Hall hopeful Bagwell content as family man
Astros great discusses life away from baseball, Wednesday's announcement
HOUSTON -- Jeff Bagwell spoke about the trade to the Astros being the best thing that's ever happened to him in baseball. He spoke about his love for his family and his dogs and how very little else matters at this point. He even discussed the Hall of Fame, something that doesn't appear to carry much importance in his world.
A candid Bagwell sounded at peace with himself and his surroundings during a rare interview Monday with MLB.com, just two days before the slugger who occupied first base for the Astros for 15 years finds out if he made the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his fourth time on the ballot.
The results will be announced exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 1 p.m. CT as part of a three-hour live show beginning at 11 a.m. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 10 a.m. CT.
"We have five kids and three dogs and that puts everything in perspective to me," Bagwell said. "I would say a couple of things: One, playing baseball does not define who I am. Secondly, it's crazy. I was in Albany, N.Y., when I got traded, and my dad had to come and get me, and now here I am talking to you about the Hall of Fame. It's kind of ridiculous."
Bagwell, 45, has kept a low profile in the last few years, and that's by design. He's been out of baseball since stepping down as the Astros' hitting coach following the 2010 season and serving a couple of years as a special assistant to focus on his family, which includes four daughters and a son. He's set to be married later this year.
Bagwell is part of a star-studded group of players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, a list that includes longtime teammate Craig Biggio and superstars Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas, who was born on the same day as Bagwell. Their careers traveled strikingly similar paths before a degenerative shoulder condition forced Bagwell to retire following the 2005 season.
While the injury kept Bagwell from reaching the 500-homer mark that would have cemented his Hall of Fame worth, his resume is stellar.
He played in four All-Star Games, had 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs, a .948 OPS and helped Houston reach the playoffs six times. Bagwell received the third-highest vote total last year by the Baseball Writers' Association of American with 59.6 percent, a slight increase from the 56 percent he received his second time on the ballot in 2012.
"The Hall of Fame is a great achievement and all that kind of stuff," Bagwell said. "The biggest achievement in my career is the friends I've taken out of here. I still hear from everybody. I talked to Ricky Gutierrez the other day. I still talk to people. But it's very, very hard to get in touch with me, and I do that for a reason.
"That being said, my numbers are pretty good. But I watched 'The Hawk' [Andre Dawson] have to wait 14 years [after his career ended] to get in the Hall of Fame, so it is what it is. Andre Dawson, to me, is a tremendous player. It just so happens he played in Montreal and that kind of hurt him. The only thing I really care about Wednesday is that Craig gets in."
Then he joked about Biggio, "I don't want to sit there and watch him [get inducted] in July, but I still will."
The fact that Bagwell and Biggio, who fell 39 votes shy of being inducted his first time on the ballot last year, were able to share 15 years as teammates was about as unlikely as it gets. Both are from the northeast and wound up as two of Houston's biggest baseball icons. Biggio was drafted by the Astros in the first round in 1987; Bagwell arrived in Houston following one of the most lopsided trades in history.
Bagwell was a Double-A third baseman in the Red Sox's system when he was sent to the Astros on Aug. 31, 1990, in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Andersen. Bagwell grew up cheering for the Red Sox in Killingworth, Conn., but his path to third base at Fenway Park was blocked by Wade Boggs and hotshot prospects Tim Naehring and Scott Cooper.
Former Astros general manager Bill Wood, who pulled off the trade, said the club was looking to get younger and struck gold with Bagwell.
"I remember our scouts did a really good job on the Boston system and identified Bagwell as a real target, and we held out almost until the very last minute, so to speak, and Boston agreed to give us Bagwell for Andersen," Wood said. "We knew we had a good prospect, because we had him go to the instructional league where we could get to know him, and I got calls from the personnel saying, 'Hey, this guy can really hit and he's well-advanced and might have a chance to make our club.'"
Looking back, the trade was the best thing that ever happened to Bagwell.
"My father came and picked me up and said, 'Son, I've done a little bit of research -- and I don't know how he could because, there was barely computers back then -- and he said, 'You might get a chance [in Houston],'" Bagwell said. "'[Ken Caminiti] hit .247 last year.' I said, 'Shoot, I could hit .247,' and he became one of my best friends, because he took me under his wing for good and bad -- mostly good. It worked out."
But not before Bagwell was forced to make a move across the diamond and learn first base during the spring of 1991. He did it quite well, and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season and the NL Most Valuable Player Award three years later.
"He changed all our plans," Wood said. "We weren't planning on Bagwell to make the club that first year. We didn't anticipate he would be able to do what he did having played at Double-A the year before, and he did it and had a very solid rookie year and catapulted from there."
The move to first base wasn't as easy as Bagwell made it look.
"At third base, most of your plays are to your left side," he said. "At first base, there's a lot of plays to your other side. So we had a pitching change one day and we were playing the Cardinals. Ozzie Smith was on first base and he said, 'How's it going?' I said, 'I'm really struggling with my backhand.' He goes, 'Well, here's what you do. You can't field the ball deep. You have to get out in front of it.' I was basically being given a lesson from Ozzie Smith at first base during a pitching change. It's pretty cool."
Bagwell remains one of the most beloved sports figures in Houston history, but he hasn't been around the ballpark the last two years and serves in no official capacity with the club like Biggio and Roger Clemens. Bagwell's family is getting most of his attention these days.
"Hey man, that's what life's about," Bagwell said. "Take care of your family and let the dogs out at 6:30."
Of course, he still keeps up with the Astros and says it's been hard to watch them struggle like they've done in the past few years. Through good or bad, though, the Astros still run through his veins and always will.
"I love the city, I love the Astros," Bagwell said. "I'd have nothing if I wasn't an Astro. And I'm not talking about money. It felt like it was right."
So here he is, perhaps on the cusp of baseball immortality. Sure, getting the call on Wednesday would be great, but Bagwell doesn't need it. He's content coaching his son's seven-year-old baseball team and playing the full-time role of dad in a community that embraces him like few others.
"It's a long way from Killingworth, Conn.," he said. "This town is my family, I guess. I don't know how else to say it. I enjoy being here. I don't enjoy 110 degrees for four months, but I have the ability to go somewhere where it's not 110.
"The people are great to me and I love the city of Houston. I love the people. Come by one day and drive down my street, and the people that you drive by, they wave to you. They're just nice people, and I enjoy that. That makes me feel good."