It didn’t take long for Art Howe to realize Jeff Bagwell was a special player.
“It was probably one of his first at bats,” the former Astros manager recalled Monday at Minute Maid Park prior to a rally held in Bagwell’s honor.
Bagwell, who was voted into the Hall of Fame January 18, made his Major League debut at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on April 10, 1991.
“We were in the ninth inning, opening day, and we were losing,” he said. “Rob Dibble came in to close the game, and I don’t know if he was trying to send Bags a message or whatever because he was a young rookie in the league, but the first pitch he threw was about 98 (miles per hour) right at his head, I don’t know how he got out the way of it.”
The hard-throwing Dibble was an all star in 1990 and was the MVP of the National League Championship Series. He threw 9.2 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts in the postseason as the Reds upset both the Pirates and Athletics on their way to a World Series title.
“The next pitch, Baggy hit a line drive, knocked (Dibble) down off the mound, up through the middle, and I said right then and there ‘this guy is special.”
Dibble was brought in to face Bagwell leading 6-2 with one out in the ninth. According to Baseball Reference, Bagwell lined out to shortstop Barry Larkin, which started a game-ending double play. Still it was an impressive at bat from a rookie, who was hardly a lock to make the opening day roster that spring.
“He was a third baseman when we acquired him and we had three guys competing at third base at the time,” Howe said. “People probably forget, Luis Gonzalez was a third baseman also, so we had him and (Ken) Caminiti and all three competing at third base and they were tearing it up all spring long, so we said we better find a place for these three to play.”
All three batted consecutively in Howe’s opening day lineup. Caminiti at third base, Gonzalez in left field, and Bagwell at first base. Who batted in front of the three? Craig Biggio