Jeff Bagwell accomplished something during his career that few athletes have been able to do: he helped transform a team. Upon arriving at the Houston Astros, Bagwell became nearly an instantaneous star and helped turn the Astros into a winning team. He played his entire MLB career at Houston, compiled some very impressive statistics, and retired as one of the best players in Astros history.
Bagwell was born on May 27, 1968, in Boston, Massachusetts. He showed talent in both baseball and soccer while in high school and after graduating he attended the University of Hartford. Bagwell was drafted out of Hartford by the Boston Red Sox in the 1989 MLB Draft. He performed well in the Red Sox’s minor league system, batting over .300 the entire time. However, because he was a third baseman out of college, Bagwell’s future with the Red Sox was virtually blocked due to Boston having a wealth of players at third base. So in 1990, Bagwell was traded to the Houston Astros for relief pitcher Larry Anderson in what is considered by many to be the most lopsided trade in baseball history. For, as is shown below, Bagwell had a fantastic career with Houston, but the 36-year old Anderson, despite pitching well, ended up spending very little time with Boston.
The Astros moved Bagwell to first base to get him playing time on the “big league” club and Bagwell would stay at this position for the rest of his career. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Bagwell’s game was his very unusual batting stance. He crouched very low when at the plate, with his legs spread wide apart and knees bent, appearing almost to be sitting on an invisible chair. When coming up out of his stance to swing, Bagwell actually pulled his front foot backward. This is very unorthodox as virtually every player steps forward when swinging. However, this obviously did not affect Bagwell, for he never changed his stance and consistently produced impressive offensive numbers.
Bagwell made an immediate impact with Houston, leading the team in home runs (15) and RBIs (82) his rookie year in 1991; he was also voted the NL Rookie of the Year. Bagwell proved in his first few Major League years that he was a good hitter, but he never showed much power. Things changed in 1994 when he exploded for 39 home runs and 116 RBIs and a .368 batting average in only 400 at bats because of the strike shortened season. Bagwell’s numbers were so impressive he was chosen to play in first All-Star Game and was voted NL MVP. Bagwell missed part of the next season due to a broken hand; in fact, he broke his left hand on three different occasions due to his batting stance leaving the hand exposed to inside pitches. After recovering from his injury, Bagwell ran off eight consecutive seasons (1996-2003) of very impressive baseball. From 1996 to 2003, Bagwell hit 30 or more home runs every year, 40 or more home runs three times, and drove 100 or more runs seven times. In 1997 he set a new standard for first basemen by becoming the first ever to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 30 bases in one year; he also repeated the feat in 1999. Bagwell had arguably his best season in 2000 when he posted career highs with 47 home runs, 152 runs scored, and 183 hits.
Despite all his regular season success, Bagwell was never known for his playoff performances. However, even if he was not a spectacular playoff performer, it is important to note that Bagwell was the one of the main reasons the Astros made it to the playoffs in the first place. He did play a small part (because of injury) in 2005 when the Astros won the National League Pennant and played in the World Series.
Bagwell retired from baseball in 2006 due to an arthritic problem in his shoulder that severely hampered his defense and eventually his offense. He finished his career holding numerous Astros team records and was a four-time All-Star, a three-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glover. His career totals include a .297 batting average, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs, 488 doubles, and 1,517 runs scored. The Astros retired his number 5 jersey in August of 2007.