The official announcement of who will be inducted into the 2012 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame is not yet official, but things aren’t looking good for Jeff Bagwell. Despite a career that has led most fans to believe that Bagwell definitely deserves to enter the Hall, the early returns on the writer ballots that have been made public so far show Bags coming up just short of getting the call in 2012, in large part because Bags has become a controversial figure as the center for the debate about the use of performance enhancing drug use and the suspicion thereof, no matter how unfounded or unspoken it might be.
That is bad news for Jeff and his throngs of supporters around the internet, especially given the debatable logic for, in many but not all cases, writers withholding their votes being tied to the touchy subject of PEDs.
But I have good news for Bagwell, he will be getting into the Hall of Fame… it just might take a few more years.
This whole PED rumor and innuendo business is no fun at all, but even with that, history is most definitely on Bagwell’s side. You see, the only thing more predictable than the BBWAA propping themselves up as some sort of gatekeepers of ethics and morals is their voting patterns.
- Only one player has ever received a higher percentage of the vote in their first year of eligibility than Bagwell’s 41.7% and NOT made the Hall of Fame. That player is Lee Smith, who is still eligible, so he has time yet.
- The highest percentage of votes a second-year eligible player has ever received and NOT made the Hall of Fame was 48.3% for Gil Hodges. However, Hodges only received 24.1% of the vote in his first year, so Bagwell already has a substantial head start, especially if he keeps tracking at the 57% that the BBTF Gizmo has him at as of this writing.
- The highest vote percentage for a first-time eligible player that failed to get in was Steve Garvey at an eerily Bagwell-esque 41.6%. However, Garvey only never got any closer than 42.6%, which was in his third year of eligibility. Again, Bagwell is set to blow that mark out of the water this year.
So, for Bagwell to not make it into the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA would have to buck their entire voting history. Which begs the question, why won’t Bagwell just get in now?
The answer is simple, the writers seem to have a strong affinity for raking a player over the coals their first few years on the ballot, essentially making them earn each and every vote, even though their playing days are by definition already over. Eventually, the writers get bored of bullying the player’s credentials around; that narrative just gets old. After a few years, they’ll want a new narrative, like how the player was actually under-appreciated all this time! Just look at some of the inductees the last five years. Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter all had to wait nine years or more before they finally got the call, simply because the writers needed time to “come around” on them for various reasons.
They’ll come around on Bagwell too before long. Right now, his candidacy is shrouded under this cloud of PED paranoia, but in coming years the ballot will be flooded with players who aren’t just loosely associated with PED use, but players who have been caught and/or confessed to using performance enhancing drugs. Once Bagwell is lumped in with that crew of ne’er do wells, he’ll look like a choir boy by comparison (which he should look like already, but that is a whole different debate). In fact, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he goes from a man currently being found guilty by association to a man who has been unjustly persecuted. The same writers that are not voting for him now simply because he has big muscles will be the ones placing him on a pedestal, possibly as soon as next year, as a guy who deserves to be voted into the Hall to undo the injustice of his reputation being sullied by dastardly innuendo these last few years.
So, save your hand-wringing, Bagwell fans. Yes, Jeff deserves to get in, and he deserves to get in now, but it most likely won’t happen now. But it will… eventually.