HOUSTON -- While Jeff Bagwell doesn't expect to get voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot and he swears he doesn't care if he ever makes it, his legacy as one of the most iconic players in Astros history is set, no matter if he winds up bronzed in Cooperstown.
"It's all about my teammates," Bagwell said. "If they think I was a good teammate and enjoyed playing with me, then that's all that matters to me."
You won't find a former teammate of Bagwell -- or a former manager, for that matter -- who doesn't think Bagwell belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's on the ballot for the first time this year, and he would be the first player to spend the majority of his career with the Astros to make the Hall.
Bagwell, 42, last appeared in an Astros uniform during the 2005 World Series, the crowning achievement in a career that included the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and the club's only NL Most Valuable Player Award three years later.
He played in four All-Star Games, had 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and helped the Astros reach the playoffs six times. He was forced to retire after a degenerative shoulder condition made it impossible for him to throw a baseball and nearly impossible to swing a bat.
The early end to his career kept him from hitting 500 home runs, which almost certainly would have punched his ticket to the Hall, but he still has strong credentials.
"He's definitely going to the Hall of Fame," said Phil Garner, who managed Bagwell from 2004-05. "It's just a question whether he's going to be first ballot or not. I'd put him first ballot. He has good character, which is high on the [criteria] list, and there was no doubt he was one of the best players in his era year in and year out, all the way up until the last couple of years when he couldn't throw as well.
"I think the shoulder hampered what he could do, but he would have played at the same level without that shoulder injury. To me, a Hall of Fame player has to be overall greatness. Some players had excellent defensive skills and might have gotten into the Hall of Fame, some have excellent offensive skills and might have gotten into the Hall of Fame, and here's a player that's a complete package."
Bagwell said in August he doesn't expect to make it on the first ballot, if at all. He cited Andre Dawson, a slugger with similar numbers who had to wait out nine years of eligibility to get the call from the Hall.
"I don't put that much thought into it, but I don't expect to get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot-type thing," he said. "It took 'Hawk' 12, 13 years, and he had similar kind of numbers. It's going to be an interesting time between November and January to see what happens."
Bagwell's case for Hall of Fame consideration goes beyond numbers and awards. He was one of the smartest players in the game and a tremendous baserunner as well as a good defensive player.
"There's no doubt about it, he should be in the Hall of Fame," said longtime teammate Craig Biggio, who will be eligible for the Hall himself in two years. "His numbers speak for themselves when you compare them to other first baseman and other power hitters, in general. But the defensive side gets lost. To me, there's no doubt in my mind he deserves to be in there, and we'll cross our fingers and hope for the best."
The Astros acquired Bagwell at the Trade Deadline in 1990 in what will forever be remembered as one of the most lopsided trades in history. Houston got Bagwell, a skinny Minor League third baseman, from the Red Sox in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Andersen.
With Ken Caminiti established at third base, the Astros shifted Bagwell across the diamond to first base. He was in the Opening Day lineup in 1991 and would be for 15 consecutive seasons. He hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 156 games in his rookie season, giving the Astros a sign of things to come.
"The fact he was Rookie of the Year for me, that was a pretty good sign of things to come," said Art Howe, who managed the Astros from 1989-93. "I think it was his first game in the big leagues against the Cincinnati Reds and the 'Nasty Boys' were pitching against us, and I think they had the lead and he's leading off the top of the ninth. [Rob] Dibble's on the mound and he's blowing them away and he knocks Bagwell down. I don't know how he got out of the way of it. The next pitch, [Bagwell] hit a rocket up the middle. That told me we had our hands on a great player."
He had blossomed into one of the most feared sluggers in the league by 1994, hitting .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games and winning his only Gold Glove Award en route to unanimously being named MVP in a strike-shortened season. Not that the work stoppage mattered to Bagwell, because his season ended Aug. 10 when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand two days before the players went on strike.
Bagwell, who also missed the final 20 games of the 1993 season after being hit by a pitch on the hand and was on the disabled list for a month in '95 with his third such hand break, averaged 34 homers and 115 RBIs in his career and hit .297. He stole 202 career bases.
Bagwell drove in at least 100 runs in all but one season from 1996-2003 and slipped to 27 homers and 89 RBIs in '04, though he hit .286 with two homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs. Led by Bagwell, Biggio, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, the Astros made it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history in 2005.
The pain from his arthritic right shoulder forced Bagwell to undergo capsular release surgery on his shoulder in May 2005 and caused him to miss 115 games. He returned for the final few weeks of the regular season and served in a pinch-hit role because of the difficulty he had throwing a ball. He was the designed hitter for the Astros in the World Series, going 1-for-8 in the Fall Classic in his final appearance in an Astros uniform as a player.
Larry Dierker, who managed the Astros from 1997-2001 after a long stint as a broadcaster for the club, doesn't see the writers voting Bagwell into the Hall on the first ballot because his career was shortened.
"But if the voters look carefully at what he accomplished and consider he played in the Astrodome [for 10 seasons] and the negative effect that had on his power, I think he should make it eventually," Dierker said. "I'd love to see him make it on the third year and have he and Biggio go in together."
Dierker, who authored the 2007 book "My Team: Choosing My Dream From 40 Years In Baseball," carefully studied first basemen from the last four decades for the project and ranks Bagwell as one of the best of his generation.
"If you look at slugging percentage, on-base percentage, RBIs per at-bat and runs scored per at-bat, there's really hardly anybody ahead of him," he said. "You could maybe rank Frank Thomas a little bit ahead, but he didn't even play the field [as much], and Bagwell probably would have won six or seven Gold Gloves if there weren't so many good-fielding first basemen when he was playing.
"For me, he would get my vote on the first ballot, but because he's around 1,500 runs scored and RBIs and other guys like Eddie Murray have way more, that makes it a little tough, but Murray played 23 years or something like that. If you put it in perspective with his contemporaries, Bagwell makes it."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.