Ken Griffey, Jr. is a baseball writer’s ideal Hall of Fame candidate, an incredible combination of Hank Aaron’s raw power and Willie May’s fluid finesse; a young progeny that lived up to the hype and threatened, for long stretches of his career, to stake a claim as the greatest player of all-time.
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Ken Griffey, Jr. will be a Hall of Famer in his first year of eligibility.
And his candidacy is a big reason why Jeff Bagwell likely won’t be joining him; not this year, anyway. Scientists have not yet found a way to measure the minimal amount of time the overwhelming majority of the Baseball Writers Association of America will spend considering Griffey’s worthiness (save for the sanctimonious assholes who inevitably won’t vote for him – and yes, there will be some.)
Griffey smashed 630 home runs; he won 10 Gold Gloves. He was, for many years, the face of baseball, with a Nike-sponsored high profile and a 10,000-volt smile that made him almost impossible to dislike.
Bagwell is every bit the slam dunk Griffey is; maybe not as thunderous a dunk – but a slam dunk, nonetheless. But… he’s a far less OBVIOUS slam dunk. Bagwell requires a modicum of effort; like the man himself, his numbers aren’t flashy: he didn’t crack historically revered milestones; he didn’t bat .300; he didn’t appear in a slew of All-Star games…
Taken on their own, Bagwell’s numbers are impressive… they’re just not, “I don’t have to think about it…” impressive. In fact, Bagwell almost requires context to fully appreciate his greatness. In other words, it requires baseball writers to, you know, do their jobs, and it would seem, based on the voting habits, that they loathe doing their jobs.
Having to lift your finger – which used to be a figurative statement; now is a literal statement as the needed context for all baseball players is just a mouse-click away – should not disqualify a player from consideration. The job of the baseball writer, in fact, is almost exclusively, at least in terms of the Hall of Fame, to properly contextualize the game.
But that’s exactly where Bagwell finds himself – needing enough people to properly slot him among the all-time greats.
Many, many years ago (it’s been nearly 15), we started pushing the narrative on various message boards that Jeff Bagwell was the greatest National League first baseman of all-time. Granted, the assertion is a bit of a trick: uniformly, the best first basemen have been in the American League – Gehrig, Foxx, Killebrew, Greenberg, Murray… Bagwell’s closet competition was probably Johnny Mize, and his best days were undoubtedly pre-World War II (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mizejo01.shtml).
Still, it’s the kind of easy, “I don’t have to think about it…” narrative that Bagwell’s campaign has always lacked. And then Albert Pujols had to come along and stomp all over it with giant, baseball-destroying feats of awesome. And justlikethat, Bagwell was now the *second* greatest National League first baseman of all-time –by a sizable distance, too – and, well – that doesn’t quite resonate the same.
But Bagwell shouldn’t be punished because too many writers are lazy. Yes, Ken Griffey, Jr. is a no-brainer. But so, too, is Jeff Bagwell – assuming you don’t take a use-no-brain approach to his no-brainer worthiness.