MLB Hall of Fame 2012: Why Jeff Bagwell Absolutely Needs to Be a Hall of Famer

Jay FloydContributor IIJanuary 10, 2012

2005Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Jeff Bagwell wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame this year.

But he has got plenty of the traditional hardware (NL Rookie of the Year - 1991, Gold Glove (1B) - 1994, NL MVP - 1994, NL All-Star - 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999).

According to FanGraphs, his career WAR of 83.9 is the eighth-highest among first basemen, behind the likes of Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx. But ahead of Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Ernie Banks, and Willie McCovey.

His career OBP is a gaudy .408, and he hit 449 dingers despite playing the majority of games in the cavernous Astrodome.

He also possessed deceptive speed, swiping 202 bases.  

Go ahead. Pick any defensive metric you want. He stacks up well against the greats, with a career-fielding percentage of .993.

Bill James even lists Jeff Bagwell as the fourth-best first basemen of all time in his 2001 New Historical Baseball Abstract.

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So no matter how you slice his numbers, he's in legendary company.

In fact, most of the players with career numbers close to Bagwell's were elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Why the wait? It's hard to be sure.

The best guess is probably some combination of circumstances: He played in the Steroid Era; his body changed both during and after his playing days, and some of his teammates, Ken Caminiti, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens were known users.

And of course, it's not known conclusively whether Bagwell had ever used PEDs, and it may never be known. Undoubtedly, that uncertainty causes some voters to hesitate.

But what does he have to say? 

In an extensive interview with ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, shortly before his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, Bagwell was candid in addressing suspicions about his steroid use.

"I never used them, and I'll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that's the God's honest truth." 

What about his physical transformation?

"I know a lot of people are saying, 'His body got bigger'. Well, if you're eating 30 pounds of meat every single day and you're working out and bench pressing, you're going to get bigger..."

"The lifting made my shoulders and everything bigger, but I was bodybuilding-lifting instead of lifting for baseball, and that was totally my fault. If I have one regret, that's it, because I think it shortened my career."

If he's telling the truth, and voters believe him, it's hard to argue that he should be left out of Cooperstown. And the more his story holds up, the better his chances of making it.

1994Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

With the need to appear on 75 percent of ballots, Bagwell received 41.7 percent of votes last year, which was his first time eligible. 

This year he received votes on 56 percent of ballots, a jump of 14 percent, which might indicate his credibility continues to climb. And a good omen, he may get the nod in upcoming elections. 

But it could be tougher for Bagwell next year, as well. There are more steroid era players on the ballot, including some of the biggest names, such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens.

That means suspicions of PED use are sure to be raised regarding Bagwell, too. And that suspicion isn't going away any time soon.

Truth is it will be years before a Hall of Fame election can avoid questions about asterisks. And until or unless those stances soften, if they ever do, known users are at a disadvantage.

Even so, as a long as Bagwell maintains a clean record and continues to prove to voters he meets their standards of integrity, there's no question his performance on the field was worthy of admission. 

Because while the rumors may not go away, neither will his numbers.

And like Bagwell said himself: "The one thing I don't understand is how people can talk about the era I played in and make it sound as if there weren't any great players in the 1990s and 2000s. That doesn't make any sense. Are you telling me that there were great players in the '30s, '40s and '50s, but there weren't any great players in the '90s and 2000s? I mean, come on. That's crazy."

It's crazy because if he was PED-free, he should have been elected to the Hall of Fame last year. And this year. And next year or the following year, too. 

Is this the price of steroids? Those candidates are vetted for years under the microscope of cautious voters?

Because if Jeff Bagwell passes those examinations, he absolutely needs to be in the MLB Hall of Fame.