Discussion of the 2014 Hall of Fame class has been dominated by the suspicion of steroids and which players may or may not have used them. Jeff Bagwell's candidacy has been handicapped by those rumors for much of the last decade. Will those whispers be enough to keep one of the best players of the 90s out of the Hall of Fame?
Why he's a Hall of Famer
Until he was forced to retire due to shoulder issues, Bagwell consistently ranked among the best players in baseball. He was so consistently good that, up until his injury-plagued final year, his worst year came as a sophomore player in 1992 when he hit .273/.368/.444 with 18 home runs and 97 RBI. For a 24-year-old s his worst season came second-year player, that really not so bad of a "worst year".
Over the next 10 seasons, he posted an OPS under 900 just once, missing the mark by six points in 1995. He topped a 1000 OPS five times, including in 1994 when he hit a ridiculous .368/.451/.750 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI. He swept awards that year, earning an All Star bid and winning the MVP, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. He finished in the top-3 of MVP voting twice more and in the top-10 five more times.
On his career, Bagwell finished with 449 home runs. He had a shot at 500 were it not for his shoulder injury. He launched 27 long balls in his second-to-last season before playing just 39 games in 2004 and calling it quits. He also fell just shy of a .300 career average, winding up hitting .297. He did top a .400 OBP, however, en route to a career 948 OPS, good for 21st all-time.
Though his career was a bit shorter than he would have liked, the fact that Bagwell was great each season plays into his favor. In addition, his spending his entire career with one team may also earn him an extra vote or two.
Why writers won't vote for him
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Two reasons: The "Hall of Very Good" argument and the suspicions that he may have used steroids.
Bagwell was excellent, but he fell short of major milestones. He was 51 home runs shy of 500 and needed nearly 700 more hits before he reached 3000. He was only elected to four All Star games. He also rarely led the league in any major categories.
His 948 career OPS is phenomenal, but for a first baseman it's not as outstanding as if he were, say, a third baseman or center fielder. His OPS also does not look as good given the fact that he played in the steroid era, when many other players also put up incredible numbers. Thus, he may be relegated to the "Hall of Very Good" as so many baseball writers are fond of putting it.
Speaking of the steroid era, for a player who is already on the fringe of candidacy just based on his credentials, even rumors that he took steroids could kill Bagwell's candidacy. Since 2004, he has been denying he ever used performance enhancers, but the whispers remain after he got significantly bigger over his career with the Astros. He attributes that to a fanatical workout routine. Still, even hints that he ever used steroids are enough for many writers to keep him off their ballot to make a point.