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Jeffrey Robert Bagwell (born May 27, 1968) is an American Major League Baseball player, a first baseman, who has spent his entire baseball career with the Houston Astros.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Bagwell grew up in Killingworth, Connecticut, and graduated from Xavier High School, a private Catholic school located in Middletown, Connecticut, where he excelled at soccer as well as baseball. His former coaches have said that he was a better soccer player than a baseball player, but was an all-around phenomenal athlete. He then went to the University of Hartford, also in Connecticut.
Bagwell was selected in the 4th round of the 1989 draft by the Boston Red Sox. On August 30, 1990 the Red Sox traded him to the Houston Astros for 36-year old relief pitcher Larry Andersen to gear up for their playoff run. That trade is often regarded as one of the most one-sided of all time. Although Andersen pitched well down the stretch in 1990 (allowing three runs in 22 innings of relief) and helped the Red Sox win the American League East division title on the last day of the season, Boston was defeated in the American League Championship Series and then lost Andersen to free agency (in part because of a so-called collusion settlement). Bagwell was considered an adaquate prospect, but he was not in Boston's future plans, as his route to the majors was blocked by established Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs and top prospects 1B Mo Vaughn and 3B Tim Naehring. But Bagwell blossomed in Houston, becoming one of the best and most respected players in Astros franchise history. Bagwell has been with Houston ever since and, along with teammate Craig Biggio, has been virtually synonymous with the Astros in the 1990s and into the 2000s.
Bagwell hits and throws right-handed. Developed as a third baseman, he was shifted to first base during 1991 spring training as the Astros already had an established third baseman in Ken Caminiti. Bagwell made his Major League debut that opening day and was named the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year.
The best year in Bagwell's professional career may have been the strike-shortened 1994 season when he was unanimously named National League Most Valuable Player after batting .368 with 39 home runs, 116 runs batted in and 104 runs scored. His .750 slugging percentage in 1994 ranks the 11th best single-season mark in Major League history.
In eight different seasons between 1994 and 2003, Bagwell hit at least 30 home runs, scored at least 100 runs and drove in at least 100 runs, accomplishing this trifecta every year between 1996 and 2001. He also had seven straight seasons (1996 to 2002) in which he drew 100 or more walks.
Bagwell was also an exceptional fielder, winning a Gold Glove award in 1994, and compiling a fielding percentage .993 over his career. He also possessed above-average speed and baserunning skills for a first baseman, stealing 202 bases over his career, including two seasons (1997, 1999) in which he stole at least 30 bases, and five seasons (1994, 1996-99) in which he stole at least 15.
Bagwell is also recognized by his unique wide-open, crouched batting stance. He begins in a low position with his knees bents so that he looks as if he is sitting on an invisible bench, then slides his front foot backward and rises from his stance in attempting a swing. His stance had left him vulnerable handling to inside pitches, as he broke his hand three times in three consecutive seasons (1993-1995) after it was struck by a pitch each time. There was talk about adjusting his stance, but the ultimate solution was to wear a heavily-padded protective glove on his left hand while batting.
In 2005 Bagwell was the seventh highest-paid player as he received $18 million in the fourth year of his five-year contract extension which was signed in 2001. However, shortly after the season began, a persistent arthritic condition in his shoulder, which had started being a problem for him in 2001, sidelined him for three-quarters of the season. This same condition had turned the former Golden Glove winner into a defensive liability at first base, forcing him to "push" the ball instead of throwing it. As teams began taking advantage of Bagwell's defensive weakness, and as Bagwell's offensive production declined, pressure mounted to bench the perennial All-Star. Although unable to throw, Bagwell was reactivated in September 2005 as a pinch hitter and played a small but symbolically important role in the Astros' successful drive to capture the National League pennant. Bagwell was the Astros' designated hitter in the first two games of the World Series versus the Chicago White Sox (played under American League rules) and a pinch hitter in the other games.
As of January 23, 2006, the Astros indicated that they would file a claim on an insurance policy on Bagwell's health, to collect approximately $15.6 million of the $17 million in salary Bagwell is owed in 2006, essentially eliminating Bagwell's chances of playing again in the major leagues. The exact details of the insurance policy are still unknown to the public; however, some facts have come to light:
Bagwell would be examined by the insurance company sometime before spring training.
If the insurance company concurs with Astros management that Bagwell is a "disabled player", it will pay the policy amount ($15.6M).
Bagwell would be barred from playing with the Astros for the 2006 season.
Were Bagwell to be released (so that he could sign with another team), the Astros would lose their insurance settlement.
Amidst this controversy, Bagwell still reported to spring training hoping that he could contribute in some way during the upcoming 2006 campaign and wanting to test his own limits. He knew that his shoulder would never be 100% again, but he wanted to determine if he could play, not the Astros/insurance policy. If he could play, he wanted to fulfill his duties and obligations to his team/teammates. He played several games with the Astros in spring training, batting .219 with two RBI, although he never had to make any throws that were difficult enough to test his shoulder substantially, since the other infielders shifted toward him when they were playing. However, on March 25, 2006, the Astros put him on the 15-day disabled list; and he said that he was only in good enough condition to play every several days, rather than every day.
The insurance claim was ultimately denied, forcing the Astros to pay Bagwell for the final year of his contract entirely out of their own pocket. This action strained Bagwell's reputation with many Astros fans.
The Astros stated on October 31, 2006 that they will not pick up the club option in Bagwell's contract for 2007 worth $18 million, instead buying it out for $7 million . Bagwell filed for Free Agency on November 11,2006, but the Astros hope to have him contributing to the organization in the near future