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Q&A: Agent Axelrod talks Biggio, Bagwell

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Barry Axelrod began his career as an agent representing his UCLA roommate, quarterback Mark Harmon, and Harmon's wife, actress Pam Dawber. His focus, however, evolved into baseball.

Axelrod had a limited but successful group of clients that included the likes of pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Darryl Kile, Matt Morris, Matt Clement and Jake Peavy, first basemen Mark Grace and Wally Joyner, third baseman Phil Nevin and Hall of Famers Craig Biggio -- who was inducted into Cooperstown in 2015 -- and Jeff Bagwell, Biggio's teammate with the Astros, who will be inducted on Sunday.

Barry Axelrod began his career as an agent representing his UCLA roommate, quarterback Mark Harmon, and Harmon's wife, actress Pam Dawber. His focus, however, evolved into baseball.

Axelrod had a limited but successful group of clients that included the likes of pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Darryl Kile, Matt Morris, Matt Clement and Jake Peavy, first basemen Mark Grace and Wally Joyner, third baseman Phil Nevin and Hall of Famers Craig Biggio -- who was inducted into Cooperstown in 2015 -- and Jeff Bagwell, Biggio's teammate with the Astros, who will be inducted on Sunday.

:: 2017 Hall of Fame induction coverage ::

MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- will begin with MLB Tonight on Sunday at noon ET, followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Prior to Sunday's live coverage, MLB Network will televise the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 11 a.m., featuring Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (the 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."

Axelrod will be in attendance for the weekend ceremony, having developed lifelong relationships with his clients. He discussed those relationships with Bagwell and Biggio in this week's Q&A.

MLB.com: Do you have any special emotions to have had two clients receive the ultimate recognition in baseball?

Axelrod: The thrill is that two guys I truly number among my closest friends, who we lived 20 years together through their careers, are being recognized. It's exciting to see great things happen to great people/players.

MLB.com: With Biggio, it took three times on the ballot to be elected. Bagwell was a candidate seven times. Was there a lot of anticipation, wondering when?

Axelrod: I was there, with Craig, all three years, because with his 3,000 hits, we really felt he had a good chance to go in on first ballot. He came close, and then the second year. … Talk about incredibly excruciating to sit there, watching the website that tells you where he sits, and to come up two votes short. The knowledge that comes with that is you are going to get in the next year when you get that close. I've talked to Trevor Hoffman about that in regards to his own situation.

MLB.com: Tougher with Bagwell, considering it took seven years? Do you think the PED era had an impact?

Axelrod: I think it hurt everybody. I think it even hurt Craig, the steroid-era conversation. There were a couple of years where the voters made a point. Once the logjam was broken with the stigma of "any power hitter must be dirty" when Mike Piazza finally broke the ice, and I think Bags was quick to follow. Jeff was never accused, but he lived in that era and was a guy who hit a lot of home runs. The final year when he made it, we are sitting there waiting to see if he gets a call, and it is as nerve-wracking as anything can get. Finally came the realization it was happening, and you go numb.

Video: Bagwell gets call that he is headed for Cooperstown

MLB.com: What stood out about Biggio, the player?

Axelrod: Having clients on various teams, I know Craig was a guy who the players on other teams absolutely despised. He did anything to win a baseball game. Whether it was hit-by-pitches, steal bases, turn singles into doubles, whatever he could do to try to win a game, he was going to do, and I don't know anybody who played harder. Of anybody I know, I think Craig probably maximized athletic ability to as great a degree as anybody I know.

MLB.com: Over the years, he went from catcher to second base to center field. How hard was that for him?

Axelrod: Each move was different. The first one, Craig was an All-Star catcher, and they asked him to move to second base. It was significant. As his representative, my concern at the time was, "You guys are asking an All-Star to change positions after establishing himself at a certain position." There was a risk, and we asked them to address that in terms of a two-year deal, which the Astros did. The move to center field was tough because he was an All-Star second baseman, too, but they wanted him to move to bring Jeff Kent in. Here he was, a veteran on his way to the Hall of Fame, and they asked him to move for another guy who probably wasn't as good a second baseman. But because of Craig's versatility, he was the guy that took the bullet. He ended up doing very well.

Video: Biggio one of the Astros' all-time greats

MLB.com: What about Bags? What sticks out in your mind about him?

Axelrod: Unfortunately, the thing that sticks out most about him is how hard he tried the last five years to play with a broken wing.

MLB.com: A broken wing?

Axelrod: The right shoulder. He tried so hard and was in such pain. He took medications to get on the field. It was really tough. The courage he exhibited. The other thing that stands out about him was the 1994 season, the strike-shortened season where his numbers were off the chart. Two guys, Tony Gwynn and Baggy, had such great seasons. Tony had a chance to hit .400 that year, and Baggy had a chance to break home run and RBI records, but the season was cut short.

MLB.com: Bagwell was initially signed by the Red Sox, but do you think about how he and Biggio spent their entire big league careers, together, on the Astros?

Axelrod: It's a source of pride that they did that, and whatever part I had in it, I am proud of. They both wanted to stay there. They both had opportunities to leave and go elsewhere. The night before Jeff got the news he was going to be inducted, I was staying with Jeff, and Craig came over. We had dinner, and the three of us sat there for three hours or so talking about all kinds of things. They got in an argument about who struck out more in their career, and we had to look that up, and then Craig said something like, "Do you think any two Hall of Famers ever played as many games together as we did?" We looked at it, and not only did no two Hall of Famers play as many games together, no two players ever played as many games together as they did.

MLB.com: Really?

Axelrod: They were both in the Astros uniform for 2,365 games as teammates. The next best was Billy Williams and Ron Santo with 2,102 games with the Cubs. We looked at each other and went, "Wow." They both expressed appreciation for me helping keep them together, working with [Astros owner] Drayton McLane and general managers Gerry Hunsicker, Bill Wood and Tim Purpura to make it happen. I give the Astros' ownership and manager a lot of credit, too, for wanting to keep those two guys a part of the franchise. For something like that to happen, both sides have to make some concessions.

MLB.com: Is there a highlight that sticks out for Bagwell and Biggio?

Axelrod: For Craig, it had to be the 3,000th hit. For both of them, it was playing in the World Series. There was such a stigma about Houston not getting to a World Series. They did get swept by the White Sox, but I remember sitting with Craig after Game 4. Obviously there was disappointment, but there was also a feeling that they had been a part of that first Astros team to get to the World Series. Jeff was pretty banged up at the time, but he got there and got his hit and RBI. That was a satisfying moment. And let's not forget this weekend, seeing them together in Cooperstown, Baggy having his plaque put in the Hall, along with Craig. That's awesome.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com.

Houston Astros