Jeff Bagwell addresses the media during a press conference as the Houston Astros announced that Bagwell was replacing Sean Berry as hitting coach in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
In which your humble scribe devises a mechanism that should allow nearly every Hall of Fame voter, even most of the skeptics, to support Jeff Bagwell's candidacy in good conscience.
By now, you know: Jeff Bagwell, one of the six or eight greatest first basemen who's ever played this game, failed to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. You need to be named on 75 percent of the ballots; after being named on 42 percent of the ballots a year ago, this time around Bagwell reached 56 percent.
Well, at least Jayson Stark voted for Bagwell:
What we have here is a guy who has vehemently denied he used any illegal PED, and who didn't appear in the Mitchell report even though star witness Kirk Radomski worked for the Astros. What we also have here is a player whose Hall of Fame qualifications couldn't possibly be more clear-cut. How many first basemen are in the 400-homer, 200-steal club? Just one: Jeff Bagwell. How many first basemen have ever ripped off at least 12 straight seasons with an OPS-plus of 130 or better? Only two: Bagwell and Gehrig. Not to mention this fellow was a rookie of the year, an MVP, a Gold Glove winner and the Simba-esque leader on a team that went to the postseason six times. So why are so many people NOT voting for him again?
Two hundred and fifty-two people didn't vote for him, to be perfectly precise.
There are two reasons why so many people are not voting for Jeff Bagwell.
Some people simply don't understand how well Bagwell played. Stark says Bagwell's qualifications for the Hall "couldn't possibly be more clear-cut," but that's grandly hyperbolic. First basemen don't get elected to the Hall of Fame because they steal 200 bases. They don't get into the Hall of Fame because of their OPS+'s, either. A lot of Jayson Stark's best writing pals, the guys he hangs out with every year at the All-Star Game and World Series, would, if given a chance, beat the living bejeezus out of OPS+ with a pointy stick.
Jeff Bagwell hit 449 home runs, which is not a particularly impressive figure for a would-be Hall of Fame first baseman. Granted, Bagwell ranks ninth all-time among first baseman. The problem is that he also ranks beneath Fred McGriff (sixth) and Carlos Delgado (eighth) on that list. Oh, and sometime this spring he'll be passed by Albert Pujols.
Stark's right about Bagwell deserving to be in the Hall of Fame, of course. Based on his performance. But I'm absolutely sure there are at least a few voters who honestly (if foolishly) don't believe Bagwell's got the numbers.
Of course, we suspect most of Bagwell's non-supporters have another reason.
What we have here is a guy who has vehemently denied he used any illegal PED, and who didn't appear in the Mitchell report even though star witness Kirk Radomski worked for the Astros.
There it is. We have Jeff Bagwell's word that he never broke any rules, and there's certainly no paper trail. Ergo, there's no drugs-related rationale for leaving Bagwell off your Hall of Fame ballot.
Or so Jayson Stark would have it. Obviously, his argument hasn't exactly carried the day yet, and presumably won't anytime soon.
I think a lot of voters would like to vote for Jeff Bagwell. They really would. But they do get caught up on the steroids, and so they're waiting ... for what, exactly, it's hard to say. Maybe they're waiting until 2025, Bagwell's final year on the BBWAA's ballot; if there's no solid evidence of cheating by then, they'll vote for him. I really don't know.
That's a long ways away. Jeff Bagwell shouldn't have to wait that long for his fate, and the Hall of Fame really shouldn't have to deal with the massive logjam of candidates that's going to build up over the next decade as all these Steroids Era guys become eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Fortunately, I have a solution.
BBWAA voters are concerned about electing someone who might have cheated. Of course they've already elected players who have cheated, and most of us agree that trying to figure out who cheated and who didn't quickly becomes a fool's errand. But this is the real world. If I thought we could convince every voter that steroids aren't really a big deal, I might try. I think that's a fool's errand, too. So I'm trying to offer a way out of this mess that might actually get some deserving candidates elected.
I propose that the Hall of Fame create a mechanism whereby the BBWAA, after electing a player, may subsequently remove him through a recall election.
I know that's a radical notion, and I suppose it's incumbent upon me to explain what such a thing might look like...
- Beginning five years after the BBWAA has elected a player, he become subject to a potential recall election.
- The process is triggered at the BBWAA's annual Winter Meetings get-together. Any member may suggest a recall election; with the motion properly seconded, a vote is taken immediately.
- If there are 50 votes for a recall election, the next winter each Hall of Fame voter will be sent two ballots: the usual list of candidates for the Hall of Fame, and a special recall ballot. If a voter does not return a recall ballot, it counts as a no for the recall.
- A recall election "succeeds" if 50 percent of the voters return a ballot with a check mark next to Yes. (Votes for Pat Buchanan result in the voter's summary expulsion from the BBWAA.)