The Houston Astros have become notorious in recent years.
Their grand success combined with the now-infamous sign stealing scandal has brought the Astros to the front and center stage in Major League Baseball since Sports Illustrated crowned them 2017 World Series champions in a 2014 issue.
Springer, along with other stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and others brought swagger and a World Series title, tainted or not, to Houston in the 2010’s.
Before them, the Astros counted on others to bring them to the Promised Land, including Hall of Famer and Astros legend Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell manned first base for Houston for 15 seasons, where he cemented himself as a relentless force at the plate in the National League.
Early Life/High School
Jeff Bagwell was born May 27, 1968 to Janice and Robert Bagwell in Boston, Massachusetts.
An only child, Bagwell played many sports growing up in Connecticut, including soccer, basketball, and baseball.
His mother said he:
“…Could throw a ball before he could walk. When he was six months old, we’d throw a ball to him and he would throw it back.”
His father was a former college baseball player at Northwestern and moved onto semi-pro ball, and his mother worked as a police officer.
They would divorce when Bagwell was just 11 years old.
Bagwell attended an all-male, Catholic High School in Middletown, Connecticut called Xavier High School.
At Xavier, he was known as an exceptional athlete.
His main and best sport was soccer, but he also impressed with his basketball and baseball skills, earning a letter in basketball and playing shortstop on the baseball team.
Bagwell still holds the record for the most goals scored at Xavier with 36.
Speaking on his soccer abilities, former teammate David Sizemore recalled:
“He will admit he wasn’t the best soccer player on the team, but his role was to score goals. He just had a knack for scoring goals. He was gifted.”
As for Bagwell’s basketball career at Xavier, he “did a lot of the little things well” recalled Sizemore.
Upon being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Bagwell recalled his experiences at Xavier:
“Xavier High School was obviously a big part of my life. It was a great soccer team, we had a lot of fun.”
On the baseball team Bagwell played a variety of positions, primarily shortstop but also saw some time as a pitcher and at other infield positions.
He would also play American Legion Baseball during his time outside of school.
Bagwell impressed with his play, but his main and best sport was still soccer.
Despite his prowess and abilities on the pitch, Bagwell had his doubts that he could succeed in being a professional soccer player in the United States.
At the time, in the mid 1980’s, there were little professional opportunities in soccer.
Bagwell then decided to focus his time and talents on baseball, where he thought he could go pro.
As Bagwell decided to focus on Baseball, he received a scholarship from the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
His baseball coach there was Bill Deheny, who was a former major league pitcher for the Mets, Senators, and Tigers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Deheny recognized Bagwell’s potential and coached him to become Hartford’s star player.
Bagwell switched from shortstop to third base, and quickly became a New England baseball star.
His play was much better in college than it was in high school, as Bagwell had focused all of his energy to baseball for the first time.
Tony Franco, a teammate of Bagwell’s at Xavier and at Hartford, said:
“In high school, he was definitely good. But once he entered college, that’s where he really took off.”
This sentiment was backed by another one of Bagwell’s Hartford teammates, David Greene, who recalled asking coach Bill Dennehy where he “found” Bagwell after Bagwell hit for the cycle during a fall game.
A significant aspect of Bagwell’s game was his intimidating offensive abilities, which he showed off often.
Many teammates and opponents recalled Bagwell’s immense power and hitting ability, including Brenden Beckstein.
Beckstein, a teammate of Bagwell’s at Xavier, said:
“He absolutely took off. He started hitting for power and taking his abilities to the next level.”
Beckstein, later an opponent of Bagwell’s playing for Providence, remembered facing Bagwell in college and him hitting a home run “dead-center, over 410 feet, over one of the main buildings on campus.”
Bagwell would not limit his play to just the New England collegiate community, deciding to also take his talents to the prestigious Cape Cod League.
The Cape Cod League is where many collegiate players go to play for tougher competition and hopefully for major league scouts.
The league’s website boasts that one in six major leaguers have played in the league, including current stars like Kris Bryant, Chris Sale, and former Astro George Springer.
“I got my chance in the Cape Cod League.”
“A lot of players from the best programs in the summer came to play there.”
While playing in the Cape Cod League, Bagwell became inspired by seeing Albert Belle and Frank Thomas succeeding.
Even though he hit just .205 one year, Bagwell believed he could match their elite playing, and would go on to hit over .300 the next season.
Playing for the Chatham A’s in the Cape Cod League in 1988, he was named the starting third baseman for the East division in the league’s all-star game.
Bagwell’s collegiate career proved in the end to be incredibly successful.
