More than ever, it’s become disgustingly evident that Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame is rife with flaws and double standards. The case of Jeff Bagwell, the Houston Astros great who put together a legendary career across 15 seasons, stands at the front of the line when it comes to criticizing the voters and the process used to decide who gets in and who stays out. Just like the awards voting we see at the conclusion of each season, only even more so, the Hall of Fame depends on baseball writers to decide the fate of the sport’s finest players. Hall of Fame induction is supposed to be an honor, yet merely good players like Jim Rice and Andre Dawsonhave gained induction while their superiors may never be enshrined because of prehistoric thinking, judgmental attitudes, and childish gossip.
In Bagwell’s case, there really isn’t any way the voters are misinterpreting the numbers. Bagwell was among the best hitters of his generation, hitting .297/.408/.540 with 449 home runs before retiring at age 37. His career OPS+ was 149 and Baseball Reference has his WAR total at 76.7. By WAR, Bagwell enjoyed the 36th most valuable career of all-time, which ties him with Pete Rose and places him ahead of names like Johnny Bench, Joe DiMaggio, and Derek Jeter. While I can’t confirm that Jeff Bagwell in fact has a mantle, if he did you would find on it one MVP award, Rookie of the Year honors, three Silver Slugger awards, a gold glove, and perhaps documentation that he attended four All-Star games.
Credentials aren’t the problem for Bagwell, at least I should hope not. Even the voters most determined to vote in no one to boorishly uphold the pride of some long-dead secret society or whatever would surely see Bagwell’s virtues as a player through the thick fog of embarrassing ignorance that doubtlessly obscures their thinking. Jeff Bagwell isn’t in the Hall of Fame because of steroids. Not because he took steroids, but because others who played during the same era did. Absolutely no one has a shred of proof, not even an empty accusation from a reliable source, that Bagwell was on anything more than a dutiful workout regimen. While Bagwell did certainly get larger over the course of his career, the trajectory he followed was a natural one, and to assume his “guilt” is irresponsible and small-minded.
I’m absolutely in the crowd of fans and analysts willing to overlook steroid use and concentrate on performance. Without getting too much into it (steroids are a boring and overly-discussed subject as it is), we have no absolute proof of anyone’s usage, there is no scientific proof showing that steroids would even be helpful when actually playing baseball, and every era across baseball history has been littered with players doing something to gain advantages that could be perceived as unfair.
Having said all this, those filling out Hall of Fame ballots seem to believe steroids tantamount to baseball homicide, so they’re never going to allow admitted/proven users like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds in regardless of their accomplishments unless some new level of enlightenment is one day reached. What I fail to understand is how these voters can hold any of their vehemence toward other players or a certain era against Bagwell, a player whose splendid career remains untouched by any kind of steroid knowledge beyond circumstantial rumors.
For some reason, sports are a lot like politics and religion. They elicit extremely strong opinions, and no matter what evidence is present or isn’t, otherwise intelligent people are still able to turn a blind eye to uphold the stance on them they’ve taken from the beginning. How on earth is anyone able to say Jeff Bagwell doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame based on their own personal suspicions of which they have no proof at all? Since when is “guilty until proven innocent” something anyone agrees with? While the gravity of Bagwell’s case as a Hall of Famer certainly doesn’t equal the gravity of an actual court case, why shouldn’t we be using basic justice and common sense in everyday life? Jeff Bagwell worked hard to carve out one of the best careers ever in a sport that’s stood the test of time. A lot of people won’t know that in 50 years, and he deserves better than that.