Peter Gammons: Reflection of Hall of Fame inductees Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell

Tim Raines signs HOF after his name, the second greatest leadoff hitter in history, a man who reached base more often than Tony Gwynn or Roberto Clemente. So does Jeff Bagwell, who statistically is one of the six best first basemen ever, second only behind Albert Pujols since World War II. And Pudge Rodriguez, one of the best catchers who ever played.

And Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero are virtually certain to enter The Hall in 2017 along with Chipper Jones and, likely, Jim Thome.

Still, much of the conversation on the day was about steroids and Performance Enhancing Drugs, especially now that Mike Piazza, Bagwell and Rodriguez have been elected. In fact, before celebrating the exploits of those elected, the initial story seemed to be Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens edging to the mid-fifties percentage.

The common thinking is that millennial and online voters have forgiven Clemens and Bonds, who arguably are among the five best pitchers and players in history. But this isn’t certain. Next year will be crowded. In the next couple of elections, there are expected to be Rainesesque pushes for Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez, all of whom could well get in before their ten year windows are up. It seems odd that starting pitchers are now devalued; seven elected since the 1980s. Mussina is far and away the winningest pitcher to enter the game in the last 30 years, started 242 games in Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Rogers Center and Yankee Stadium with an ERA more than a run better than Schilling—an unequivocally qualified HOF candidate in those hitters parks that so often have been involved in pennant races (Bill James’ Big Game Pitchers since 1952 has Mussina no. 11 in that category). So while Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are the only headliners in two years when Bonds and Clemens are on the ballot, how far Mussina, Schilling, Martinez and Fred McGriff advance may determine whether Bonds and Clemens get their 75%. And that’s if we don’t have new revelations.

All we really learned is that those who vote concede that PEDs are now part of baseball history. Many of them know that gyms had trainers who thought Andro and other drugs were part of the legal gym culture. Next, as Bob Costas maintains, they have to determine how authentic their records really are.

Raines was one of the most popular players in the sport, despite the shadow cast on him and every other leadoff hitter by Ricky Henderson. His greatness was essentially that of a seven year window, and after the collusion of 1987, he was never as dominant. It was difficult getting attention playing in Montreal; even though he was gone, had the 1994-95 strike not killed that franchise, he might well have received the kind of push he got the last three years. Remember, the Expos were six games up when the strike hit, their last seven home games averaged almost 35,000 a game, when they resumed play in April Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Kenny Hill and John Wetteland were gone and they became baseball with subtitles with little opportunity to remind us how great some of their players had been.

The text messages for Bagwell were flying last night, one of the most respected teammates of his time. I remember the home run he hit minutes after he was drafted by the Red Sox in June, 1989; it landed in the garage across Lansdowne Street. I remember seeing him in New Britain in his first full season, where Butch Hobson promised me he would be one of my all-time favorites, which he was. Beehive Stadium was a dead air nightmare; yes, Bagwell hit only four homers that season, but he was a hit machine (160 hits, 73 walks, 57 strikeouts), and, remember, the entire New Britain team hit 31 homers, led by Eric Wedge’s five.

When, after Jeff Reardon got hurt, the Red Sox PR staff handed out a release announcing they’d traded Bagwell for a career middle reliever named Larry Anderson, I handed the release back and walked home to Brookline. Bagwell could easily have played third until arthritis killed his shoulder 12 years later, Scott Cooper could not. He was a great athlete, all state soccer player whose agility made him one of the best righthanded first basemen in the last 40 years (he is third all-time in assists by a first baseman), he was a great baserunner (Harold Reynolds and I did an ESPN piece on why he was the best in the game in 2005, and scored 152 runs in 2000), Brad Ausmus believes he had the best instincts he ever saw, and Brad Lidge and I recounted a piece I did for ESPN where one young player defined “leadership” as “the stare you get from Baggie if you don’t play the game right.

After the labrum operation on his right shoulder following the 2001 season, the congenital arthritis that had plagued his father began to deteriorate his ability to throw.

