Steroid Speculation Keeps Jeff Bagwell From Hall of Fame

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In 15 big league seasons, Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell was generous with the press, the public face of a franchise, and the best-hitting first baseman since Willie McCovey. So why, in his first year of eligibility, does he have zero chance of making the Hall of Fame when selections are announced Wednesday?

One word: steroids. Bagwell didn't necessarily use them, but his 449 career home runs came during the 'Steroid Era' of the '90s and early-'00s. Still reeling from the ensuing scandal, Hall of Fame voters have previously preferred submitting blank ballots to sending sluggers from that period to Cooperstown. Apparently there's too much fear that Bagwell may have used steroids for voters to consider him worth the risk. This logic, which would seem to preclude anyone who has played baseball since Reagan left office from Hall of Fame consideration, failed to impress Bagwell's supporters.

  • No Due Process  It sounds hokey, admits Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra, but even sports fans have a responsibility to respect the principles of the American legal system. The baseball landscape includes unique codes and customs, but it is not a sovereign nation unto itself. As in the real world, "innocent until proven guilty is a fair and decent concept" in the sports world. "There are a lot of places that aren't courts of law that respect the concept that you actually, you know, have to be shown to have misbehaved before punishment attaches. School. Your office. Even a baseball field."
  • Intellectually Dishonest  New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner can't believe the same writers who looked the other way on performance enhancing drugs during the home run happy days of the '90s and '00s are now willing to make an example out of Bagwell. Where was this outrage when unremarkable players like Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez were posting 50 HR seasons?
Everybody voting now was covering baseball before players were tested for steroids. That means all of us--with a few exceptions--looked the other way.We all had suspicions, but most of us failed to write about them, and in time the users made us look like fools. Now, it seems a lot of writers are overcompensating, using the character and integrity guideline on the Hall ballot as justification. What’s the old saying? Fool me twice, shame on me....Maybe Bagwell took steroids, maybe not. Bagwell played most of his career before testing, but so did everybody else who has ever appeared on a Hall ballot. As far as I can tell, the only thing Bagwell is guilty of is playing in an era when his union fought against cleaning up the game. The legacy of that shameful stance is that baseless suspicion may now keep some deserving players, like Bagwell, out of the Hall of Fame.
  • Too Good  USA Today's Steve Gardner understands voters are still smarting from the steroid years, but says there's just no reason to be wary of Bagwell's accomplishments. "There needs to be a better reason to vote against someone with Bags' career numbers than just speculation." It's an exercise in self-flagellation, or maybe just paranoia, to reject a player who was "consistently outstanding for [15 years] when measured against his peers."
  • Why Him?  At the Houston Press, John Royal says Bagwell's critics just want payback for the betrayal of the steroid era. It doesn't matter that he never tested positive or that his name wasn't mentioned in the Mitchell Report--his detractors have a hunch, and they're determined to see it through. "They suspect his stats because he played in the age of steroids, and since he spent most of his career in the Astrodome, his stats can only be explained by steroids," writes Royal. "They have no facts. They have no law. They just have misplaced emotion. For that, Jeff Bagwell and his reputation have to suffer. And until somebody offers up some actual evidence, something besides he bulked up or suffered a career-ending injury, then there's nothing, nothing (other than a misguided judgment of his stats) to prevent a vote on Jeff Bagwell for the Baseball Hall of Fame."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.