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Bagwell comes up short in third year on Hall ballot

HOUSTON -- Former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell inched closer toward induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, but he will have wait at least one more year to perhaps take his place among the game's all-time great players.

Bagwell, in his third year on the ballot, received 59.6 percent of the vote in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, marking a slight improvement from the 56 percent he received last year.

"I don't feel one way or another," Bagwell said. "This means more to my mom than it does to me. I didn't play to get to the Hall of Fame. I wanted to be a good teammate and represent the Houston Astros as best as I could. I am satisfied with how my career turned out."

Bagwell's long-time teammate, Craig Biggio, led all vote-getters with 68.2 percent. However, for the first time since 1996, the BBWAA didn't vote in a single player from a ballot of 37 candidates that was deep and controversial.

"I feel bad for Craig. I know how much this means to him," Bagwell told "I've already been on the ballot. I'm just disappointed that Craig didn't get in. Three thousand hits is a huge milestone."

The ballot was loaded with a number of first-time-eligible players whose careers spanned a period of Major League Baseball that some believe was clouded by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bagwell has never been linked to PEDs, which led to disappointment that he wasn't elected from those close to him.

"I'm probably more confused and uncertain about the process than ever," said Barry Axelrod, who represented both Biggio and Bagwell.

While there was outrage among Astros fans for Bagwell and Biggio falling short this year, the voting totals suggest both will eventually be headed to the Hall.

"I think Bagwell will get in, and I think Biggio will get in, too, and that will be a great day for them and the Astros and the city of Houston," former Astros manager Phil Garner said. "I don't think there's anybody in the Houston area that would argue they don't deserve to get in."

Bagwell, 44, last appeared in an Astros uniform during the 2005 World Series, the crowning achievement in a career that included a National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 and the club's only NL Most Valuable Player Award three years later.

Bagwell played in four All-Star Games, had 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and helped Houston reach the playoffs six times. He was forced to retire after a degenerative shoulder condition made it impossible for him to throw a baseball and nearly impossible to swing a bat.

"Sometimes you've just got to wait it out," former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "It's a fickle system, but he's a Hall of Fame player and will get in."

Bagwell's case for Hall of Fame consideration goes beyond numbers and awards. He was one of the smartest players in the game and a tremendous baserunner, as well as a good defensive player.

"There's no doubt about it, he should be in the Hall of Fame," Biggio said earlier this year. "His numbers speak for themselves when you compare them to other first basemen and other power hitters, in general. But the defensive side gets lost. To me, there's no doubt in my mind he deserves to be in there, and we'll cross our fingers and hope for the best."

The Astros acquired Bagwell at the Trade Deadline in 1990 in what will forever be remembered as one of the most lopsided trades in history. Houston got Bagwell, a skinny Minor League third baseman, from the Red Sox in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Andersen.

With Ken Caminiti established at third base, the Astros shifted Bagwell across the diamond to first base. He was in the Opening Day lineup in 1991, and would be for 15 consecutive seasons. Bagwell hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in 156 games in his rookie season, giving Houston a sign of things to come.

Bagwell had blossomed into one of the most feared sluggers in the league by 1994, hitting .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBIs in only 110 games, and winning his only Gold Glove Award en route to unanimously being named MVP in a strike-shortened season. Not that the work stoppage mattered to Bagwell, whose season ended Aug. 10 when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand two days before the players went on strike.

Bagwell -- who also missed the final 20 games of the 1993 season after being hit by a pitch on the hand and was on the disabled list for a month in '95 with his third such hand break -- averaged 34 homers and 115 RBIs in his career, and hit .297. He stole 202 bases.

Bagwell drove in at least 100 runs in all but one season from 1996-2003, and slipped to 27 homers and 89 RBIs in '04, though he hit .286 with two homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs. He played sparingly because of his shoulder in 2005 and retired the following year after his lone World Series appearance.

Jeff Bagwell