Some people are going to look at the headline and go, "Not another post about steroids." Yet PEDs, stimulants and illegal substances have never been more relevant with three Astros' minor leaguers suspended recently, while a recent report has suggested that steroids did not have as much to do with the home run bonanza as most people assume, since the biggest power surge actually occurred in 1993/4.
This post is actually in response to this article on SB Nation two weeks ago entitled 'The 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker and a Gaggle of Steroid Enthusiasts. Before reading it I was expecting it to make at least a tenuous link between Bagwell and steroid abuse. A lot of baseball fans outside of Houston probably do, and will continue to do so in the next year.
But it leaves a question unanswered, and Bagwell's name on the ballot will be the first test of this: How will the BBWAA view a worthy HOF candidate whose name has not been explicitly linked to steroids, but played the entirety of their careers in the "Steroid Era"?
After Bagwell called time on his career, I was always worried that his case for enshrinement in the HOF was borderline. But now every time I look at his numbers, I am more and more convinced of the case for him being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
True, he did not reach the milestones of 500 home runs or 3000 hits, but you only had to look at Alex Rodriguez's 600 to see how much milestones mean in this day and age. Some of the points against Bagwell seem bordering on the ridiculous. The main argument I have read is that there were far too many first basemen who were either better or around the same level as Bagwell. Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire, Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Fred McGriff, Frank Thomas are usually the names bandied about.
Yet Bagwell was the complete package, unlike some of those names listed. He hit for power and average, he drew a bunch of walks, scored and drove in a decent amount of runs, was a superb first baseman for most of his career, while also one of the canniest base runners to play the game.
Arguing that you shouldn't be a HOFer because of only four all-star appearances, one MVP award or just one Gold Glove belies a knowledge of modern baseball. Bagwell is actually 34th all-time in MVP Award Shares with 2.89, and everyone ahead of him who is eligible is in the Hall apart from Dave Parker.
Rather than steal other people's research, I'll point you all the way to several worthy reads on the subject: Beyond the Box Score ranks Bagwell's years by WAR, this discusses amongst other things the worth of Bagwell's RBI and runs totals, while BBTF has some interesting discussion on the topic.
Most of the research would suggest that Bagwell should be in the Hall. His career WAR (83.9 for FanGraphs, 79.9 for baseball-reference) would suggest so, while he beats the average HOFer in WAR until his 14th season in the Majors, not a bad career peak.
His 152 runs scored in 2000 is a post-World War Two record, his .750 SLG% in 1994 was the 11th highest mark ever in a single season, while he is part of a group of 12 players with at least 450 home runs and who have a .409 OBP or better.
More legitimate criticisms are that if you take away his three best years (1994, 1996 and 1997) his numbers start to look a bit more ordinary. Yet he ticks the criterion of having a decade as an elite player: from his rookie year to 2001 he posted a .969 OPS, averaging at least 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 runs, 16 steals and a 6.4 WAR.
Yet suspicion may linger in the minds of the writers when they cast their ballots next year.
This is what really incensed me about Mark McGwire's apology in the winter. He still did not understand that he had tarnished the legitimate achievements of countless others by doing what he and others did. Like the late Antonio Pettigrew, whose actions caused his former team-mates to have their gold medals taken from them, McGwire and others might have robbed others of deserved appreciation for their career achievements.
On reflection the arguments against discussion about Bagwell's Hall of Fame credentials because of steroid abuse seem specious. Links by Kelly Blair and Bryant Gumbel are largely unsubstantiated, while Bagwell's name was missing from the Mitchell Report.
In fact the former Astros first-baseman and current hitting coach will be one of the few to walk out of the "Steroid Era" with his reputation intact, and into Cooperstown in 2011 as the first player wearing a Houston Astro cap.
Because Bagwell is as clean as they come.