In 1988, Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn participated in the Cape League home run hitting contest. Dave Staton won that contest. Bagwell and Thomas, born on the same day, are both Hall of Famers. Mo Vaughn is a multi-millionaire real estate developer, winner Dave Staton a cop in California.

The batboy on the 1988 Chatham A’s was Matt Hyde, now a highly respected Yankee scout. The team never gave him an A’s hat, so on the last day of the season Bagwell gave Hyde his cap, signed a couple of Cape League baseball cards (minted only in that season) and a bat.
Hyde still has them. Twenty nine years later, that bat boy job would pay off if Hyde wanted, but, because he, like most everyone who ever knew Bagwell knows his fondness for the HOF person is to great not to hold onto it forever.

Comments

  1. Ghost of Fenway says:

    No surprise it ended up the way it did, the Hall voters always tend to air on the side of not letting people in. It is annoying that in 20 some odd years when i am talking with whomever about the greatest hitters in history, I may have to explain why the 2 greatest students of hitting the game may ever see (Bonds, and yes, Manny) have been cast aside to be forgotten about. At what point can you just say “These guys were 2 of the best hitters that ever walked this earth”… We can be mad at Lance Armstrong for all of his BS and lying, but I am not going to sit here and tell you I don’t think he was the greatest cyclist we have seen.

  2. Ghost of Fenway says:

    I am sorry for this and realize many may disagree, though there is no way to find out one way or the other, so who cares. But lets look at the great Ted Williams, the man wanted one thing out of baseball, to walk down the street and hear people say “there goes the greatest hitter who ever lived”. this much is true. So why are we going to assume that he wouldn’t do everything in his power to attain that goal… meaning if certain things were available to him to help him reach that goal, would he use them? In large we just blindly say he wouldn’t have. And why do we say that? Could it be that we are so attached to the legends of guys like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mays, Ruth… that we continue to romanticize them as if some how players used to be more moral than they are today. IDK where i am going with this, it just seems unfair to a generation of fans to watch the best players of their generation be told year after year that they were a stain on the game. Maybe the juice is a stain, but not the players in my opinion.

  3. I don’t see why nobody is really talking about Pudge. I feel like he is not getting enough love. Catchers never get love, people don’t want to hear it but though Jason Varitek probably doesn’t deserve to be in the hall, he damn sure deserves significant % votes. But there is this sort of thing with catchers where if they didn’t hit for extraordinary power, then somehow they delegitimized as a real candidate.

  4. Tim Raines was one of the funnest players to watch in that Expos era. This was a well deserved induction, and like Gammo said, if not for the plight of the Expos he would have already been at this point.

    • really makes me miss the days of the Expos… should bring them back in place of the Rays… the entire AL east would be within very reasonable travel distance of each team, plus the Toronto Montreal rilvalry would become something special.

  5. “after the collision of 1987”

    collusion?

  6. Congrats to Bagwell, Raines, & Pudge. Getting to the pinnacle of the sport is a great achievement, indeed. Hoffmann & Guerrero should’ve been voted in this year also. Ditto with Schilling & Mussina. IMO Pudge was dirty with PED’s & shouldn’t be enshrined. He was a steroid cheat. This was obvious with his alarming body shrinkage from one season to the next in the mid ’00’s when MLB finally started testing. Granted, he never failed a test along with Piazza & Bagwell. Also, I’m surprised that Magglio Ordonez only got 3 votes. He was a REALLY good player & probably deserved a bit more consideration, even though he clearly isn’t quite of HOF caliber.
    Gammons has it dead on about people like me who grew up in the ’70’s & ’80’s & idolized players like Aaron, Robinson, Seaver, Ryan & old time players. These steroid cheats knocked down the career numbers of these great players from bygone eras. I resent the fact that these cheaters blew past Maris, Ruth, & Greenberg’s HR records, etc. The future BBWAA members, I think, won’t have the same scrutiny for the steroid cheaters partly because those are the players who THEY grew up watching & they also won’t properly consider historical context like smaller ballparks, less foul ground, etc.

  7. Alfonso Munguia says:

    I still think, the HOF, is for GREAT players. therefore Bagwell and Raines, do not belong. Writers have made a mess, nowdays, making the election process unfair.