added 12/31/2016 by Bob Hulsey
For much of his history as a Houston Astro, Jeff Bagwell let his actions do the talking. As a clubhouse leader, it isn't that he never spoke. It's just that Bagwell was never given to oratory. He said what was right for the moment, often in similar cliches to that of teammate and elder statesman Craig Biggio. But if asked to make a stirring speech, Jeff was likely to fumble, mutter and "aw shucks" his way through it - which didn't matter much because his actions had already spoken before him.
Bagwell may need a speech writer before the year is over because it appears he'll be able to add "Hall of Fame 2017" to the end of his autograph if early returns hold up on balloting for this year's honors, a title he might share with former Astros Roger Clemens and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez when the votes are announced on January 18th.
As of December 31st, Bagwell leads public balloting as tabulated by Ryan Thibadaux with his ballot tracking spreadsheet. 143 ballots have become public so far, roughly 33 percent of the electorate. Bagwell is on 94% of those ballots. Tim Raines is second at 91% and Rodriguez is third at 85%. Vladimir Guerrero is next at 77% then a quartet of Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman at 71%. Players need to be on 75% of the BBWAA ballots to gain enshrinement.
Public ballots tend to be more generous than the final vote tally so some slippage is to be expected. And we all know how accurate pollsters can be, right Mrs. Clinton?
But, even with slippage, 94% is a fairly safe position. Last year, Bagwell slipped 14% from his public vote to the overall total. It's a shame he couldn't go in two years ago with his pal Biggio but, thankfully, the BBWAA decided to purge the rolls of many who were no longer covering the game, strengthening the voice of the younger writers who are more shaped by SABR-inspired stats that favor Bagwell's candidacy.
Jeff's post-retirement life has been relatively out of the limelight other than a brief fling as hitting coach, showing up to celebrate Biggio's bigger moments and getting dragged into a messy divorce case of a lover after his own divorce. He's stated before that if the whisper campaign about PED use (a case with no actual facts and no named accusers) kept him out of Cooperstown, well, so be it, but you know he wants the moment. It would be baseball's way of saying "all is forgiven, Jeff, come join the club."
But Bagwell didn't need or want forgiveness to start with. He's always worn his heart pretty close to the sleeve. He openly cried at the passing of teammate/friends Ken Caminiti and Darryl Kile. He prided himself on his professionalism, wanting to always demonstrate the "right way" to play the sport, the "right way" to be a teammate and to represent his organization. Stepping up to the podium will be less about himself and more about the Astros he guided.
Which is why he'll need a speech writer. I hope he finds the same one that helped Biggio two years ago. Craig's induction speech was classy and well-received. For 2017, the discussion will switch from "why isn't Jeff in the Hall?" to "What's he going to say when he gets up there?" For the Houston franchise, that's progress.