Bagwell's army joins him in Cooperstown

July 29th, 2017

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- He's remembered by some as a young, talented kid who could probably help the Astros be good ... someday.

He's also remembered as the greatest Astro, and a key piece of the best era in club history -- one who helped energize a fanbase and turn Houston into a legitimate baseball town.

Which Jeff Bagwell was celebrated depended on who was talking. And that's what made the Astros' reception at the Cooper Inn in the heart of Cooperstown on Friday night so great. People who knew Bagwell as a fresh-faced kid in 1991 were there. So were two managers and a general manager who had him during the prime of his career.

Start with former GM Bill Wood. He nabbed Bagwell from the Red Sox for Larry Andersen in 1990 -- a now infamous transaction -- and converted Bagwell from third base to first base the following Spring Training.

"I wasn't thinking I'm getting a Hall of Famer," Wood said. "We thought we were getting a prospect, somebody that we think is going to play every day."

:: 2017 Hall of Fame induction coverage ::

Wood was right about that. Bagwell, the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year, played in 156 games that season. He played at least 140 games in 12 of 14 seasons before his final year in 2005.

The GM who benefited most from Bagwell's prime years was also at the reception -- Gerry Hunsicker, who guided the Astros to six playoff appearances during his tenure from 1995-2004.

"Kind of like a proud papa," Hunsicker said, asked how he was feeling about Bagwell entering the Hall of Fame. "I think back over his career, so many things come to mind. First and foremost, he was really the main offensive engine that we had for a long period of time. We had virtually no protection in the lineup. so he didn't get pitched to very well."

Plus, Hunsicker pointed out, Bagwell played in the Astrodome -- "Death Valley for sluggers."

"Yet, he put up unbelievable numbers," Hunsicker continued. "In addition to that, he was the complete player. He wasn't just a slugger. He was a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He saved Ricky Gutierrez and the boys a lot of errors over the years, trust me."

Two of Bagwell's former managers are also in Cooperstown to celebrate the former first baseman. Larry Dierker, who managed four playoff teams during his five years as skipper from 1997-2001, laughed and said when it came to Bagwell and fellow Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, he was mostly a spectator to two players who needed very little instruction or discipline.

"I didn't manage them. I watched them," Dierker said.

Phil Garner, the only manager in Astros history to guide a Houston team to a World Series, had similar experiences during his time with Bagwell, at the end of Bagwell's career.

"The great players, you just put them in the lineup and let them play," Garner said. "They know what they're doing. They were fun to watch. They were fun to watch in the dugout, fun to watch in the seats, too. They just weren't fun to manage against, from the other dugout."

In addition to managers and executives, several more notable Astros figures traveled to Cooperstown to watch Bagwell's induction today. Longtime coach Matt Galante, who has been battling leukemia, made the trip to celebrate his former protege. Retired announcer Bill Brown, who called every one of Bagwell's 15 seasons, is here, too, as are Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, Astros fan favorite Jose Cruz and former teammate Moises Alou, one of Bagwell's closest friends in the game.

Biggio, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller will also attend the ceremony.

Alou, who traveled from a vacation in Turkey in '15 to watch Biggio's induction, this time came from a Spain jaunt with his wife, Austria, to see his friend accept baseball's highest honor.

Alou played with Bagwell and Biggio during the team's successful era in the late 1990s and through 2001.

"They love the game; they respect the game," said Alou. "They really were serious about it. Sometimes, if they felt if you weren't on the same page, they got on you. Everybody respected them a lot."

MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on -- begins with MLB Tonight today at 11 a.m. CT, followed by the ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Prior to today's live coverage, you can watch a rebroadcast of the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 10 a.m. CT on MLB Network. It features Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers), and the posthumous honoring of Bill King (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters). The presentation will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the film, "A League of Their Own."