Stance and deliver: Bagwell defied logic in box

New Hall of Famer recalls evolution of exaggerated squat

January 20th, 2017

NEW YORK -- No matter how much time passes, it's likely no one will ever be able to truly explain why Jeff Bagwell's batting stance, in all of its weird, squatty, uncomfortable glory, worked so well for the first baseman.

It worked so well that it's safe to assume that without it, he may never have put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career -- especially if select Astros coaches decided to implement their plan to try to change that stance during Bagwell's first Spring Training after coming to Houston from Boston.

"If it's not broke, why fix it?" Bagwell says now of the advice he was given as early as the Cape Cod League, before the evolution of the stance no one fully understands began in earnest.

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Bagwell, Tim Raines and Pudge Rodriguez are the newest electees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rodriguez's work crouching behind the plate is largely why he's headed to Cooperstown; Bagwell's squat, almost as low as Rodriguez's, probably helped him get this far, as well.

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Now 48 and more than a decade removed from his final game as an active player, Bagwell still doesn't have a specific explanation as to why he did most things backward at the plate -- namely, crouching down low to the ground, with an atypically wide stance, and leaning back before swinging.

"There were certain times during that evolution of my stance that it worked," Bagwell said. "I stuck with it. It's all I got. It worked out."

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But it did evolve. Bagwell was much more upright with his stance the year he made the big league roster for the first time than when he won the Most Valuable Player award a few years later, but the premise of both stances was the same: It was unconventional, and it looked rather uncomfortable.

And it worked.

Bagwell was stuck behind Ken Caminiti on the third-base depth chart when he reported to his first Astros Spring Training in 1991, but when he hit and hit and hit throughout the exhibition season, the club had no choice but to find a place for him on the roster.

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But the stance was bothersome to a couple of coaches, who doubted it would ever translate to success in the big leagues. Phil Garner, in his first year as an Astros coach, wasn't one of them.

"A few coaches said, 'We need to change him, he's not going to be able to hit like that in the big leagues,'" Garner recalled. "I was a young coach; I had only been with the Astros a week. But I sensed he was going to be able to hit."

Garner wasn't focused on the stance as much as the swing. He noticed how long Bagwell's bat stayed in the hitting zone and knew right then he was special.

"Bagwell was one of those guys who, regardless of how he started or how he looked in his stance, when the swing started, he got the bat on the ball and stayed on the ball," Garner said.

Fortunately for the Astros and Bagwell, the coaches who wanted to leave Bagwell alone outnumbered those who wanted to change him. Longtime coach Matt Galante, also credited with turning Craig Biggio from a catcher into a Gold Glove-winning second baseman, was the most vocal, and, in the end, the most effective with his argument.

"Thank God, Matt Galante said, 'No, let's just let him go. He seems like he's going to be a pretty good hitter,'" Garner said. "Matt actually saved the day on that one."

The coaches left him alone, but Bagwell did make adjustments over time. His true power emerged when he adopted the stance he's best known for now -- low, wide and exaggerated.

"I continued to tinker with it," Bagwell said. "Apparently, I just kept hitting. It worked. I think '94 was when I started to come into where I ended up."