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Jeff Bagwell    

Jeffrey Bagwell was born May 27, 1968 and is an American Major League Baseball player, a first baseman, who has played his entire Major League career with the Houston Astros.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Bagwell grew up in Killingworth, Connecticut, graduated from Xavier High School, a private Catholic school located in Middletown, Connecticut where he excelled at soccer as well as baseball, and then went to the University of Hartford, also in Connecticut.

Drafted in 1989 by the Boston Red Sox, the next year he was traded to the Houston Astros for aging relief pitcher Larry Andersen. 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 not regarded as a great prospect in Boston, being blocked by established Red Sox players Wade Boggs and Mo Vaughn. But Bagwell blossomed in Houston, becoming one of the best and most respected players in Astros history and Major League Baseball. 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.

Bagwell's peak year may have been 1994 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 in the strike-shortened season. His .750 slugging percentage that year was the 11th best 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, in his prime, was also a great fielder, winning a Gold Glove award. He also had good speed, stealing more than 20 bases in three different seasons.

Bagwell is also known for his unusual wide-open batting stance, in which he appears to be sitting on an invisible bench, then steps back with his front foot when making bat contact with the ball.

During the 2005 season, Bagwell was the seventh highest-paid player at $18 million per annum. 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. 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.

Coincidentally, Bagwell happens to have been born on the same day as Athletics player Frank Thomas, and the two star players have had very similar careers. The pair faced each other in the World Series in 2005, but more in name than action. (Thomas was injured and was inactive for the World Series, and Bagwell's injuries kept his playing time to a minimum.)

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 is to 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 with the belief that he will have returned to 100% health by then. 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.

As of the end of the 2005 regular season, Bagwell's career batting average is .297 in over 9,000 plate appearances and he has 488 doubles, 449 home runs, 1,401 walks, 202 stolen bases, 1,517 runs scored, 1,529 runs batted in and a slugging percentage of .540. Bagwell's best seasons took place in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome, making his numbers even more impressive. Baseball writer Bill James, in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, listed Bagwell as the fourth best first baseman of all time (but disappointed Astros fans everywhere by literally passing on doing a detailed analysis of Bagwell's career). Most statistical analyses confirm James's opinion.

Including the 2005 World Series, Bagwell has played in nine playoff series, with 24 hits including two home runs, driving in 13 runs, and compiling a .226 batting average in 106 plate appearances.


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