Awaiting his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame since taking that phone call in January, the anxiety had grown to levels Jeff Bagwell had not ever experienced before.
One cannot possibly prepare themselves for the day, and certainly can’t do it alone and for Jeff he didn’t have to.
Jeff Bagwell began his speech, which went longer than many expected, lasting well over 20 minutes, with a warm and fervent tribute to his family and friends that guided him throughout his 15 year career and beyond.
“My father, Bob. There’s something about a dad. You brought me to love this game of baseball. Something my father instilled in me was to never quit. Don’t quit on anything you ever try,” Bagwell said. “I’ve pretty much stuck to that, deep inside of me I just never gave up. That drive that my mom and my father gave me, it got me a long way.”
The support he garnered from his wife, kids, coaches, trainers, childhood friends that are more like family today, along with former teammates like the late Daryl Kyle, the late Ken Caminiti, The Godfather of two of his children Moises Alou and of course Brad Ausmus and Craig Biggio helped him on and off the baseball field become the player he was.
Bagwell, a very stoic and stone faced guy during his playing career, still displayed that same even keel demeanor during much of his speech on Sunday. However, there were lighter moments that drew a smirk or two, maybe even a smile from him.
While Bagwell’s tribute to his parents and father Bob in particular was about the lesson of never giving up on or quitting anything, one thing he did say he probably should have quit was the dishwashing job he held as a youngster at Friendly’s in Cape Cod.
That drew laughter throughout the crowd of thousands at the induction ceremony at Clark Sports Center.
It also drew Bagwell himself further into the reality that was so clearly starting to set in, that he will forever be immortalized in the nations most recognized Hall of Fame.
Bagwell has said countless times over the last few months as he awaited induction day with anticipation and anxiety, that it’s weird and he didn’t know what was going on.
After the ceremony concluded, Bagwell along with the rest of the 2017 induction class which included commissioner emeritus Bud Selig, long time baseball executive and GM John Schuerholz, Ivan Rodriguez and Tim Raines, took turns answering questions for the media in a short availability following their enshrinement.
Bagwell entered the room smiling ear to ear. It was almost as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.
Seven years on the ballot and the constant questions he was asked about falling short year after year had finally been rendered moot.
There’s not a wrong way to get into a Hall of Fame. While it’s not his peers that vote him in, rather the sports writers, which he thanked. Aside from the crooked numbers he filled box scores and stat sheets with, it’s also a testament to the type of teammate and friend he was to so many throughout his life in baseball that helped influence a long over due recognition of his greatness.
Jeff’s numbers are impressive but he’ll pass it off in his humble nature as just simply the product of the way he played the game.
The way he played the game will forever be on display to the thousands of children, fans and dreamers that come to Cooperstown and read those words engraved on his plaque, that read in part, “Durable, agile first baseman played in 160 or more games six times. Stole 202 bases, most by a first baseman after 1920.”
The stolen bases is one of the things Jeff said he’s most proud of.
“I tried to do everything well,” he said. “I wanted to score for my team and for my other players. I enjoy the stolen bases more than anything else. For a little guy with not much speed, I truly appreciate that. I could help us win in different ways.”
Bagwell hit 449 home runs in his career, was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and in the strike-shortened 1994 season hit .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in just 110 games to unanimously be named MVP.
While the numbers meet and exceed those long set as Hall of Fame standards. It’s never just about the accumulation of numbers, it’s also about being the best teammate you can be.
That’s what Jeff wanted to be remembered and recognized for.
Being a great teammate.
And he was.