He finished his collegiate career finishing in the top five in school history in ten categories.
In his three seasons as Hartford’s slugging third baseman, he hit 31 home runs and drove in 126 runs, both school records.
He also set a school and New England collegiate record by batting .413 and was named Eastern College Athletic Conference player of the year twice.
The University of Hartford now recognizes Bagwell as “one of the most productive hitters in Hartford baseball history.”
Bagwell graduated in 1989, and was elected in 1997 to the University of Hartford Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame for baseball excellence.
Impressing major league scouts with his hitting abilities, Bagwell was selected in the fourth round of the 1989 amateur draft by his hometown Boston Red Sox.
He was assigned to the single A Winter Haven Red Sox, who played in the Florida State League.
While Bagwell did not continue the power streak he exhibited in college (he hit just two home runs in his stint with Winter Haven), he batted .310, and was soon promoted to Eastern League AA New Britain team.
He went on to win the Eastern League batting title and MVP, but again showed very little power, hitting just four home runs.
Then, Bagwell was devastated.
The Red Sox needed relief pitching help, so in 1990 they shipped Bagwell off to the Houston Astros, receiving reliever Larry Andersen in return.
The Red Sox have been faced with criticism in the years since the trade, and it is now recognized as a blunder.
Astros vs Red Sox tonight
This matchup will always remind me of the time that the Red Sox traded away 22 year old, Boston born and raised, future HOFer Jeff Bagwell to Houston for a 37 year old bullpen arm. pic.twitter.com/SpO10No6Q0
— Shawn (@Shawn_Spradling) October 15, 2021
At the time, Boston was in the middle of a pennant race and believed trading a low-level prospect like Bagwell was worth it to shore up the bullpen and compete in the American League.
In the end, Anderson pitched well for Boston, helping them to secure the AL East division, but pitched in just 15 games and would sign with the Padres following the 1990 season.
Bagwell at the time was devastated, remembering:
“I was one of the saddest guys you’ll ever see. All my life everything had been in Boston. I was born in Boston.”
Looking back, Bagwell understood the Red Sox’ position.
“The Red Sox were in a pennant race. They needed help. I was third on the depth chart at third base.”
Wade Boggs was the starting third baseman for the Red Sox at the time, and they had prospect Scott Cooper in AAA.
During 1991 spring training, Bagwell was brought to camp as the backup third baseman behind Ken Caminiti, and Bagwell expected to begin the season in the minor leagues.
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) December 31, 2021
Bagwell impressed the team during the spring, however, and he found himself starting the 1991 regular season on the Astros’ opening day roster as a first baseman.
After starting the season slowly offensively, Bagwell put up respectable numbers for Houston and won the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year Award in a blowout.
He ended the year hitting 15 home runs, driving in 82 runs, and batting .294.
He showed good on-base skills for a rookie, and many were surprised with his power after it tapered off in the Red Sox’ minor league system.
He finished his rookie season finishing in the top five in on-base percentage due to his eye at the plate and his ability to take walks.
In his second season in 1992, Bagwell played in all 162 of the Astros’ games.
He improved his power and was slowly becoming a more disciplined hitter.
His strikeouts decreased while his walks increased.
During the next few seasons, Bagwell continued to improve as a hitter but started running into injury problems on account of his unique and unconventional batting stance.
Standing with his feet far apart and in a crouch, Bagwell found success by minimizing his strike zone and gaining strength on his swing to hit the ball harder.
While Bagwell found success using his stance, his hands often fell into the strike zone and he was hit numerous times with pitches, breaking his hand.
He broke his hand late in the season in 1993, and followed that up by breaking his hand twice more in successive seasons.
Despite the strike-shortened season in 1994, Bagwell won the National League MVP Award as well as a Silver Slugger Award in a season that saw him hit 39 home runs, drive in 116 runs, and bat a remarkable .368.
10/27/94 Jeff Bagwell becomes the first Astros player to win the National League MVP Award. He was the third NL player to win unanimously. pic.twitter.com/wk3LSMonPc
— Mike Acosta (@AstrosTalk) October 28, 2021
He led all of the major leagues in categories such as slugging, total bases, and RBI, and led the National League in two out of three Triple Crown categories, only losing to Tony Gwynn in batting average.
He made his first all-star team in 1994 as a reserve first baseman, collecting two hits.
Bagwell also impressed defensively, winning his first Gold Glove Award for first base. Reflecting on his impressive and decorated 1994 season, Bagwell said:
“Every pitch that I was looking for, I got. And when I got it, I didn’t miss it.”
Bagwell’s 1994 earned him another contract with the Astros to the tune of four years, $27.5 million.
