As far as anybody knows, former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell did not use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. But he was teammates with a bunch of big-name guys—Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Ken Caminiti—who allegedly or definitely did.
That guilt-by-association likely kept the first baseman from receiving enough votes to make the Baseball Hall of Fame for the second straight year, which, former Houston Chronicle and current MLB.com columnist Richard Justice argued, is wrong:
Some voters believe he may have used steroids. Guess what? They're right. Every player on the ballot may have used steroids. There's no way of knowing. How about we stick to what we know instead of what we think we know?
As Justice noted, Bagwell once asked, "Are you telling me that anyone in my generation who did great things is going to be suspected of cheating?"
"Yes," the columnist replies, "unfortunately that's the case."
ESPN commentator Jayson Stark actually thinks the fact that Bagwell was an Astros player should work for him, not against him. If Bagwell was using on a team that included several publicly-named users, Stark reasons, we'd know about it:
What we have here is a guy who has vehemently denied he used any illegal PED, and who didn't appear in the Mitchell report even though star witness Brian McNamee worked for the Astros.
Bagwell's percentage of the vote did rise from 41 percent last year to 56 percent this year, so there is some chance people will continue to come around. Former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, an ESPN Insider columnist, said that Bagwell simply has to be in Cooperstown. Bowden writes:
[A] Hall of Fame-caliber player is going to the Hall of Fame with or without steroids.
But if the effect of the steroid era prevents Jeff Bagwell from getting in just because he’s “suspected” or “rumored” to be a steroid user, his exclusion will be as criminal as steroid use itself.
Bagwell ended his career with 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs scored and an OPS of .948. He hit the same number of home runs at age 26 as he did at 35. He is the only first baseman in history to pull off a 30-30 season, and he did it twice. He is one of just 22 players since World War II to amass 1,500 RBI and 1,500 runs scored.
Indeed, that’s a Hall of Fame career no matter how you look at it.
At least "Bags" is doing better than his Texas Rangers counterpart Juan Gonzalez, who received just four percent of the vote this year, making him ineligible for future consideration (except by the Hall of Fame's veterans committe, which revisits older candidates).
As former Fort Worth Star-Telegram scribe Jim Reeves writes for ESPNDallas, Gonzalez, while also not identified as a PED user, has more circumstantial evidence against him, including an appearance in Jose Canseco's infamous memoir, Juiced, as well as the league's Mitchell Report.
"His link to steroids is a death knell as far as the Hall goes," Reeves wrotes, "just as it is for Raffy [Rafael Palmeiro] and may well be for two other Rangers offensive leaders, Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] and Alex Rodriguez."