The Astros will be announcing Jeff Bagwell's name and number before tonight's home- and season-opener, in honor of the amazing career he enjoyed that so sadly appears to be at its end.
Good for them, it's the absolute right thing to do, and I'm sure that even that rabid contingent of Astros' fandom which has maintained for three years now that Bagwell was useless will find themselves touched by the occasion.
While my resources are certainly not on par with those of the Astros, I also feel that some kind of celebration of his career is necessary. What I hope to do here is inaugurate a semi-regular series that highlights some of the greatest games Bagwell played over the course of his 15-year career with the Houston Astros.
Won't rank 'em, because again, how do you differentiate between # 17 and # 21, but I will try to take them in chronological order.
Which kind of makes my first choice easy.
Weekly, every ten days or so? but often during the upcoming championship season is when I hope to post these little celebrations of the career of a player whose name became synonomous with the Houston franchise.
Suggestions and full-out submissions are certainly welcomed, comments and reminiscences too.
The first game we'd like to look at takes us way back to the merest 22nd game played of Bagwell's career. This was May 5, 1991, and while Jeff had raised his average to .279 coming in, rebounding from a start that saw him batting .071 after his first 14 at-bats and .212 after his first 33, he still came into the contest with just two homers and five extra base hits.
I don't want to overstate matters, though: Bagwell also came into the game against the Pirates having hit in 14 of his previous 17, and he had been at or above a respectable .325 OBP continuously since April 19. Still, it was by no means apparent that Sunday in May that Bagwell would still be talked about fifteen or more years later.
However, Bagwell definitely gave the 17,000-odd in attendance at Three Rivers Stadium that day something to talk about on their ways home.
Leading up to the game, Art Howe had been starting Bagwell fifth behind Caminiti or sixth behind Tuffy Rhodes. The Astros came in at 9 - 13, in fifth place in the NL West, and in last place in the majors in runs scored. The Pirates were in first, and would of course go on to win the NL East.
Howe opted to start lefty Ken Oberkfell as the six place hitter against reigning Cy Young Award Winner (and future Astro) Doug Drabek, but by the seventh inning, the Astros had a 3 - 1 lead, and Drabek was gone, replaced by lefthander Bob Kipper. Oberkfell had gone 1 for with 2 with 2 RBI, but with two outs in the seventh, and with the six slot coming up, a pinch-hitter seemed to be in order, even if the bases were empty.
Most sources have the blast that Jeff then hit off Kipper measuring at 456-feet, although you will also see 464 and 472 as reported distances. In any event, it was instantly recognized as one of the longest balls in the history of Three Rivers Stadium. His 1992 Topps baseball card says that Bagwell's blast was the absolute longest to left-field at the old Pittsburgh park, but it appears that Greg Luzinski hit a longer one in 1979, and Bob Robertson connected for equal distance in '71.
Regardless, Bagwell's homer was certainly only the ninth time the Three Rivers Upper Deck had been reached by anyone in a game, and it was also the first time a rookie had done it.
As the '90's grew older, and the offensive explosion commenced, some more players reached the upper levels in Pittsburgh, including Bagwell again, making him the only guy besides Stargell to get up there twice.
But when the park closed in 2000, the collective of those who done so was still a fairly exclusive club, one that had inducted just 9 members who had done the deed just 13 times.
Here's a list I found at http://home.mindspring.com/~gearhard/stadiums.html:
- Willie Stargell - 8/9/70 off Mets' Ron Taylor (RF) 469'
- Willie Stargell - 5/30/71 off Cubs' Ken Holtzman (RF) 458'
- Willie Stargell - 6/20/71 off Expos' Howie Reed (RF) 472'
- Bob Robertson - 7/16/71 off Padres' Steve Arlin (LF) 456'
- Willie Stargell - 5/31/73 off Braves' Gary Gentry (RF) 468'
- Greg Luzinski - 4/18/79 off Pirates' Don Robinson (LF) 483'
- Bobby Bonilla - 7/12/87 off Padres' Eric Show (RF) 454'
- Howard Johnson - 4/15/91 off Pirates' Zane Smith (LF) 456'
- Jeff Bagwell - 5/5/91 off Pirates' Bob Kipper (LF) 472'
- Mark Whiten - 8/11/93 off Pirates' Blas Minor (RF) 464'
- Glenallen Hill - 5/6/94 off Pirates' Denny Neagle (LF) 457'
- Jeff Bagwell - 5/29/96 off Pirates' Danny Darwin (LF) 459'
- Devon White - 6/16/96 off Pirates' Denny Neagle (LF-facade) 456'
Much of this info and more can be found at Retrosheet, including the final linescore, which was
Pirates 4 5 1
Mark Portugal (3-1) won it, while Drabek (1-5) took the loss.