After breaking his hand again in 1995, Bagwell began wearing pads on his hands and began a strict workout routine to ensure health and better performance.
He began weight lifting, radically changed his diet, and began using supplements.
Bagwell would make another all-star team in 1996 while leading the N.L. in doubles and finishing in the top 10 for MVP.
During the latter part of the 1990’s, Bagwell and other “Killer B’s” teammates like Craig Biggio led Houston to multiple postseason appearances, but they never made it to the World Series.
Bagwell continued to be an offensive juggernaut in the National League in this period, racking up all-star appearances in 1997 and 1999, also winning a Silver Slugger both years.
He showed prolific speed, unheard of for a first baseman, becoming only one of 13 players in history to have multiple 30-30 seasons (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases).
7/18/2001: The fifth cycle in #Astros history belongs to Jeff Bagwell. He did it in front of the home fans during a victory against the #STLCards. #ForTheH (via MLB) @AstrosRadioMLB @CrawfishBoxes pic.twitter.com/JtYkIEV5Je
— MLB Daily Dingers (@MLBDailyDingers) November 24, 2021
But as the 2000’s came and progressed, Bagwell’s production and his health began to decline.
Bagwell put up respectable seasons, but by the time the Astros made it to the World Series in 2005, Bagwell was delegated to pinch hitting or designated hitting duties when he was healthy enough to play.
Missing the entirety of the 2006 season on the disabled list, Bagwell retired.
12/15/06 Jeff Bagwell retires after a 15-year Astros career that produced a franchise-best 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and 1,401 walks. pic.twitter.com/rL5pbjyIOw
— Mike Acosta (@AstrosTalk) December 15, 2021
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I wish I could still play and try to win a World Series here in Houston but I’m not physically able to do that anymore. I’m OK with that.”
Life After Baseball
Bagwell manned first base for the most successful period in Astros history up that point.
He finished his career with nearly 80 wins above replacement (WAR).
Only five first baseman have totaled more WAR, including Albert Pujols, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx.
He totaled over 2,000 hits, 449 home runs, and sported a career .297 batting average.
He is the first ever Astro to win an MVP Award, the only National League first baseman to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, and is the only first baseman in major league history to hit 400 home runs and steal 200 bases.
Following his retirement, Bagwell remained with the Astros’ organization working on player development and in other capacities.
In 2007, the Astros retired Bagwell’s number 5 uniform in a packed Minute Maid Park.
Bagwell also served as Houston’s hitting coach beginning in 2010, but turned down an offer by the Astros to continue in that role, citing family obligations.
He was inducted to the Houston Astros Hall of Fame in 2009.
Bagwell became eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2011, but some questioned whether Bagwell deserved election.
His greatest years had been during the height of the steroid era in the late 1990’s, and Bagwell fell victim to this suspicion like many other great 90’s sluggers.
The arc of Bagwell’s career created increased suspicion, as he began his career with low power numbers but by the end of the decade had bulked up significantly and had become a power hitting threat.
Despite the suspicions, Bagwell had never been explicitly linked to steroids through any means, including drug testing or investigation.
Despite these suspicions, maybe in the game spoke in favor of Bagwell and his potential induction to the Hall.
Long time Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox commented:
“Jeff Bagwell was in Houston for so long and starred every year. I would put him in right away. So he would get my vote on the first ballot.”
Reflecting on his own chances, Bagwell said:
“I know how hard I worked. If someone thinks I took crap because I was in that era, what am I going to do to show them I didn’t? I can’t go take a blood test now.”
Bagwell eventually was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, along with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.
Later that same year, Bagwell joined his former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Craig Biggio to watch their former team beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for their first World Series title in franchise history.
In his post-playing career, Bagwell has primarily spent time tending to his family when not joining the Astros periodically as a coach or instructor.
He does not enjoy the spotlight, but has made public appearances for the team and former teammates, such as Craig Biggio’s 3,000th hit in 2007.
He has struggled with alcohol addiction, but has been involved in AA and been in recovery since 2017.
Today, Bagwell works with the Astros as a community outreach executive, making public appearances for the team as an ambassador and frequently joins the Astros’ broadcasting team for select games.
Jeff Bagwell was one of the most feared hitters in the National League during the 1990’s and is recognized as one of the best first basemen in baseball history.
Despite suspicions of steroid use, Bagwell fought through injury and brought the Houston Astros to their most successful period in their history late in the decade and solidified a Hall of Fame career for himself.
Bagwell spent his entire 15-year career in Houston, becoming perhaps the greatest Astro in their nearly 60 years as a franchise.