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Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell

Position(s):
1B, OF, RF, DH
Nicknames:
BagPipes
Born:
May 27, 1968
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
195 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-08-1991 with HOU
Allstar Selections:
1991 ROOK, 1994 GG, 1994 ML, 1994 MVP, 1994 SS, 1997 SS, 1999 SS

Regarded by many as the greatest player in Houston Astros history, Jeff Bagwell spent his entire 15-year major league career with the Astros after being acquired by them in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history.  Dealt to Houston by the Boston Red Sox on August 30, 1990 for journeyman relief pitcher Larry Andersen, Bagwell went on to establish himself as the Astros' all-time leader in home runs (449), runs batted in (1,529), and walks (1,401).  The slugging first baseman also holds single-season franchise records for home runs (47), batting average (.368), runs scored (152), walks (149), total bases (363), on-base percentage (.454), and slugging percentage (.750).  More importantly, Bagwell teamed up with Craig Biggio, another man who spent his entire career with the Astros, to lead Houston to six postseason appearances, two trips to the National League Championship Series, and the only pennant in franchise history.

Biography:

Born in Hanover, Massachusetts on May 27, 1968, Jeffrey Robert Bagwell grew up in Killingworth, Connecticut idolizing Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski.  Hoping to follow in his hero's footsteps, Bagwell excelled in both baseball and soccer while attending Xavier High School, a private all-male Catholic school located in Middletown, Connecticut.  After earning honors at Xavier not only for his outstanding athletic achievements, but also for his character and generosity, Bagwell remained in Connecticut, attending the University of Hartford.

Upon graduating from Hartford, Bagwell drew one step closer to fulfilling his dream when the Boston Red Sox selected him in the fourth round of the 1989 amateur draft.  However, the aspiring third baseman's career took a different path when Boston traded him to Houston during the latter stages of the 1990 campaign.  Ken Caminiti's presence at third base for the Astros prompted manager Art Howe to move Bagwell across the diamond to first base when he joined the team in spring training the following year.  The 23-year-old had a solid first season, winning N.L. Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 15 home runs, knocking in 82 runs, and batting .294.  Bagwell continued to develop into a solid offensive performer over the next two seasons, batting as high as .320 in 1993, and averaging 18 home runs and 89 runs batted in over his first three years.

Bagwell then established himself as one of the game's premier sluggers during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, leading the National League with 116 runs batted in, 104 runs scored, 300 total bases, and a .750 slugging percentage, while also placing among the leaders with 39 home runs, a .368 batting average, and a .451 on-base percentage.  Bagwell's brilliant year, in which he became the first National League player since Willie Mays in 1955 to finish first or second in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, and runs scored, enabled him to capture league MVP honors.  Nevertheless, a broken left hand suffered as the result of being hit by a pitch forced Bagwell to miss the final few games, before the player's strike brought the season to an abrupt ending.   

Bagwell had to sit out almost two months of the following season as well after being hit in the same hand again.  The righthanded slugger's unique batting stance certainly made him vulnerable to inside pitches.  Bagwell crouched down low, with his knees bent, looking somewhat as if he were sitting on an invisible bench.  As the pitcher began his delivery to home plate, Bagwell then slid his front foot backward, rising from his crouch, before uncorking his powerful swing.  Even though Bagwell's hitting style undoubtedly contributed to the injuries he suffered in consecutive seasons, he remained unwilling to alter his approach at home plate.  Instead, he began wearing a heavily-padded protective batting glove.

After appearing in more than 150 games in only two of his first five seasons, Bagwell missed more than six games only once between 1996 and 2004.  He played in all of Houston's games in three of those years, combining with second baseman Craig Biggio to give the Astros baseball's best tandem on the right side of the infield.  The duo helped lead the Astros to five playoff appearances during that period, with Bagwell consistently finishing among the league leaders in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, walks, and on-base percentage.  Bagwell averaged 37 homers, 116 RBIs, and 119 runs scored over the course of those nine seasons, surpassing 40 home runs three times, 100 runs batted in seven times, and 100 runs scored eight times, and batting over .300 on four separate occasions.  He was particularly effective in 1997, 1999, and 2000.  Bagwell hit 43 home runs in the first of those years, knocked in 135 runs, scored 109 others, and batted .286, en route to earning a third-place finish in the league MVP voting.  He finished second in the balloting two years later, when he hit 42 homers, drove in 126 runs, batted .304, and led the league with 143 runs scored and 149 walks.  Bagwell had another exceptional season in 2000, when he batted .310, led the league with 152 runs scored, and placed among the leaders with 47 homers and 132 runs batted in.

Although Bagwell gained a great deal of notoriety for his prowess as a hitter, he also gradually developed into an excellent fielder and baserunner.  The holder of a lifetime .993 fielding percentage at first base, Bagwell won a Gold Glove in 1994 for his outstanding defensive work.  Houston GM Tim Purpura once remarked, "I never saw a first baseman be that agile.  Crashing in on bunts, whirling and throwing to second.  He was a great defender."

As for his baserunning ability, Bagwell surpassed 30 stolen bases in both 1997 and 1999, becoming in the process the first full-time first baseman to hit more than 30 home runs and steal more than 30 bases in the same season.

After hitting 27 home runs, driving in 89 runs, and scoring 104 others in 2004, Bagwell missed most of 2005 with a severely-injured shoulder that brought his days as a dominant player to an end.  The arthritic condition in his right shoulder turned the former Golden Glove winner into a defensive liability at first base, forcing him to "push" the ball instead of throwing it.  Teams began taking advantage of Bagwell's defensive weakness, and, before long, he lost his effectiveness at the plate as well.  Although unable to make much of a contribution, Bagwell served primarily as a designated hitter in Houston's lone World Series appearance, a 2005 four-game loss to the Chicago White Sox.  Bagwell batted just .125, with only one hit in his eight official at-bats.

On January 23, 2006, the Astros indicated they intended to file a claim on an insurance policy on Bagwell's health, to collect approximately $15.6 million of the $17 million in salary they owed Bagwell for the 2006 season.  Because of the language of the policy, the Astros could not release Bagwell without losing their settlement, nor could Bagwell take the field.  The decision effectively eliminated Bagwell's chances of playing again in the Major Leagues.

After making an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback during 2006 spring training, Bagwell announced his retirement at the end of the season.  He ended his career with 449 home runs, 1,529 runs batted in, 1,517 runs scored, a .297 batting average, and an outstanding .408 on-base percentage.  Bagwell surpassed 30 homers nine times, 100 RBIs eight times, 100 runs scored nine times, and 100 walks seven times, and he batted over .300 on six separate occasions.  He appeared in four All-Star games and finished in the top ten in the league MVP voting a total of six times.

Shortly after Bagwell announced his retirement, Astros owner Drayton McLane and general manager Tim Purpura announced that the former star would remain in the Houston organization, in the player development department, as one of the Assistants to the General Manager.  Bagwell has since been hired by the Astros to be their hitting coach.

Although most people tend to think of Jeff Bagwell as the greatest player in Houston Astros history, former teammate Brad Ausmus remembers him more for the qualities that made him a very special person.  Ausmus said of Bagwell, "He was a superstar-caliber player who really understood what every single player, regardless of their rung on the ladder, was going through.  He could relate to everybody, regardless of their status in baseball and their position on the team.  He was very understanding."

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Tagged:
Baseball History, Boston Red Sox, Craig Biggio, Houston Astros, Jeff Bagwell, NL MVP 1994, Rookie of the Year Award

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