Happy monday Saints! More great news for houston sports. From the official website He’s Back
HOUSTON — He’s the most popular player in Astros history this side of Craig Biggio, and some fans would even put first baseman Jeff Bagwell above his longtime teammate on their list of all-time franchise greats.
What isn’t up for debate is that Bagwell is one of the most recognizable figures in Houston sports history. From his iconic crouched batting stance to the way he re-wrote the Astros’ offensive record books in the 1990s, Bagwell will forever have a special place in the city’s sports landscape.
The return of Bagwell’s familiar No. 5 jersey to the dugout as Astros hitting coach signifies a new chapter in his career. He retired less than five years ago as the club’s all-time leader in home runs and RBIs, and hopes that expertise can help turn around an Astros offense that has been one of the worst in baseball for much of this season.
“This is what I know,” Bagwell said. “I know baseball. Hopefully we are going to find out in a couple months that I know hitting.”
Bagwell, 42, last appeared in an Astros uniform during the 2005 World Series, the crowning achievement in a career that included the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and the club’s only NL Most Valuable Player Award three years later.
Bagwell teamed with Biggio for 15 seasons as charter members of the Killer B’s and led the franchise from cellar-dwellers to multiple division championships, from the Astrodome to Minute Maid Park and transformed Houston from a football-crazy town to a city where baseball didn’t take a backseat to anything.
“He’s a legend here,” Astros center fielder Michael Bourn said. “He did a lot of damage here. I’m pretty sure he has some pointers here he can point out to us.”
The unforgettable ride for Bagwell included four All-Star Game appearances, 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and six trips to the playoffs. He was forced to retire after a degenerative shoulder condition made it impossible for him to throw a baseball and nearly impossible to swing a bat, but his place in history was secure.
Bagwell, who is eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame next year, has stayed busy since his playing career ended.
After officially announcing his retirement on Dec. 15, 2006, he was named a special assistant to the general manager as part of a personal services contract between Bagwell and the club. He assisted the club’s baseball operations staff with its Major and Minor League player development programs, as well as spending time in Spring Training and evaluating players at all levels of the Minor Leagues.
“He not only had a great playing career, but I’ve also been very impressed that he’s level-headed and he communicates very well with regard to the game,” general manager Ed Wade said of Bagwell. “We’ve seen him have an impact with our Minor League hitters.”
Bagwell even went behind the microphone this year and provided color analysis for Astros home games on Saturdays. He joined play-by-play announcer Bill Brown and full-time color analyst Jim Deshaies for Saturday’s game against the Cardinals and dissected the swing of slugger Lance Berkman on the air.
“I think that Jeff has always been one of my mentors in the game,” Berkman said. “I’m excited that he’s going to be around more. I told him yesterday, he helps me more than anybody just from the things he told me when we played together.”
Bagwell’s swing and the way he uncoiled from his crouched stance certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, though the results were splendid.
“I just want our guys to compete,” Bagwell said. “I’m all about technical stuff, but you guys watched me through my career and I’m not technically sound.”
No one could have predicted what Bagwell was capable of achieving when the Astros acquired him as a Minor League third baseman from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Andersen in 1990. Simply put, it was one of the worst trades in baseball history.
With Ken Caminiti established at third base, the Astros shifted Bagwell across the diamond to first base. He was in the Opening Day lineup in 1991, and would be for 15 consecutive seasons. He hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 156 games in his rookie season, giving the Astros a sign of things to come.
He had blossomed into one of the most feared sluggers in the league by 1994, hitting .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games and winning his only Gold Glove en route to unanimously being named MVP in a strike-shortened season. Not that the work stoppage mattered to Bagwell, because his season ended Aug. 10 when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand two days before the players went on strike.
Bagwell, who also missed the final 20 games of the 1993 season after being hit by a pitch on the hand and was on the disabled list for a month in 1995 with his third such hand break, averaged 34 homers and 115 RBIs in his career and hit .297. He stole 202 career bases and was known for his terrific baserunning.
Bagwell drove in at least 100 runs in all but one season from 1996-2003 and slipped to 27 homers and 89 RBIs in 2004, though he hit .286 with two homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs. Led by Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, the star-studded Astros came within a game of the World Series.
The pain from his arthritic right shoulder forced Bagwell to undergo capsular release surgery on his shoulder in May, 2005, and he played in only 39 games in the regular season. He returned for the final few weeks of the regular season and served in a pinch-hit role because of the difficulty he had throwing a ball.
“What really helped me is my last year when I became I pinch-hitter,” Bagwell said. “I have so much more of an appreciation of every single person on the club now and what they have to do to prepare.”
When the Astros beat the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2005 National League Championship Series to clinch a spot in their first World Series, the image of long-suffering teammates Bagwell and Biggio hugging in the dugout was one of the most memorable moments of the season.
Bagwell served as designated hitter in the first two games of the World Series against the White Sox and wound up going 1-for-8 in the Fall Classic in which the Astros were swept. He came to Spring Training in 2006 hoping to prove his shoulder had healed enough to allow him to play, but wound up going on the DL before the regular season started and ultimately decided to retire later that year at age 38.
Bagwell had often hinted he would perhaps return to the dugout one day, and less than five years after he ended his playing career, No. 5 is back.
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