Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Jeff Bagwell

Claim to fame: This isn’t the first Hall of Fame column about Bagwell, far from it, though I’ve noticed something in reading the other pieces. They generally fall into two camps. The first dismiss Bagwell as a possible steroid user. There is no evidence for this. Bagwell never failed a PED test, never showed up in a government report or steroid dealer’s deposition, never got mentioned in a book by Jose Canseco. Still, there are some who say the hulking frame of the Houston Astros first baseman and the fact he starred during the Steroid Era are enough to merit suspicion and keep him out of the Hall of Fame. I loathe these articles, but I’m not big on their counterparts, pieces by fellow baseball bloggers and others that essentially augur for automatic enshrinement. Today’s column is about taking a different tact.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Bagwell received 56 percent of the vote this year in his second try with the Baseball Writers Association of America. It’s a promising showing. Bagwell has 13 more years of eligibility with the writers, and aside from Gil Hodges, Jack Morris, and Lee Smith, no player who’s ever received more than 50 percent of the vote isn’t in Cooperstown now. But the glut of steroid-connected players who will arrive on the ballot over the next several years could be a game changer for Bagwell and others. And at this point, the potential for voting-related chaos looks great.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I have a confession, a reason for why I’m writing this column late. I haven’t wanted to write it. Don’t get me wrong, on numbers alone, Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, easily. Besides hitting 449 home runs, Bagwell very nearly pulled off a .300/.400/.500 lifetime split for batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, a rare feat. His lifetime Wins Above Replacement of 79.9 is among the best for non-enshrined, eligible players, and it was better than any player on the writers ballot this year. He was even a fairly likable guy and thrived in the Astrodome, which helped sabotage the Hall of Fame bids of Jim Wynn, Cesar Cedeno, and most every other position player who spent a good chunk of his career there.

My problem is I have this gnawing feeling Bagwell might have used. Do I have any evidence whatsoever? Of course not, and I admit I have this suspicion about most players from the past 20 years. Should steroids keep Bagwell or any other man out of the Hall of Fame? Probably not. Perhaps the majority of the players in Bagwell’s era were on some kind of performance enhancer, and there was nothing in the rules for the majority of Bagwell’s career saying he couldn’t. But I wish both sides in the Bagwell debate could work more constructively besides firing off slam dunk yes or no columns. Stuff’s about to get crazy with voting in the next year, as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others become eligible, and we can’t seem to do much besides stick on our respective moral high horses. This needs to change.

I’d like to see some kind of consensus reached about what to do with the glut of steroid users (both confirmed and rumored) who will become eligible for Cooperstown. It isn’t fair to judge players on differing standards. It also isn’t fair to simply leave the decision to the writers to fumble for individually or pass off to the Veterans Committee. The task facing voters isn’t an easy one, and what transpires over the next few years could shape Cooperstown for decades to come. It’d be a shame if this decision is made flippantly or not at all. Bagwell’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiLarry Walker,Manny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve
,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony Oliva, Vince ColemanWill Clark