Bagwell inducted into Hall of Fame
Former Xavier star thanks family, coaches in induction speech for help along the way
COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK » Rich Magner watched with pride, and a little amazement, from a few hundred yards away on Sunday as Jeff Bagwell — the kid he used to coach, used to teach, may have even helped learn to drive — took his place among baseball’s immortals.
“He’s a kid we had in class,” Magner, the former Xavier High baseball coach, said while holding his hands about chest-high to illustrate Bagwell’s short stature at the time. “(Now), he’s Joe DiMaggio, he’s Babe Ruth, he’s Cal Ripken, he’s Sandy Koufax. That’s mind-boggling.”
That’s the company Bagwell now keeps, after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in a ceremony along with Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Tim Raines, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz. He’s the first Connecticut product of the modern era to be so honored.
“You all from Houston, you know I don’t like all this attention,” Bagwell said at the start of a 23-minute speech that, in typical fashion, was more about the people who helped shape his life and career than it was about himself. “I’m humbled and grateful.”
Bagwell mixed in some humorous anecdotes in his usual even-keeled style. Perhaps the most poignant moment came when he addressed his parents, Bob and Janice — both of whom were in attendance.
“You brought me to love this game of baseball,” he said to his father, who is 89. “I know that this means a lot to you. We’re in this together, my friend.”
Bagwell thanked his coaches from Xavier and Middletown American Legion, as well as the University of Hartford. He referenced how surprised he was about getting drafted by his favorite team, the Red Sox (“I never thought about a draft,” he noted, “we’re not at war”), and his subsequent trade to Houston a year later for reliever Larry Andersen.
“Larry used to always get on me when I went to Philadelphia,” Bagwell recalled. “He used to say, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to step it up. People aren’t talking about me anymore.’”
“I did the best I can,” Bagwell said, before jokingly adding, “I’m here, Larry. Is that good enough for you?”
Bagwell spent all of his 15-year major-league career with Houston. Born in Boston, raised in Killingworth, Bagwell has been a fixture in Houston since his rookie season in 1991 and had an indelible impact on the community. That was evidenced by the large swaths of Astro orange visible in the crowd on Sunday, and throughout Cooperstown all weekend — far surpassing the support for Rodriguez and Raines.
“You would have had to be there for his tenure to appreciate Bagwell, not just as a player but as a guy,” said George Romano, a lifelong Houston resident, who made the trip with his son, Jason, and grandson, Nick. “He was really involved in the community.”
Romano, 71, said he’s a Bagwell fan because of the way he carried himself, on and off the field.
“He hunted down in south Texas with some people I know very well,” said Romano. “I understand, he was as good a teammate on the field as he was a hunting partner.”
Henry Saur grew up an Astros fan in suburban Beaumont, Texas before moving to St. Louis three years ago. He made the trip this weekend with his daughter, Carly.
“He’s been a guy who’s characterized hard work, effort, doing the right things, loyalty, stayed with the city the whole time, still very active with the club,” said Saur. “We’ve followed him for a long time, from the Astrodome to Minute Maid Park and still today.”
Saur said he made the trip for Craig Biggio’s induction two years ago as well. After that ceremony, he saw Bagwell in a nearby restaurant eating dinner.
“We’ll be back for yours,” Saur told Bagwell.
“I don’t think I’ll get in,” Bagwell replied.
“You’ll get in,” Saur promised, “and we’ll be here.”
Magner knows Bagwell doesn’t enjoy the spotlight, but was impressed by the speech.
“I thought it was from the heart,” said Magner, who was an assistant baseball coach when Bagwell was at Xavier but also coached him in basketball as a senior. “It was pretty nice. He spoke from his heart and he had good things to say. He talked about family being a meaningful tool. His message to kids was ‘work hard.’ I thought it was good. He was a lot more comfortable than I thought he might be.”
At the end of his speech, Bagwell expressed his gratitude to Astros fans, intertwining it with a story about his father. Bagwell noted that his dad would get home from work at 6 p,m. and go outside to play catch with Jeff. At 7 p.m., they’d turn on the TV to watch their beloved Red Sox together.
“If you enjoyed me playing and it brought families together,” he said to the thousands of Astros fans in attendance on Sunday, “then I did my job.”
Jeff Bagwell delivers his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday.
Jeff Bagwell, right, stands with newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers, from left, Bud Selig, Ivan Rodriguez, John Schuer and Tim Raines in Cooperstown.