lot more Hall of Fame-related stories are being heard. Fans are connected to voters like never before and mutually respectful engagement can lead to enlightened discussion. Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA), who did not vote for Bagwell this year, is one example of a writer we know who visited (and promised to read) our blog. Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) is another; he didn’t vote for Bagwell, either, but praised the site (“Just checked it out, great job. Terrific site.”) and looks to be changing his opinion (“I’m moving toward voting for him soon.”) Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) and Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) both follow our Twitter account (@bags4HoF, btw); they may be the choir (both voted for Bagwell) but it demonstrates the potential reach. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it might not be Pedro Gomez’s smug, insufferable attitude charging at us.

The now seemingly inevitable induction of Mike Piazza (69.9%) should also bode well for Bagwell. Piazza, like Bagwell, has been mired in a persistent, baseless smear campaign regarding performance enhancing drugs. Too many voters (who purportedly are journalists guided by a certain ethical standard) have wallowed in rumor and innuendo, branding both players as PED users despite not a single credible shred of evidence emerging in the past two-plus decades. The unsubstantiated whispers will thus keep inarguably the greatest hitting catcher in Major League Baseball history in the on-deck circle for at least four years when his numbers (like Bagwell’s) screamed slam-dunk, first ballot inductee. But if, as now expected, Piazza can eventually overcome the sanctimonious voting trends that have dented his candidacy, there’s hope Bagwell can follow in his footsteps.

And Tim Raines’ case should also provide some hope. Last year, the Baseball Writers Association of America (who vote on the Hall of Fame) made a subtle but critical change to its eligibility requirements, reducing the number of years a player could stay on the ballot from 15 to 10 years. Overnight, Raines went from eight years of eligibility to just three. (Bagwell’s, meanwhile, was reduced from 11 to six.) That urgency seemed to light a fire under voters as they collectively gave Raines a tremendous one-year push in 2014 (41.6% to 55%; a 39-vote increase), greatly increasing his chances for eventual election.

If writers demonstrate the capacity to align and rally behind a near-the-end candidate such as Raines, they may – once Raines is either elected or falls off the ballot in two years – shift that focus/urgency to Bagwell, who has had considerably more consistent support than Raines and would, in terms of viability, inherit Raines’ slot as the candidate closest to election.

Raines’ campaign, by the way, has been augmented by a slew of newer baseball writers such as Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri). He’s one of many (coughyoungercough) writers with loyal followings and a progressive thought-process that favors and recognizes players like Bagwell. We have 12 months to identify, engage and pull them to our side; they may not vote (yet) – but they can greatly affect the narrative and should be an integral part of this campaign as we try and drown out the bleating desperation of voters like Jon Heyman and Marty Noble, who flaunt their stubborn obtuseness like a badge of honor while disrespecting not only their own journalistic ethics but the history of the sport they cover.

Finally, as we look forward to the 2016 ballot, perhaps the best news of all is that slowly but surely, an overstuffed ballot is starting to thin out. While the past two years, specifically, have seen an avalanche of first-ballot worthy candidates (six, to be exact), there will be a significant decrease in new talent the next several years. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Trevor Hoffman join the ballot next year (with only Griffey a sure-fire candidate); Vlad Guerrero (who, while impressive, might not generate immediate heat) and Manny Ramirez (who’s likely one-and-done with two failed drug tests) join in 2017, with Chipper Jones (in) and Jim Thome (in) coming on the following year. That’s a more manageable slate of names, especially with Biggio and (likely) Piazza sliding off the ballot, spread out over three years.

Bagwell rates favorably with any of them, statistically (not that that has ever mattered), and shouldn’t be overshadowed and pushed to the background. Griffey, Jones and Thome have strikingly similar resumes (especially Jones), and should force the Hall of Fame voters to play a fun game of “Why This Guy but Not That Guy?”, which they (should have) started last year with Bagwell and Frank Thomas. Other than archaically unimportant round milestone numbers, none of the new arrivals outpace Bagwell from a numbers perspective.

So no, the news wasn’t all good today; we’re celebrating a Killer B instead of Bs, and that’s upsetting. For long-time Astro fans, it’s like cheering Jason Lane recording the final out in game 6 while Albert Pujols’ game 5 home run was still wrecking havoc with large chunks of our soul. But it wasn’t doom and gloom, either. Bagwell made strides this year and that’s never a bad thing. And Biggio is now a Hall of Famer, which is great.

Here’s to hopefully better (Bagwell) news in 2016.

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